Archive for April, 2013

Will LTE prove to be a life-saver?

4G-LTE-public-safety-366x251LTE isn’t just a great technology for uploading pictures of the cake you just baked to Facebook – it could soon prove to be a life-saving technology. What the public is becoming increasingly aware that LTE is the technology behind ‘4G’ not many realise that plans are underway in the US for it to be to be used to build a public safety network.

This is a network that is set aside from the regular communications networks, exclusively for use by first responders in an emergency situation, such as terrorism or natural disasters. While these systems already exists it is hoped that the introduction of LTE will enable these first responders to act even more quickly and effectively thanks, in the main, to one of LTE’s key features – speed. An LTE public safety network should be several times faster than the networks currently in place, enabling information to be sent and received faster and more reliably.

As such, an LTE-based system called FirstNet is currently being discussed in the US and  the opening sentence of this report prepared for the US Congress on FirstNet, indicates how acutely the issue is felt in the country, stating that, “[on] September 11, 2001…. communications failures contributed to the tragedies of the day.”

The recent events on 20 April in Boston have once again brought attention on the progress being made in developing a newer public safety network and in a recent meeting of the FirstNet board the matter of how an LTE powered FirstNet could have helped in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing was discussed.

According to this report the most relevant assistance it might have brought was to board member Kevin McGinnis, who is also CEO of North East Mobile Health Services. He said that he can monitor the health of up to 20 patients on his smartphone in real time – but to do that a robust reliable network is required. Presumably this isn’t so that he can ‘work from home’ but rather he can help more people by being in more places at once, as it were, by having life-saving data at his fingertips.

Another example given at the meeting was by board member Charles “Chuck” Dowd, deputy chief of the New York City police department who said that bomb squads from different areas sometimes pooled resources and used real-time HD video to work together to diffuse devices. HD video is of course one of the things the LTE does best.

In an interview with the LTE World Series earlier this year, Tony Gray, board member of the TETRA & Critical Communications Association (TCCA) and chair of the Critical Communications Broadband Group (CCBG), pointed out that the public safety community can benefit from the economies of scale the LTE provides, lowering prices and time-to-market of equipment, which up to now has been proprietary and expensive. However, he also pointed out that LTE as a standard will have to adapted to meet the specific requirements of the critical communications community in the areas of group-based operation, fast call set-up and off-network, device-to-device working.

This and other issues will be addressed at the LTE Public Safety expo that is taking place on the show floor on day two of the LTE World Summit on Tuesday 25th June. At the expo, which is free to attend, you’ll also get to hear from other key Public Safety experts such as Emil Olbrich, lead project engineer for NIST, and Herman van Sprakelaar, who is in charge of tactical management for the Netherlands Police.

While we all hope that critical communications will never have to be used, it is reassuring to know that LTE technology will soon be on hand to assist in these worst-case scenarios.

The LTE World Summit, the premier 4G event for the telecoms industry, is taking place on the 24th-26th June 2013, at the Amsterdam RAI, Netherlands. Click here to download a brochure for the event.

Interview: CTO, SK Telecom, South Korea: “SDN and network virtualisation technologies hold great promise for mobile carriers.”

Dr J W Byun, the CTO of SK Telecom, South Korea is speaking on Day One of the LTE World Summit, taking place on 24-26 June 2013 at The RAI, Amsterdam. Ahead of the show we speak to him about how SK Telecom has been able to extend its global lead in LTE and gives some insights into what he sees coming down the line for telecoms.

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SK Telecom is a leader in LTE technology and have been one of the first to go live with VoLTE? Why do you think you were able to do so when other operators have not done so?

We were able to achieve nationwide LTE rollout at a rapid pace as Korea is a small but densely populated country. Moreover, Koreans are already used to fast Internet speeds and their expectations are getting higher and higher in terms of network speeds and device features/capabilities.

As Korea’s top mobile carrier, SK Telecom has developed strong technological capabilities in mobile telecommunications and accumulated extensive knowhow in network operation over the past 29 years. Based on its long-standing partnerships with many telecommunications equipment manufacturers and device makers, SK Telecom was able to maintain its market leadership by developing the most innovative LTE technologies and securing the richest line-up of mobile devices.

After launching Korea’s first LTE service in July 2011, the company saw its LTE subscriber base expand rapidly thanks to its premium service quality and customer care. With the spread of LTE, the company shifted its focus to developing and providing diverse services specially designed to match the needs of LTE users, allowing them to get the most out of the LTE network. In addition, on August 8, 2012, SK Telecom has launched the world’s first nationwide VoLTE service to enable users to experience premium-quality voice services.

Are you also intending to be one of the first to pioneer RCS services and what impact do you think it will have on customers mainly using OTT services?

SK Telecom has already commercialized an RCS service named joyn.T. Launched on 26 December 2012 the number of joyn.T users reached 1.57 million in April, 2013. The strong growth of joyn.T is attributable to the fact that it

1) Enables joyn.T users to send free messages (SMS, MMS) to anyone including those who have not downloaded the joyn.T application.
2) Offers diverse differentiated features such as live video sharing and location sharing.
3) Can become interoperable with RCS services of other mobile carriers throughout the world.

The LTE World Summit, the premier 4G event for the telecoms industry, is taking place on the 24th-26th June 2013, at the Amsterdam RAI, Netherlands. Click here to download a brochure for the event.

Where are you with LTE Advanced and carrier aggregation in particular?

At Mobile World Congress 2013, SK Telecom showcased Carrier Aggregation using a smartphone for the first time in the world and we plan to commercialize LTE-Advanced by launching Carrier Aggregation (CA) in the second half of this year, using a combined total of 20MHz (from the 800MHz and 1800MHz bands).

However, last year, in July 2012, SK Telecom became the first company in the world to commercialise Multi Carrier (MC) – a technology that enables operators to choose one frequency band from multiple carriers to provide more seamless and reliable LTE services at faster speeds – by building 1.8GHz base stations. Going forward, these MC-capable base stations can be easily turned into CA-capable equipment through software upgrades so as to support LTE-Advanced from the second half of 2013.

Do you believe that RCS services can genuinely help the industry compete with OTT?

RCS service sets itself apart from the traditional OTT offering through its unique features. It provides guaranteed Quality of Service (QoS) since it is offered over the managed IP network of the operators and hence is carrier-grade. In addition, it can be grown into a more comprehensive service with the addition of diverse features developed based on the global RCS standards. SK Telecom plans to add attractive features that are combined with communication services, such as HD Voice (VoLTE). Furthermore, as many mobile operators around the world are promoting the development of RCS services based on the same specifications, these services are expected to become a universal service that can be enjoyed by all customers around the world regardless of network and carrier.

Is VoLTE part of your plans and what benefits will it bring both to operators and consumers?

For customers, VoLTE improves voice quality over 3G voice calls by 40 per cent by utilising a wider bandwidth (50~7000Hz) compared to 3G voice calls (300~3400Hz) and Adapted Multi-Rate Wide Band (AMR-WB) codec, which handles 2.2 times wider frequency bandwidth than that of 3G voice calls. Moreover, the call connection time is less than 0.25 to 2.5 seconds, two to 20 times shorter than 3G voice calls. VoLTE also provides seamless conversion between voice and video calls.

Moreover, VoLTE has helped mobile operators strengthen their competitive edge over third-party players, while paving the way for the creation of new and creative all-IP-based business models.

Where do small cells fit into your plans, and what benefits will they bring?

In the LTE-Advanced environment where data traffic is expected to increase dramatically, small cells will become the most crucial part of mobile operators’ strategy. Small cells enable operators to expand network capacity using their existing frequency resources in the most cost-effective manner. SK Telecom has deployed 50,000 femtocells including 3,000 LTE femtocells. To realize the true benefits of small cells, SK Telecom plans to develop and apply cell virtualization technologies such as Super Cell. Super Cell enables mobile operators to use cell virtualisation technologies to enhance network capacity by minimising inter-cell interference, ensure seamless call quality by removing handover, and benefit from cost-efficient operation of networks.

Are there any other key innovations in your network compared to others operators?

SK Telecom’s premium quality LTE service is supported by innovative LTE network technologies like Multi Carrier, LTE femtocells, Downlink CoMP (Coordinated Multi-Point) and SON (Self-Organizing Network), all of which were commercialised by SK Telecom for the first time in the world. The application of these advanced technologies, combined with SK Telecom’s long-established know-how and experience in network operations, is making the company’s networks even stronger, faster and smarter.

The company is also making constant efforts to keep developing core LTE-Advanced technologies to lead the full-fledged opening of the era of LTE-Advanced. It has successfully demonstrated, for the first time in the world, core LTE-Advanced technologies like Enhanced Inter-Cell Interference Coordination (eICIC), Uplink Cooperative Multi-Point (CoMP), Carrier Aggregation (CA) and Transmission Mode 9 (TM9).

Pricing for LTE is a controversial subject. Are operators getting it right?

LTE operators around the world are introducing many different types of price plans for their LTE subscribers. As for SK Telecom, it is offering a wide variety of LTE price plans in order to meet the diverse needs of customers and to encourage them to experience the advantages of the ultra-fast network in the most convenient and cost-effective manner. They include flat-rate plans, specialised plans for different age groups such as the elderly and teenagers, and optional data-only plans.

For instance, the company’s most recently launched (March 22, 2013) fixed-rate price plan named ‘T&T Sharing’ provides customers with unlimited intra-network voice calls as well as unlimited intra-network and inter-network texting. The company also modified its existing LTE data plans to lower the cost burden on customers by allowing them to add one data-only device to use the same data pool for free.

Moreover, in January 2013, SK Telecom introduced the ‘LTE Data Gift Program’ that allows customers to give their remaining data to other LTE users through a simple process.

How will affordable LTE roaming be achieved?

LTE roaming costs are expected to become as affordable as that of 3G roaming through close partnerships between mobile carriers. This will occur as LTE services spread across the globe. Recently, the members of the Bridge Alliance reached a consensus that LTE auto-roaming takes an important role in the future direction of next-generation roaming services, thus calling for strategic partnerships between carriers around the world.

After launching the world’s first LTE auto roaming service under partnership with Hong Kong’s CSL on June 1, 2012, SK Telecom has launched the service in Singapore by joining hands with M1 (October 1, 2012) and SingTel (March 1, 2013). Recently, SK Telecom has also started the service in the Philippines (April 1, 2013) by partnering with Globe Telecom.

What are the biggest changes you see coming down the line for mobile telecoms?

It has long been their dream of mobile operators to create mobile networks strong and smart enough to provide optimal network quality at all times. In the world of ever-increasing data traffic, they have been making heavy investments in their network infrastructure to prevent worst-case scenarios involving network overload. As a pioneer in the development of the global mobile industry, SK Telecom has already launched and refined its LTE network and is currently moving rapidly towards the era of LTE-Advanced.

Along with its efforts to realise unprecedented network speeds, SK Telecom also plans to promote the development of the Software-Defined Network (SDN) and network virtualisation technologies to make its network more powerful and attractive. SDN and network virtualisation technologies hold great promise for mobile carriers and will have a huge impact on the industry over the next five years. With SDN and virtualization technologies applied to the existing mobile networks, operators will be able to significantly reduce their network investment costs as they can install a number of software services within a single system, and flexibly adjust the amount of resources needed for each of them. Moreover, they will be able to offer optimal network quality for a particular service being used by customers located in a highly-congested area.

Interview: LTE roaming business development, Orange Group: “All communications has turned to 4G – it’s a hit!”

Laurent Pouillieute, LTE roaming business development, Orange Group

Laurent Pouillieute, LTE roaming business development, Orange Group

Laurent Pouillieute, LTE roaming business development, Orange Group is speaking on Day One of the LTE World Summit, the premier 4G event for the telecoms industry, taking place on the 24th-26th June 2013, at the Amsterdam RAI, Netherlands. Ahead of the show we speak to him about what the challenges that lie ahead for 4G, particularly around roaming.

What major developments have there been with regards to the LTE industry in your region this past year?

2012 was a busy year with several 4G domestic launches in each EU country [we operate in] and 2013 is proving much bigger. On the devices side, the trend of 4G compatible devices is clearly increasing. All communications has turned to 4G – it’s a hit! On the 4G roaming side 2012 was a year of preparation and in 2013 things are starting to happen for regional roaming.

What are the technical challenges involved in enabling roaming?

While 3G roaming is mature in EU, with all services open, 4G roaming has raised new challenges for the industry. These are:

–          device band support is still an issue for worldwide roaming. Hopefully, at regional level compatibility is fine but it is clearly a limitation for fast worldwide 4G roaming.

–          LTE network interoperability, first days of LTE roaming would be busy with debugging all new 4G routes (time & resources).

–          LTE roaming timing; to try to reduce the time between LTE domestic and roaming launch.

–          VoLTE is a real challenge and the industry (including devices) need to deploy it fast in the next few years. The right interconnect model has to be found in order to ensure end-to-end QoS and we strongly believe that we need an IPX overlay to deliver that.

What do you think will have to be done to get LTE roaming to become the norm?

Having one single common/universal band everywhere would clearly help the roaming business to deploy faster on all regions.

The LTE World Summit, the premier 4G event for the telecoms industry, is taking place on the 24th-26th June 2013, at the Amsterdam RAI, Netherlands. Click here to download a brochure for the event.

Will Wi-Fi offset the need for roaming?

I do not believe Wi-Fi will offset the need for 4G roaming. Indeed, 4G offers much better response time, bandwidth, QoS, and transparent customer experience and better coverage and mobility.

Pricing for LTE, particularly for roaming is a controversial subject. Are operators getting it right?

Pricing for LTE reflects both MNO’s investments in deploying 4G quickly and with maximum coverage and improving services and the customer experience. Roaming pricing has been regulated in some regions (such as the EU price caps), and this could help to develop usage.

What do you think will be the most exciting new development in LTE in 2013?

LTE will bring faster speeds and much lower latencies, opening up the possibilities for applications that we have not even imagined yet. What is exciting is the capacity to deliver end-to-end QoS thanks to that investment, and for that we need to find the right operating models, giving everyone its fair share of revenue (network operator, carrier, content provider and end user).

Interview: “LTE and fixed-line will keep walking together for a long time”: CTO, Equateur Telecom, Congo

Wilgon Berthold Tsibo, CTO, Equateur Telecom, Congo

Wilgon Berthold Tsibo, CTO, Equateur Telecom, Congo

Wilgon Berthold Tsibo, CTO, Equateur Telecom, Congo is speaking in the LTE Operator Strategies track on Day One of the LTE Africa 2013 conference, taking place on the 9th-10th July 2013 in Cape Town, South Africa. Ahead of the conference we speak to him about the particular challenges Africa is facing as local telcos look for roll-out LTE.

Please give me an overview of Equateur Telecom and tell me more about your customers and the wider MNO market in the Congo.

Congo is a country of four million inhabitants and there are more than 3.8 million mobile phone users; a penetration rate of 95 per cent. The MNO market Congo is composed of four operators : MTN Congo, Airtel Congo, Warid Congo & Equateur Telecom Congo (ETC),  known under the trade name of Azur-Congo. MTN and Airtel enjoy the largest market share (41% and 40% respectively) due to the length of time they have been established in the country – nearly 15 years. Warid, with six years market presence has 11% market share, and finally Azur Congo (ETC) holds 8% of the market after three years.

ETC is the fourth mobile operator in Congo Brazzaville and launched in 2010 in two main towns of the country – Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire. ETC has a commercial 2G license at 900 and 1800MHz frequencies and currently ETC is engaged in a deployment to achieve nationwide GSM coverage by the end 2014. We also offers EDGE services.

The customer base is mostly composed of young people, ages between 16 and 29 years old who are addicted to new technologies.

What are the biggest challenges to rolling out LTE in the Congo and the wider continent?

Most of Congo’s networks are 2G networks with some 2.5G services. One operator has started 3.75G services, but success has been limited. The biggest challenges to an LTE roll-out in the Congo will be mastering the equipment swap from 2.5G to 4G. After the swap, the second challenge will be obtaining terminals that are compatible with LTE, in order to make the product accessible to the whole population.

The LTE Africa conference is taking place on the 9th-10th July 2013 in Cape Town, South Africa. Click here to download the brochure for the event.

Will LTE act as a fixed-line replacement in Greenfield areas in Africa?

LTE won’t be a fixed-line replacement in Greenfield areas in Africa, but LTE is coming to reinforce the capacity and the diversity of services in Greenfield areas. LTE and fixed-line will keep walking together for a long time, because the availability of terminals constitutes a brake on the African LTE market boom.

What are the challenges around moving from WiMAX?

The challenges around moving from WiMAX to LTE are first and foremost adapting infrastructure to the Long Term Evolution technology and also ensuring the compatibility of terminals for the use of LTE services. Though they are close technologies in terms of development, the major challenges remain terminal availability.

FDD or TD-LTE – what is your technology preference and why?

Our preferred technology is Frequency Division Duplexing (FDD)-LTE because FDD is very good in situations where the uplink and downlink data transmissions are symmetrical (which is not usually the case when using wireless phones). More importantly, when using FDD, the interference between neighbouring Radio Base Stations (RBSs) is lower than when using TDD. Also, the spectral efficiency (which is a function of how well a given spectrum is used by certain access technology) of FDD is greater than TDD.

Are you considering network sharing agreements to lower costs and what are the regulatory issues surrounding this?

The strategy of sharing infrastructure is good as it reduces both CAPEX and OPEX. It reduces CAPEX for new operators entering into the business, because it does not have to raise large amounts of capital for its roll-out and it enables it to cover a large amount of territory through building sharing agreements. In return, the new operator will significantly reduce the OPEX of the site owner (fuel, electricity, maintenance, security, capacity) through its participation in the operational costs of the site. It will also enable the site owner to have a faster return on investment.

What particular challenges does Africa face in terms of backhaul provision?

The particular challenges are the availability of capacity at long distances from sites. Most operators use satellite links to serve remote areas but these links are very expensive and we cannot assure  quality during inclement weather. The emergence of different optical fibre platforms across Africa may be a solution.

How do small cells fit into your strategy?

In our strategy, small cells are a vital for 3G data off-loading, and we will also find also small cells vital for managing LTE Advanced spectrum more efficiently compared to using just macro-cells. The current cell architectures cannot support the exponential growth in demand for data transfer over the long term. The new radical concept of small cell networks can provide a viable solution economically and ecologically.

Addressing the mobile data explosion with small cells

This is a guest post by Amit Jain, vice president of product management at small cell specialists Spidercloud, looking at the different options of deploying small cells effectively.

This is a guest post by Amit Jain, vice president of product management at small cell specialists Spidercloud, looking at the different options of deploying small cells effectively.

Consumer femtocells and their higher power cousins, enterprise and public access femtocells, provide coverage in hard-to-reach areas. But they do not address the mobile data capacity explosion. Why? Because they cannot be used in places where the demand for mobile data is actually exploding!

Spidercloud’s Amit Jain is speaking today at the LTE LATAM 2013 conference, taking place at the Windsor Barra Hotel, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The demand for mobile data is highest in places where hundreds or thousands of people congregate, such as large shopping centres and large office buildings. Using a single small cell, irrespective of its power or capacity, will not help operators meet the demand for data. All that the operator will get is dissatisfied subscribers, who can see five bars of coverage, but merely get a few hundred kilobits of data.

To address the mobile data explosion, operators need a small cell system that enables them to:

  • Build a dense small cell network inside buildings, with numerous small cells
  • Easily add more small cells as more smart phones and more apps come on the network
  • Provide consistently high throughout, and consistently low call drop rates
  • Deploy this small cell network in hours or days, with technicians who are not cellular gurus

This is a tall order. The indoor RF environment, especially in large multi-storey buildings is very challenging. In a dense deployment, a handset can see several small cells at the same time. Because of fast fading, a handset may handover from one cell to another several times a minute without moving at all.

So, is a dense small deployment not possible?  Yes and no. It depends on the architecture adopted. Broadly, four architectures have been proposed in the industry:

1)      Femtocells connected to a Home Node B Gateway (HNB-GW) with hard handover
2)      Small cells connected to a Home Node B Gateway (HNB-GW) with soft handover using “Iurh”
3)      Pico-cells connected to a traditional 3G Radio Network Controller (RNC)
4)      Small cells connected to a small local controller. Local controller connects to the core network as single HNB.

The first option, hard handover of femtocells, has been trialled by many operators and most agree that it is not practical to deploy more than 5-10 femtocells in a large building.

Many suppliers who initially proposed the first architecture are now moving to the second architecture. They are implementing soft handover using a variation of the Inter-RNC handover protocol called ‘Iurh’. Since soft handover requires synchronization between small cells, some suppliers are building small cells with expensive oven-controller oscillators. All handover signaling goes over the backhaul link and can become a significant expense. And there is no way for an operator to locally offload data traffic without breaking inter-small cell mobility. Products based on this architecture are currently in development.

The third option is using pico-cells connected to a RNC is another way to do soft handover between small cells. This architecture is often offered by macro cellular infrastructure suppliers, who are able to scale down their macro NodeBs and reuse existing RNCs. It can be attractive if an operator requires a small number of small cells, but in the case of high density deployments, the cost of RNC ports can add up. Further, this architecture does place very stringent requirements on backhaul, and it unclear how SON functionality will be implemented.

In the fourth architecture, all small cells in a building connect to a small local controller over Ethernet. This controller is responsible for managing mobility, interference and SON. It aggregates all the traffic and connects to a HNB gateway as a single HNB would using standard Iuh signaling. All inter-small cell mobility events stay inside the building, and do not load the backhaul link or the HNB-gateway. The local controller acts as the master-clock and synchronizes all the small cells, eliminating the need for expensive oscillators in every small cell. If an operator wants to offload data traffic locally or integrate with enterprise applications, it can do so using the local controller. Some innovative operators are working on innovative enterprise applications that use the network intelligence that can be accessed at the local controller.

SpiderCloud’s 3G small cell solution is based on the fourth architecture. Operators have used it to deploy as many as 65 small cells in a 16-storey office building, with thousand of subscribers and hundreds of thousands of inter-small cell handovers daily and the technology is now ready to provide coverage, capacity and new applications in even larger buildings.

To learn more about the SpiderCloud solution please visit www.spidercloud.com or follow us on Twitter, @haraldsvik and @spidercloud_inc

Amit Jain joined SpiderCloud in September 2011. Prior to SpiderCloud, Mr. Jain was vice president of marketing, sales and service for Airvana’s CDMA femtocell business and his tenure at Airvana spanned ten years, including the company’s inception.  At Airvana, Mr. Jain held several leadership roles in marketing, business development and sales for 3G EVDO macro cellular products and femtocells. Prior to Airvana, Mr. Jain held both technical and business positions at Qualcomm, Ericsson, and McKinsey & Company. He holds an MBA from MIT’s Sloan School of Management, an MS in Electrical Engineering from University of California at Irvine, and a B.Tech in Electrical Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay.

Interview: access field development director, Google: “We have to create more local content in Africa and keep it there.”

Kai U. Wulff, access field development director, Google

Kai U. Wulff, access field development director, Google

Kai U. Wulff, access field development director, Google is speaking on Day Two of the LTE Africa conference, taking place on 9th-10th July 2013 in Cape Town. Ahead of the show, we speak to him to find out more about his role, and why he is excited about Africa and its potential for growth.

In his keynote address at Mobile World Congress in 2012, Google’s Eric Schmidt declared that his company’s mission was to reach, “the next five billion”. Of the world’s population of 7 billion, only 2 billion are online, presenting a huge opportunity for Google and every company.

One of the great Greenfield areas is, of course, Africa. According to Informa WBIS statistics only 4.27% of household on the continent have fixed-line broadband internet access. While over 70% have mobile phone coverage, this is almost exclusively basic feature phones – the seemingly near ubiquitous smartphone world of the US and Europe is an adventure that is only just about to start.

Clearly Google has a desire to help get the continent of Africa online as quickly and efficiently as possible and accelerating that process is the task of Kai U. Wulff, access field development director for Google, who is delivering a keynote address on Day Two of the LTE Africa conference, taking place on 9th-10th July 2013 in Cape Town.

Wulff says he is driven by Google’s famous mission statement, to organise the world’s information.” “You can only do this if [people are] brought online,” he says. “The second part of our mission statement is to make information universally accessible, and it can’t be universal if it’s limited to sub-set of people.”

Google is not a charity of course, and it naturally has a vested interest in growing its market, which Wulff admits. “Of course, Google is an internet company, so why wouldn’t we want to promote anything that increases the usage of the internet, as that what makes our company.” However, Wulff insists that his role is not to promote Google but to promote internet access in general. “My focus is not to bring people online to use Google products. Whether they want to use our products or not, it is my job is to bring more people online and then give them a much better experience online.”

But is internet access really a priority for people who might have more pressing concerns that sharing something on Google+? Actually, Wulff is certain that internet access is crucial for improving the lifestyles of those in Africa. “In today’s world I could not live without the internet in my job, so how can we expect to help to develop a continent if we are depriving them from access to the biggest source of information? You can’t solve the problem of poverty without giving people an incentive to use the internet. It may be a different incentive to the way the people in the Western world have it – people use it for pure entertainment, or a way to spend their money. In Africa it’s about how it makes their lives better.”

He gives the simple example of a tomato seller who can go online to check the optimal prices that he can sell his produce for, without having to spend a large amount of time physically travelling to the market. “I think that’s a tangible improvement in lifestyle.”

Indeed he thinks that there are many in the West who might start to worry about competition from Africa once it really starts to get online.  “If we give them access to the internet and give them proper tools some people might start to worry about competition from those markets.”

For that to happen though Africa needs to have move online local presence. One of the things that concerns him is what he refers to as the ‘trade imbalance’ of content. “I’m a bean counter by trade, I’m not a techie. As a bean counter you learn that no market can be sustained if you have a constant trade imbalance. If you look at the internet and Africa then there’s a massive trade imbalance – 99 per cent of the usage is downstream. [That] can’t be healthy long term.”

It’s not just that imported content is not as relevant as local content he says, it’s also important for content to be stored and maintained locally. “It’s distorting the whole picture. It’s distorting the peering costs, the incentives that people have. I think it’s paramount that people put their content online and put it on the continent. This might be controversial because we have a lot of data centres in the US, but I think we have to create more local content in Africa and keep it there.”

Aside from simple coverage, one of the reasons that content sharing is not popular in Africa is cost. In the West, while we might complain about our data bundles we are used to being able to upload our pictures and videos without normally incurring large costs. But Wullf points out that in Africa every picture you might upload costs money and will compete with you being able to do something online that is important for the basic necessities of daily life. “That’s one of the reasons I’m doing what I’m doing,” he says. “To make usage easier, faster and hopefully cheaper.”

One of the key areas that Wulff is focussed is to try and promote network sharing agreements between telcos to make a more efficient use of infrastructure. Duplication of effort is, as he frankly puts it, “really stupid”. “[If] everybody has his own masts, his own backhaul, his own generator you’re tripling the cost to the market. Especially when you’re talking fibre deployments because one fibre deployment has [effectively] unlimited capacity and [instead] you have three fibre running out at a very high cost. It would be like everyone who has a supermarket building their own road network. It doesn’t really make sense.”

Aptly then what Wullf is working on is improving the lines of communication between telcos. “Before you run three fibre lines up a hill, think about it. Speak to each other,” he advises.

This cooperation could really reap benefits for everyone in the eco-system. “Only a very small portion of Africa is covered, so if we were to deploy the capital a little bit more efficiently across the continent then everybody wins – more users, more usage, more money for the operators at lower operation costs, and lower prices for the end users.”

With much work to be done in terms of bringing basic mobile coverage to Africa some might see LTE as a luxury, but Wulff thinks that LTE is actually a great fit. “It’s about cost-per-bit. It’s that simple. Cost-per-bit delivers. The first high capacity IP MPLS networks that Siemens ever deployed with state of the art technology was in Nairobi – it wasn’t in New York City or Berlin, it was in Nairobi. Why would somebody deploy technology that has a higher cost per bit with the argument that it’s ‘good enough’ for Africa? You always go for the tech that offers the lowest cost per bit.”

He does concede that it’s unlikely to make sense to bring LTE to rural areas, and that initially LTE will focus on the high revenue markets. However, it should enable Africa to essentially bypass the slow evolution of mobile networks that the West experienced as it moved from 2G, then 3G to 4G.

Putting a techie hat on for a moment, Wulff says that LTE ability to lower costs while maintaining quality is one of its key assists for Greenfield areas. “You can do air interface per device ,per end user, so you could theoretically have one LTE networks and five operators and they could sell five different offerings based on QoS, depending on how much they want to spend on their air interface. That’s pretty cool if you ask me. I’m not representing an operator, but I like LTE from that aspect.”

Ultimately, Wullf comes across as being very optimistic for the prospects in the region. He warns that African operators should be careful to tailor their offerings for their own market and not simply try and mimic what has worked elsewhere. “That’s [been] one of the problems in some of the deployments, where basically the business case is just a copy/paste of developed markets. And then people figure out that this was not a great idea. We need to depart from the idea that a five-year old version of a European business case will work in Africa. It’s something that needs to be very, very specific and then it can be truly rewarding for everybody.”

The LTE Africa conference is taking place on the 9th-10th July 2013 in Cape Town, South Africa. Click here to download the event brochure

Double trouble – How EE is able to double its speeds and why it isn’t entirely good news

olafThis morning EE, the only national LTE operator in the UK announced that come the summer, it would be doubling speeds of its 1800MHz LTE network for its subscribers.  The increase offers a maximum headline speed of 130Mbps, which in the real world would translate to average speeds of 20Mps. The increase will initially be available in ten cities – Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, London, Manchester and Sheffield – and would be done by the end of June.

How is this possible? At the launch CEO Olaf Swantee explained that it was doubling the bandwidth it would be using from 2x 10MHz to 2x 20MHz.

EE has loads of spectrum to play with. In the recent auction, in addition to its considerable 45Mhz at 1800 (63% of all UK 1800 holdings)  it has also acquired 5MHz of 800 spectrum  and 35MHz at 2.6GHz. It therefore owns 36% of all UK spectrum.

Not though that the increase will only happen on the 1800MHz layer. It certainly won’t offer it on 800MHz as it won’t offer that same level of speed as EE simply doesn’t have the bandwidth to support it.

As its UK competitors start to ready themselves to launch LTE, for EE the move is timely, as it gives them another strong point of differentiation. In fact they could be crying into their base stations. Vodafone owns the next largest chunk of spectrum with 20MHz of 2.6GHz while H3G tops out at 15MHz of 1800.

Did EE hold back the launch then just got marketing reasons? Not so, says Monsoor Hanif, director of network integration and LTE at EE who I spoke to after the launch I spoke to and he assured me that the speed increase was always in its schedule and that it did not depend of the success at auction.

However, on a technical level it was not ready to launch at 2x 20MHz he said. Its 1800 spectrum has of course been used for voice and according to Hanif the delay was to ensure it managed that transition to 4G smoothly without affecting the quality of its voice calls. “To take away 10MHz from your 2G spectrum, that’s a massive challenge and we did that very fast. And we didn’t impact the 2G quality – we actually improved it. Could we have done it at day one? Only if we were reckless.”

The major fly in the EE ointment though is that if people were complaining about the paucity of its data bundles at launch, it’s going to be even worse come the summer when those in the ten launch cities will be able to chow their way through their allowances at even more astonishing speeds.

I asked this directly to Olaf Swantee but his answer essentially side-stepped the question. He said that its T-Mobile customers on its unlimited Full Monty tariff  average out at 1.4GB for heavy users. But in the previous sentence he also said that 4G users user more than 3G users.

So if you’re increasing your speeds, why not increase the bundles?

People like the simplicity Swantee said. “They like the fact that it’s a simple portfolio. You cannot get data bill shock as you can’t run out of our bundle.” Well that’s true, but it doesn’t really address the issue.

In the notes supplied with the event EE says the increased speeds will enable it to be ready to stream Ultra HD 4K movies – the next generation beyond Full HD 1080p. However, how it can square this with its modest data bundles is beyond me – as while the network may certainly be fast enough to handle it – most people’s wallets certainly won’t.

Swantee also said that the overall bundle appeals to many – the Film Store, the 2-for-1 cinema deals and the tethering. It’s true, all of those things are great value-adds, but there’s no getting away from the fact that price wise EE LTE remains a premium proposition.

Why ‘Context Awareness’ is the future of mobility

This is a guest post by Frank Yue, technical marketing manager for the Service Provider vertical at F5 Networks. In this post, Frank looks at how network intelligence will be crucial to the development of mobile networks and how it will affect their success.

This is a guest post by Frank Yue, technical marketing manager for the Service Provider vertical at F5 Networks. In this post, Frank looks at how network intelligence will be crucial to the development of mobile networks and how it will affect their success.

I have been reading a lot of articles and analyst reviews looking at the trends in the mobile network environment and trying to predict what the ‘Next Big Thing’ will be. I see some people talking about location-based services or the increase in wireless speeds with the rollout of 4G LTE networks worldwide. Other people are talking about the explosion of hardware platforms and operating systems that are available. Then there are the smart devices being introduced, such as intelligent watches, health and fitness monitors, and tracking devices for pets.

All of these technologies depend on wireless networks but they do not encompass and embrace the true value of being wireless. 4G LTE networks enable subscribers to access content at unprecedented speeds that reach 100Mbps and beyond. This means that mobile data is finally reaching the speeds of fixed-line services such as DSL, cable, and even Ethernet to the premise.  It is now possible to build applications that can access big data and deliver the services that mobile data has been envisioning for many years.

All of the mobile future predictions have a central concept in common.  The future of mobility resides in the concept of Context Awareness and providing intelligence based on that context. Mobility offers the opportunity to gain awareness of the individual and their interactions with their ever changing surroundings. This context also includes situational awareness. That means location, biometrics, weather data, data about other individuals, and any other relative data based on mobile context will be used to deliver a fuller environmental awareness.

There are some interesting examples being developed.  Layar is a company that specialises in augmented reality.  It has produced an application that overlays a live camera image of one’s surroundings with relevant information. This could be an image of a store front on the street with overlaid information about current sales promotions.  You could point your camera at an image in a fashion magazine and the application can suggest an online boutique to buy the outfit being worn.  Another example is the company, myTaxi. It pairs customers with taxi cabs in various cities based on the relative location of the client to the taxi, time, desired destination, cost and other factors.  While location is important, these other factors are leveraged to make an intelligent decision. taxi

Within the communications service provider (CSP) network, the infrastructure needs to start becoming intelligent as well. The elements in the network that have visibility into the subscriber information and their data traffic need to start becoming context aware. The CSP can leverage the contextual awareness provided by this insight to deliver enhanced and premium services. Mobile bandwidth is becoming readily available with the delivery of 4G LTE.

The CSPs are discovering that their networks are becoming commoditised for the delivery of over-the-top (OTT) traffic provided by third-party vendors such as NetFlix, YouTube and Facebook. By understanding the context of the subscriber and the OTT traffic, the CSP can add value to their customer’s experience. Video optimisation, parental controls, on-demand bandwidth and QoS controls, and enhanced security through anti-virus/spam are only a few of the services that the CSP is able to offer.

The CSP can obtain the context of the subscriber from the information received through their subscriber management system’s Diameter infrastructure (PCRF, HSS, OCS) and IMS services using SIP architecture. The CSP combines this data with awareness of the subscriber’s data through the use of Traffic Detection Function (TDF) and PCEF components that can inspect the data and identify the subscriber’s sessions and the applications being used.  It is now possible for the CSP to make intelligent decisions using policies that they define to manipulate the subscriber’s sessions using techniques, like QoS and rate limiting, or to steer that traffic to advanced Value Added Services (VAS) that can modify and enhance the content to deliver a richer customer experience.

pic2Ultimately, context awareness for mobile applications in conjunction with context awareness and policy enforcement within the CSP network infrastructure will be key drivers to the growth and development of the mobile internet. These concepts will drive the development and enhancement of technologies such as big data, mobile cloud computing, wearable tech, and mobile commerce. The mobile CSPs that are able to take advantage of the contextual awareness and integrate it into their business model will be the ones that ultimately succeed in this rapidly evolving environment.

Shock of the new: As mobile tech hits 40 has mobile progress gone stale?

gekko_mobile_phoneYou may have noticed the stories doing the rounds that today (3rd March 2013) marks 40 years since the mobile phone call was made – cue the traditional picture of the large brick-like mobile that those of a certain age will remember sharp-suited ‘yuppie’ types brandishing in the mid-80s.

And they did actually do this. A former boss used to tell the team repeatedly that back in the 80s he had once been able to pull over in a lay by on the motorway and secure a crucial deal because he was one of the only ones of his sales team to invest in a mobile phone. Gordon Gekko eat your heart out.

The first call was famously made by Martin Cooper, a Motorola employee who tells the tale of confused New Yorkers gawping at him in confusion as he walked around the street apparently makes a phone call – not something that up until then could have been done without the aid of a very long phone cable.

It’s called the shock of the new.

I clearly recall the experience of encountering a man in a bank who was patently a bit mad. He was walking around seemingly having a conversation with himself at the top of voice despite that fact that he wasn’t holding a phone. I remember staring at him wide-eyed as he walked around bellowing, and literally moving away to avoid this clearly crazy person. Except of course he wasn’t crazy. I didn’t realise it at the time (it was 1997) but he was just a man with a hands-free headset and no sense of the need for privacy.

Martin Cooper, a senior engineer at Motorola, who made the first mobile call

Martin Cooper, a senior engineer at Motorola, who made the first mobile call

While Cooper garnered his first amazed looks in 1973, it was 10 years for the first truly mobile phone models to appear at a cost of around $3,500, which incidentally makes the £600 SIM-free smartphone handsets we have now appear to be reasonable value.

However, these days that ‘shock of the new’ advance in mobile phone technology has arguably all but disappeared. The last time I experienced anything like it was at the launch of the Apple iPhone when I attended back in 2007. After all, it was an event which ushered in a new era of the mobile phone as a truly multi-faceted tool – a combination of mobile phone, internet device, and music player.

That was 10 years after my confusion at the loud shouty man and his hands free cable, but the muted responses to the latest models of smartphones, whether they be from Apple, Samsung or Blackberry point to a slowing down of innovation. Will it be 2017 before the next truly game changing leap is made?

In our recent interview with Eric Hoving, the CSO of KPN suggested that LTE will enable that new level of generational leap but that it won’t be to the devices – it will be to the way the internet presents itself.

“You’re going to see a different internet now as a result of LTE. What we have today is not a mobile internet — it’s mobile access to the internet…. If I go to the McDonalds website when I’m walking in Amsterdam I want to experience a different website to when I am at home. LTE will finally allow the internet to go mobile.”

To me, this sounds like Hoving is trying to describe Web 3.0 – just as dynamic web sites and enhanced interactivity defined Web 2.0, mobile will define web 3.0.

The game changer can’t be said to be LTE itself – as in the first instance it provides a smoother and more pleasant smartphone experience – it doesn’t change the game in and of itself. However, whatever device or service will come next it will certainly rely on widespread, if not ubiquitous, fast network coverage, and LTE and its immediate successor LTE Advanced will be crucial to that.

So happy 40th birthday for the mobile phone call, and here’s to the next ground-breaking milestone in mobile technology.

Interview: Chief strategy, innovation & technology officer, KPN Group: “LTE will finally allow the internet to go mobile.”

Erik Hoving, Chief strategy, innovation & technology officer, KPN Group

Erik Hoving, Chief strategy, innovation & technology officer, KPN Group

Erik Hoving, chief strategy, innovation & technology officer for KPN Group in The Netherlands, is opening the conference on Day One of the LTE World Summit, the premier 4G event for the telecoms industry, taking place on the 24th-26th June 2013, at the Amsterdam RAI, The Netherlands. In an interview ahead of the show we spoke to him about KPN’s LTE launch and the effect that 4G services will have on consumers and the internet in general.

Where are you with your LTE deployment in the Netherlands?

As part of a valuable packet of spectrum, KPN acquired 800MHz frequencies in the Netherlands in December last year. We have two paired blocks of FDD – 2 x 10MHz.  We obtained the license to use the 800 MHz spectrum on 1 January 2013 and we officially launched LTE on 4 February, just six weeks after the end of the auction. We’re in the middle of a huge roll-out scheme in the Netherlands, increasing coverage every week. This summer we expect to have covered half of the Dutch population with 4G. We initially launched in the greater Amsterdam area where the financial centre is.

What handsets did you launch with?

We launched with four handsets – the Nokia 820 and 920 Windows 8 handsets, the Samsung Galaxy S3 and the Huawei P1 Ascend. Recently we added the Sony Experia Z, The Samsung Express, the ZTE Grand Era, the HTC One and the Blackberry Z10 to our handset line-up. We also launched with a Samsung tablet and a 4G Mobile Hotspot– a mobile router translating LTE to Wifi.

Are you concerned that there wasn’t an Apple device you could launch with?

The 800 MHz frequency, which will be deployed in 4G networks all over Europe, is not yet supported in Apple’s products. However, we expect that all major handset suppliers will support this frequency on new 4G phones for the European market, next to the 1800MHz and 2600 MHz frequencies.

What speeds are you seeing from your network?

The average speeds that we want to offer to customers on our 4G network are 20 Mbps down and 10Mbs up; we see that we are realising those speeds, and very often reach higher maximum speeds. This is actually so much faster than what we were used to in 2G-3G networks.

What would you say were the biggest technical challenges you faced as you rolled-out the network?

From a technological perspective, the thing that is almost always underestimated moving from 3G to 4G, is the significance of switching to full IP. An IP network is very different from a traditional mobile voice network. It requires different skills with regards to load balancing, to the core network architecture, signalling etc.

Do you think LTE will usher in truly innovative services?

First of all I think that 4G is going to be a unique experience for end-users.  Seeing is believing. The customer experience will improve ’hugely’.  The quality of your mobile internet experiences is just so much better. This may open up a lot of new opportunities. Things like gaming will become more important, more exciting for customers. Additionally, if you have a strong presence on the business market as we do in the Netherlands, the coverage inside buildings is much better. You’re going to be able to reach much higher internet speeds on tablets when you’re inside a building.

If you want to be a little bit more visionary what I predict is that the internet itself will change. In the past 20 years we went mobile and then we introduced the mobile internet at the end of the 90s but you had to wait so long [for web pages to load] that most didn’t bother. You’re going to see a different internet now as a result of LTE. What we have today is not a mobile internet — it’s mobile access to the internet.

In principle the internet today is designed for fixed [connections]. When you look at most websites, whether you are in your office or at home you get the same website, but what you’re going to see is that the internet access is going to go mobile. If I go to the McDonalds website when I’m walking in Amsterdam I want to experience a different website to when I am at home. LTE will finally allow the internet to go mobile.

What’s your view on TD-LTE as an emerging technology?                                    

Well I think TD-LTE is way bigger than we know in Europe. There are three major companies, China Mobile, Softbank and Bharti Airtel supporting it – and our German unit E-Plus is part of that alliance. TDD is a frequency and a protocol that works very well for data transfer. It’s an extremely interesting protocol to use for data transportation.

What are your favourite gadgets at the moment and what don’t you want to leave the house without?

I will never leave the house without my wallet! Wouldn’t it be great if I would only have to take my mobile phone with me and it would contain everything – my keys, my credit cards, my security cards, my entry cards?  We all know it’s possible. With NFC technology, with all the technologies that we have available it’s an application world and it could be developed.

Finally, what continues to excite you about your role?

This industry is very, very interesting. It’s a long-term investment industry. We have to take decisions for three, five, eight years in advance because if you don’t do that you can end up investing in the wrong things and you can invest too early or too late, which can massively impact your profitability in the long run. The LTE roll out for example. We planned long in advance, and that is why we’re so successful now.

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