Archive for February, 2013

Interview: CTO, MobinNet: “TD-LTE is a better choice for delivering mobile data than FDD LTE”

Nima Pournejatian

Nima Pournejatian is CTO of MobinNet, Iran

Nima PourNejatian, CTO, MobinNet, Iran is speaking on Day One of the inaugural TD-LTE Summit taking place on the 23rd-24th April 2013 at the Fairmont Singapore Hotel, Singapore. Ahead of the show we speak to him on the subject of what advantages TD-LTE brings to operators and what MobinNet’s plans are for the technology.

What have been the latest developments in terms of TD-LTE in your region?

There are two major operators in the region which employ WiMAX broadband technology. In order to plan a reasonable migration from WiMAX to a more advanced technology, both operators are going to secure an LTE license. As one of the two major WiMAX operators and the only nationwide wireless broadband provider, MobinNet is going to apply for TD-LTE. The other operator may select the same path. Moreover, recently the WiMAX Forum announced an updated industry roadmap supporting the continued evolution of the WiMAX ecosystem. The WiMAX Forum embraces a network evolution path to accommodate harmonisation and coexistence across multiple broadband wireless access technologies within a WiMAX Advanced network. Therefore, MobinNet’s plan is compliant with the WiMAX Forum’s roadmap.

Why do you believe the TD-LTE is a better choice for delivering mobile data than FDD LTE?

According to my personal experience working with both FDD and TDD technologies TDD deliver higher throughput per sector. This makes for a better user experience for data services and increases the capacity per base station, which lowers investment costs. Therefore TD-LTE is a better choice for delivering mobile data than FDD LTE.

Is the release of an iPhone that supports TD-LTE critical for the long term success of the technology?

It will definitely help but I would prefer the release of a device that is less voice centric. iPad users usually consume more data bandwidth than those of iPhone so perhaps a new iPad/iPod would be more helpful.

Some reports suggest that TD-LTE will account for 23 per cent of all LTE users by 2016. What has been difference this time between TD-LTE and previous time-division telecom technology flavours? (WiMAX and TD-SCDMA)

Firstly, data traffic demand now is not comparable with that of three or five years ago. This motivates more investment in TDD technologies. Secondly, nowadays spectrum is more congested, which means that the remaining spectrum must be used as efficiently as possible. Also the global minutes of voice services per user is decreasing. As a result, by selecting TDD technology, operators can utilise spectrum more efficiently, while addressing the demands of today’s customers. Thirdly, vendors production rates for TD-LTE equipment is much higher that older TDD technologies. This will help to keep prices low and consequently more TD-LTE networks will be built.

Are you concerned by increasing amounts of wifi offload reducing the need for TD-LTE?

One of the main motivations of wifi offload for users is to lower their costs. The severity of this threat for FDD LTE is higher than that of TD-LTE. Price per megabyte in TD-LTE is inherently cheaper than that in FDD LTE.

Does TD-LTE offer up any specific challenges around backhaul?

It depends on the type of the backhaul network. Any broadband service provider which holds a classic microwave backhaul network will suffer from the booming data traffic phenomena. It is expected a TD-LTE operator will need to carry heavy traffic over its microwave backhaul network. If that comes true, microwave backhaul will be a challenge.

What plans do you have for carrier aggregation?

Carrier aggregation depends on the frequency band and available bandwidth. Considering our spectrum limitations, we are not able to activate the intra-band contiguous or non-contiguous carrier aggregation.

What would you say to any operators considering the move to TD-LTE?

To select a technology, the availability of user terminals is the key decision factor. I suggest that operators first check the forecast of production rates of terminals per technology and for each frequency band.

Nima PourNejatian, CTO, MobinNet, Iran is speaking on the subject of “WiMAX to TD-LTE Migration: How and When?” on Day one of the inaugural TD-LTE Summit taking place 23rd-24th April 2013 at the Fairmont Singapore Hotel, Singapore. Click here to download a brochure

 

EE bah gum: it’s fast! – EE LTE on test

ee_iPhone

As my day job involves writing about LTE on a pretty regular basis (as in every day) I always found it quite ironic that up until recently I’d never experienced an LTE network ‘in anger’. Come October last year and UK operator EE changed all of that. It’s taken a while but I’ve finally succumbed to the temptation and signed up to the service. This means I’ve done the full tour of UK operators. I started with T-Mobile in 1998 when it was still One-to-One, later moved to Vodafone (just for 3G – yes really), before moving to O2 (cheap). It means Orange is the only brand I’ve not been billed by, but I am at least now using its network.

Today the UK operator EE released its first figures since the operator launched its LTE network, and analysts have been fairly downcast on the figures, which show a decline in revenue of 2.6 per cent to £5.96bn. There have been an increase in post-paid subscribers to the service, the EE network includes the Orange and T-Mobile brands, which are 3G only. As EE has not released figures for the number of its new 4G EE customers there’s no way of knowing to what extent LTE has helped. The assumption from analysts though is that if EE has something to crow about, it would be doing so.

So what’s keeping the punters away? The only conclusion can be price. As you might have heard, there’s a double-dip recession on, which is not the ideal environment to get consumers to pay more for faster speeds, especially when they are as heavily capped as EE. Remember the entry-level cap only gives you 500MBs to play with and though the price has dropped to £31, it’s still pricey. To get a decent 3GB on a two-year contract with an iPhone 5 will cost you £46 a month with £99 for the phone.

But is it worth it?

The one thing I can confirm is that it’s fast. In areas of good coverage, which fortunately for me includes both work and home, LTE on an iPhone 5 delivers speeds that consistently put my Virgin broadband 60Mb connection to shame. Speeds of 30Mbps on the downlink and in excess of 20Mb on the uplink are a breathe of fresh air, especially coming from O2’s 3G network which at least for me, was pretty dire, rarely delivering more than 1.5Mbps.

What surprised me was how much difference it made even for the simple things, such as sending iMessages. The progress bar on messages just zips across, making for more natural conversations. Adding a picture to an iMessage used to mean a long wait while the message was painfully uploaded. Now, they go so quickly that the first time I had to check it had actually been sent and hadn’t just failed. All that upload speed is great for sending or posting pictures and videos, which is what more and more of us are doing from our smartphones.

A lovely was to demonstrate LTE is YouTube. It just loads up and starts to play immediately, with no buffering. Suddenly the speed of your device and not the network is the limit. This was brought home to me just today. I was on the train, and had need to watch a YouTube video. Immediately I did so and for once I was not thinking about latency or cell towers, – just the video. This all changed as the video suddenly stopped. I checked and noted that I was at a stop that I knew was an LTE blackspot (West Hampstead Station). 3G was displayed on the phone, but the speed wasn’t there. Result: experience spoilt.

This does seem to be a problem for EE. Even in the West-End of London I’ll see LTE come and go, and while DC-HSPA 3G is fast, I’ve also seen standard 3G, EDGE and GPRS, which means that your handset might well have to cope with switching between five different network standards during the day. No wonder these smartphones struggle for battery life.

If you have to fall back to DC-HSPA though performance is good. In a recent interview with EE’s Principal network architect, Andy Sutton, I was told that as part of its upgrade programme EE also currently has 40 per cent coverage of DC-HSPA on its network, and I can attest to this being pretty solid. However, ubiquitous coverage of either LTE of DC HPSA is still a long way away and clearly improvements can be made in the hand-off between network technologies.

LTE is not just great for video though. Being something of an audio aficionado I enjoy listening to high quality audio when I can. LTE enables me to stream by 24-bit FLAC files to my handset from NAS box at home, with no issues at all, something that was simply impossible on 3G.

As a downside, listening to high quality files on an LTE connection is also a great way for draining your battery, so necessitated purchasing a charging cable for work and plugging in on a regular basis.

I’ve also used LTE as a backup connection at home, when my Virgin connection has ground to a halt, as it sometimes does. This is thanks to the ability to very easily tether via the iPhone 5 hot-spot feature. This was banned by GiffGaff, the O2 MVNO I used to be on, a point of frustration when there was unlimited data to play with.

In my first month I’ve come just under the 3GB limit, which is clearly the sweet spot for me – enough to use the LTE as I want, without having to worry I’ll go over the cap.

What’s also gratifying is the speed at which EE is rolling out the network. At launch it was just 11 cities, and just four months later it stands at 27 cities – with 15 more by the end of next month.

And while I didn’t come to EE because of the value added services I have made use of the bundled wifi, which gives access to BT Wifi hotspots, the ‘EE Wednesday’s Cinema 2-4-1 offer, and the EE Film store, with a free film a week available to download that doesn’t eat into your data package to download.

To be critical, the EE app has just got very confused about my data usage, telling me I’ve used only 800Mb of my 3GB, when yesterday I had almost used it all up. The web site also had no record of my data usage. I also wouldn’t recommend roaming without a pre-pay bundle – the prices are simply eye-watering. Digital Commissioner Neelie Kroes has been working on forcing operators to lower these charges, and for me that can’t come soon enough.

The Clone Phone Lite app also seems pointless. It’s redundant for an iPhone thanks for iCloud, it only comes with a 500MB cap and when I tried to test the app it didn’t recognise my phone anyway.

Overall though, the combination of very fast network speeds and some actually useful value added services, I’d describe the whole EE experience as the most premium feeling package I’ve ever used. Which considering the premium prices is as it should be.

It remains to be seen then how it pans out. I’m relieved that being lucky enough to have an unlocked iPhone 5 without a contract I was able to go for a SIM-only package. This means that I’m only tied in for 12 months – not 24 and come next year they’ll be a pick of other operators offering LTE – (though of course as the iPhone 5 is LTE1800 only I’ll need a new handset to take advantage of them). If I stay, I expect that EE’s packages will be more enticing to the mass market.

So EE: it is expensive, and it can be patchy but as a teacher once described my contribution in class – “when it’s there – it’s really there.”

CSO, Interview: Indosat: “Look to develop the TD-LTE device ecosystem quickly”

Prashant-Gokarn

Prashant Gokarn, Chief Strategy Officer of Indosat is speaking at the TD-LTE conference in April

Prashant Gokarn, is Chief Strategy Officer of Indosat the second largest operator in Indonesia with over 60 million subscribers. He is speaking on Day One of the The inaugural TD-LTE Summit, taking place on the 23rd-24th April 2013 at the Fairmont Singapore Hotel, Singapore. Ahead of the show we speak to him about where Indosat is with LTE, and more specifically TD-LTE….

You have recently received approval to deploy LTE services. Why is it so important for Indosat to deploy LTE?

Our intention is to differentiate ourselves as an operator on the strength of our high-end wireless broadband. A key way to achieve that is by using our spectrum assets more effectively – which means LTE.

What will the impact of LTE be in Indonesia? What will the key benefits be?

At present, the quality and availability of fixed-line broadband in the country is poor. LTE enables us to offer our customers a high-speed option, which will make video and rich media applications much more accessible to customers.

Why are you selecting TD-LTE? Do you believe the TD-LTE is a better choice for delivering mobile data than FDD LTE?

On the technology aspects, TDD has the advantage in that it can allocate bandwidth to downlink on-the-fly making it more spectrum efficient. However, the ecosystem of TD-LTE is still nascent and under-developed compared to FD-LTE, which today at least, places it at a big disadvantage.

Is there are role for both FDD and TD-LTE in your region? Will they have different use cases?

There is a role for both FDD and TDD LTE. The use cases may be different in the short term as the ecosystem for FDD is better tuned to smartphones while TDD-LTE is still dongle focused

Does TD-LTE offer up any specific challenges around backhaul?

The link budgets and spread mean you need a fairly dense network at 2.3GHz TD-LTE in order to be able to deliver the performance.

What would you say to any operators considering the move to TD-LTE?

Look to develop the TD-LTE device ecosystem, and do it quickly!

Prashant Gokarn, CSO of Indosat will be speaking on Day One of the TD-LTE Summit 2013, presenting ‘TD-LTE in Emerging Markets: An Opportunity for Achieving Sustainable and Economically-Viable Broadband?’ Prashant Gokarn is also participating in the panel discussion: ‘Monetising TD-LTE Deployment: Evaluating the Key Monetary Considerations’ on Day Two of the conference.

The inaugural TD-LTE Summit is taking place on the 23rd-24th April 2013 at the Fairmont Singapore Hotel, Singapore. Click here to download the brochure

A price war is coming

Price-WarIf there was any doubt that things are going to get tasty LTE-wise in the UK, it was earlier this week, when 3, the UK arm of telco brand Hutchison, announced that when it launches its own LTE network later in the year it will not be charging a premium. The implication was the users will pay exactly the same as they do now, and as 3 currently leads the market for low-cost unlimited 3G data, that’s a pretty enticing prospect.

It’s also one that shoots a considerable large volley across the bows of the good ship EE, which got itself in the LTE race early by launching a service in November. It was able to do so after pulling off the deft trick of getting the regulator, Ofcom, to let it re-farm its 2G 1800MHz spectrum for LTE.  Having bigged up the benefits of 4G at its launch it then proceeded to make the most of this by launching LTE as a premium service – with high prices for lengthy 24-month contracts with small data allowances, the latter of which the network took a lot of flak for in the press.

With the auction process for the digital dividend 800MHz frequency and 2.6GHz now underway, ironically pushed earlier by Ofcom to reduce EE’s 4G lead-time in the market, EE reacted by announcing lower prices for its entry-level tariff. Instead of £36 a month for 500MB of data it would now only charge £31 a month, which over a 24-month period that’s a significant saving of £90. The price of a handset such as the Nokia Lumia 820, would also come down to £29.99. However, the measly 500MB bundle would remain.

At the other end of the market it would cater for high-end users with a new 20GB a month tariff with a phone and unlimited calls for £61 or the same thing but SIM-only for £41.

It’s not quite the slashing of prices that some had reported though – just one real saving on the entry-level package.

3 is currently offering an iPhone 5 with unlimited 3G data and 2000 minutes for £36 a month, which is more or less the same, aside from 500MB of LTE data vs unlimited 3G. When both of these become LTE, EE will have a problem.

Of course EE does have a couple of decent added value services to offer, such as tethering, inclusive BT wifi, Underground wifi, 2-4-1 cinema tickets (better known as Orange Wednesdays) and  the EE Film Store – but it’s unlikely this will be enough to sway many people away from an unlimited package.

Of course EE does have one key advantage – it has an LTE network that is up and running with coverage is increasing all the time with new markets being announced on a regular basis. What EE needs to continue to do is keep up the marketing pressure on signing people up before the other come online with live networks – which will be around six months from now.

It might get a bit longer to play with as the iPhone crowd won’t switch to LTE unless they can use their favourite fruity phones. The current European model of the iPhone 5 only supports 1800MHz, so all the other operators will be looking at Apple to make them happy and release an 800/2600MHz LTE supporting iPhone next time round – which is unlikely to be until September/October 2013 – a year or so following the iPhone 5 launch.

When this happens one has to imaging that EE’s pricing will look somewhat different to what it looks like at the start of 2013.

Pricing strategies are certainly going to be one of the hot topics addressed at the LTE World Summit 2013, taking place in Amsterdam in June, so be sure to get your plans together now to attend.

Asian operators pushing the envelope with LTE Advanced

pushing_the_envelope_posterWhile many parts of the world are awaiting LTE, Asian carriers are already moving ahead leaps and bounds by testing LTE Advanced.

Current LTE rollouts are based on Release 8 of the 3GPP standards, while LTE Advanced is based on Release 10, which was standardised in April 2011. Since then, some companies have been working on pre-release equipment, looking to get a jump on the rest of the industry.

Chief of these are equipment vendor Ericsson and SK Telecom, the biggest operator in South Korea with just under 50% market share. The two have got together to test a specific feature of core LTE Advanced technology called Transmission Mode 9. TM-9 is designed to help reduce interference between base stations to maximise signal stability and boost performance.

TM-9 is particularly smart though. It can detect when a mobile device is being used and send a different type of signal that is optimal for a mobile device (variable DM-RS – demodulation reference signals). This maximises the efficient use of the base station and guarantee’s a decent data rate for users. Early results are positive with a claimed 10-15% increase in data rates in locations where there was known inter-cell interference.

One of the best known improvements that LTE Advanced will bring is Carrier Aggregation and here ZTE have been taking strides with the world’s first use of it in a commercial network. This was the Guangdong arm of China Mobile using 20MHz of spectrum and interestingly was performed on a TD-LTE network. Peak download rate? A massive 223Mbps, more than double the peak rates quoted for Release 8 LTE.

TD-LTE also once again comes to the fore in China, having been used for a live TV broadcast – the Xiamen International Marathon beamed to the TV centres of China Central TV and Xiamen TV. The vendor here was NSN, using its SingleRAN platform with Liquid Core EPC.

It all points to a bright future for LTE.

This next evolution of LTE technology is significant as it will meet the speed requirements of what the 3GPP originally dubbed 4G. LTE Release 8 was of course not originally considered to be 4G, but the 3GPP were forced to acknowledge ‘the realities on the ground’ where even DC HSPA 3G was being dubbed 4G by some US carriers. This time round, there’s no doubt, though I suspect it will simply give some the licence to go to market with ‘True 4G’ or some such exaggeration.

If you want to hear more about the latest advances in TD-LTE then be sure to get to the inaugural TD-LTE Summit taking place on the 23rd-24th April 2013 at the Fairmont Singapore Hotel, Singapore. Click here to download the brochure

 

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