Archive for April, 2012

Verizon kicks off after PC World network test

When it comes to mobile broadband the first question that consumers tend to ask is, “which network is the fastest.” PC World magazine in the US, or at least its web site, has attempted to answer this question with a test of the four major US networks, AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile, across 13 cities. 4G was tested in locations that offered it, and 3G where it wasn’t.

Two things surprised me from this test. Firstly, that phones were used rather than dongles. Dongles would be a truer test of a network, as their design will be more optimised for data with greater surface area for the antenna and no interference from all the other bits that have to go into a phone.

The other was that Verizon didn’t win – AT&T did. Sure enough, it’s come out against the results, though the best it could muster in terms of an argument was, ‘everyone else normally says we’re better’.

The results show AT&T topping the 4G pile with an average of 8.35Mbps outdoors, while Verizon hit 7.61Mbps. This is less than the 8-12Mbps is says its users will get on average from LTE – so perhaps the use of phones rather than dongles has hurt it here.

Interestingly, PC World seems to have considered 4G the same way that AT-T , including HSPA+ as a fall back from LTE that’s sitll ‘4G’. This has possibly helped it win based as its 3G speeds  HSPA+ speeds are higher than Verizon’s CDMA2000 3G speeds, pushing up its average.

The results also show that Sprint really is in desperate need of an LTE upgrade. WiMAX simply hasn’t kept up with later 3G technologies such as HSPA+ making something of a mockery of it being the first to adopt the ‘4G’ moniker’.

If you’re in the US, do the results smack true for you? Let us know in the comments.

The LTE World Summit is taking place on the 23-24 May 2012 CCIB, Barcelona, Spain. Click here to register your

New iPad: More Fuel for the Signalling Storm

Doug Suriano, CTO of Tekelec

In the third of our series of guest blog posts, Doug Suriano, CTO of Tekelec explains the need for operators to quickly get a handle on the increase in signalling on their networks.

The third-generation iPad was one of the strongest iPad debuts yet. Pre-orders sold out before a single tablet had been shipped, and predictably lines were out the door when the device hit the shelves.

As the first LTE-enabled iPad, this product will have a huge impact on North American LTE operators, and likewise for operators in markets where LTE will soon be deployed, in a way few have considered. Mobile operators face a dual threat to network performance, customer loyalty and profitability models. The first is the well-documented growth in the volume of mobile data traffic. The second is equally critical: a ‘signalling storm’ caused by the cumulative impact of connected device and application growth, personalised service plans, and an increasingly mobile subscriber base.

The Diameter signalling traffic is the new challenge

With LTE on board, the iPad 3 is more enticing that ever for HD video, over-the-top services such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as a wide variety of data-heavy consumer and business applications. However, the rise in mobile data traffic will not be operators’ primary problem. They have been aggressively addressing data capacity for years with strategies such as migration to 3G and LTE, policy control and offloading traffic to Wi-Fi.

With LTE, operators will need to handle network signalling messages. Signalling is the underlying communications that enables charging, billing, user authentication and authorisation. These essential messages support data activity over 3G and LTE networks. The impact of network signaling, however, has gone largely unreported.

The new iPad is what I consider to be the first widely available ‘iconic’ LTE device. By virtue of its popularity, features and applications, it will escalate the volume of network signaling on LTE networks to new levels. Also, as sales increase, usage will occur outside of LTE coverage spots. Each time a subscriber moves to or from an LTE coverage area, the new iPad will register on the correct network technology, introducing a new type of signaling to the tablet market.

Mobile data usage has led to an explosion in signalling traffic generated by billions of connected devices and apps. Subscribers often use multiple applications simultaneously, requiring networks to track data usage more frequently for billing purposes. In fact, one large tier one customer told us that the number of concurrent sessions per subscriber, a measure of the number of separate mobile data activities, has increased 50 per cent in the last year.

We expect that number to increase by at least another 50 per cent in the next year, due to the LTE iPad and the expected arrival of the several new LTE smartphones. These devices increase the appeal and use of the mobile Internet and expand the number of subscribers using mobile applications.

Recent network outages serve as a reminder that a rapid growth in subscribers, devices and applications is causing a ‘signaling storm’ for operators. For most operators in developed markets, signaling traffic growth is exceeding data traffic growth.

The good news is that mobile operators can manage the signalling surge by implementing equipment based on a protocol called Diameter. This is the language that the major core and control elements in the LTE network use to communicate. By routing Diameter signalling messages more intelligently and efficiently, operators can bolster network performance; improve subscribers’ quality of experience and scale for the millions of new devices that will populate their LTE networks.

The LTE World Summit is taking place on the 23-24 May 2012 CCIB, Barcelona, Spain. Click here to register your

Party conversation tips 101: A technical overview of LTE

You’re at a party, the wine’s flowing and the conversation is going well, and then it happens. An attractive woman asks you to make clear the similarities and differences between SC-FDMA, OFDAMA, and DS-CDMA/FDE transmission schemes on LTE. The awkward moment when you realise that you’re struggling.  There’s no way you’re going to impress her now.

Yes, we’ve all been there.

To avoid this horrendous scenario we can point you towards this presentation slide deck for you to get down and dirty with the technical intricacies of LTE.

Don’t say we never do anything for you.

Addendum: This tip works equally well for women trying to impress men. Or indeed those looking to impress those of the same gender. Or indeed any species of non-Earth origin (see Trillian, Zaphod Beeblebrox,that party in Islington). We pride ourselves on being an an equal opportunity party tip provider.

(Note that as it’s on Scribd you’ll need to upload something to the site if you want to download the presentation. If not, you can still read in online in your browser).


Signalling change – The state of the LTE market today


This is the second in a series of guest blogs from significant voices in the industry with something to say about LTE. This time we hear from Ben Volkow, VP Product of Product Development for F5 Traffix.

I know this is becoming my mantra, and may therefore sound a bit repetitive but I’ll say it again. One of the main success factors of LTE roll out and services is dependent on the quality of an operator’s Diameter Signalling Solutions. Allow me to explain.

LTE devices, including smartphones, tablets, dongles, and all of the other connected devices generate an unprecedented volume of signalling, sometimes even more than 100 times the amount of signalling we are used to experiencing in legacy networks. Signalling is the network’s internal communication system, and the language that signalling “speaks” in LTE is an IP-based stream control transmission protocol called Diameter. It plays a connecting and routing function among LTE networks and inside the network between the different network nodes.

Diameter exists everywhere in the network, for example, among enabling elements for policy management and enforcement, billing and charging, authentication, mobility management, and roaming services.

LTE was designed on the drawing board as a Greenfield technology, replacing existing legacy 2G, 2.5G, and 3G networks and building new 4G networks from scratch. Keep in mind however, that in telecoms there tends to be more evolution than revolution. So, in practice, next-generation elements are deployed side-by-side with existing legacy network functionalities. This two-generation hybrid complicates the network by filling it up with a patchwork of technologies, interfaces, and protocols. And this complication—referred to as network fragmentation—is extremely costly if not handled properly. Minimally, it requires connectivity between the LTE interfaces, protocols, and elements, as well as connectivity between the new and legacy components.

In addition, there is the huge task of simplifying this network spaghetti, and only a robust Diameter Signalling router can succeed here.

Now back to the LTE devices. Many are designed with power-saving mechanisms to preserve battery life. However, simply touching the device catalyzes signalling. Many consumers leave several applications open, such as mobile games and social networking sites—and this causes constant, massive signalling.

The “always-on” state of LTE devices are constantly pinging the network with signalling, creating a volume of signalling messages that are greater than ever experienced by a network.

The high level buzz around LTE speaks about an enhanced multimedia, personalised, and interactive experience. More specifically, LTE is expected to deliver advanced services and charging schemes such as family data plans, tiered data plans, video optimisation, and faster speeds of mobile data. Each one of these improvements involves complicated “back-office” support in the network.

Each LTE service comes with a complex navigation route among network elements like PCRFs (policy charging & rules function) that tells the network what level of data plan has been purchased by the subscriber. OCS (online charging system) elements are needed to serve prepaid customers, and BSS (business support systems) elements that are connected to data centres across vast geographic areas and require signalling to deliver the billing charges to the correct data centre.

In short, it is the Diameter Signalling router (more commonly known as DRA) that ensures that the correct information about the right subscriber is transmitted to the designated server in the network.

So, my take on the state of the LTE market is that we have witnessed a great beginning. And from our perspective, there are two types of service providers. The first is the service provider who plans for signalling routing and gateway solutions from the beginning, and the second is the service provider who doesn’t add it to the plan and ultimately experiences pain due to signalling surges and overloads. This second type of service provider quickly realises its mistakes and rushes to deploy Diameter routers and load balancers to ensure network reliability and maximum performance.

In both scenarios, LTE networks experience a bombardment of signalling at unprecedented levels. This signalling must be managed, or it will upset network performance significantly or bring network operations to a halt.

The LTE World Summit is taking place on the 23-24 May 2012 CCIB, Barcelona, Spain. Click here to register your interest.

LTE, today, tomorrow: when should operators commit?

This is the first in a series of guest blogs from significant voices in the industry with something to say about LTE. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

Lyn Cantor is president of Tektronix Communications, a provider of service assurance solutions to global operators.

There’s no doubt that demand for data is driving the network carrier market, but while LTE networks will become more pervasive over the next decade they will not all launch at once.  However, while individual carriers have entirely different market environments to cope with the shift in the market has already begun.

In fact, this year promises to be a watershed for LTE. A recent forecast from Juniper Research estimates that the number of LTE subscribers will reach 428 million by 2016; with a surge in growth taking place in 2012.Many wireless operators are taking stock of the economic and competitive environment in their respective markets and considering their LTE roll-out options. It may no longer be a case of ‘if’ an operator will launch an LTE network, but ‘when’.

The development of LTE in global markets will vary according to specific local market factors in addition to an operator’s ability to deliver data efficiently. Operators will make their move when there is a firm business case to do so, prompted by one of at least three possible scenarios.

The first is that an operator’s growth potential is crippled by the existing networks’ ability to cope with traffic demands. The second is that a rival launches LTE early to create the perception that it is leading the market. Third, there is the scenario where an incumbent operator, or new player, decides to adopt an entirely new ‘data driven’ business model.

Looking at LTE regionally, you can see that the U.S. market has taken the lead. The U.S. has enjoyed a head start with LTE because the operators have had to meet the demand for wireless data access, driven by the proliferation of new smart devices, and the need to reduce the cost of mobile broadband delivery. By way of contrast, in Europe, the operators have made a significant investment in 3G. These networks are at an advanced stage and the lack of major LTE deployments has resulted in less pressure to commit extensively to LTE. These factors, combined with spectrum allocation, will lead to a different rate of LTE expansion in Europe.

Operators now recognise the economic realities of LTE. As a result their mind-sets are switching from being a traditional voice and messaging provider to that of a mobile broadband supplier, providing, voice, messaging and data. They now appreciate the challenge they face in monitoring the volume of traffic flowing across their networks – and the ability to monetise that data as bandwidth increases. This will allow operators to cut their cloth accordingly; distinguishing between heavy users and more mainstream traffic, to expand their businesses to meet and sustain market demand going forward.

The opportunities, and potential barriers, which determine the switch to LTE are diverse and vary from region to region. However, one thing is certain. All operators will need to make the jump to LTE to deliver voice, messaging and data to a new breed of consumer.

For more debate on LTE, be sure to attend the LTE World Summit, taking place on the 23-24 May 2012 CCIB, Barcelona, Spain. Click here to register your interest.

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