Monday, 28 June 2010

Has the WiMAX Camp Surrendered to LTE?

The Russian operator Yota revealed plans in May to switch tack and start rolling out LTE. The company, which has always preferred to describe itself as a mobile broadband provider rather than a WiMAX operator, had been rumored for some time to be contemplating the change. It will start to deploy LTE networks in five cities later this year.

India’s 2.3GHz-spectrum auctions dealt WiMAX a second blow when it emerged that the list of successful bidders is dominated by companies pledged to launch services based on the TDD version of LTE. Among the successful bidders was Qualcomm – a longtime critic of WiMAX – which secured prime TDD spectrum covering Delhi and Mumbai, and Reliance-owned Infotel Broadband Services, which secured spectrum in all regions. It now appears that the Indian market, which had looked like the next great hope for WiMAX, might go the LTE route.

The decision by Netherlands-based WorldMax to close down its service in Amsterdam just two years after launch – due to license restrictions imposed on the company by the Department of Defense over interference concerns – removes another torch-bearer for WiMAX from the market.

The WiMAX Forum has been forced to acknowledge LTE’s growing dominance, but is still urging operators to deploy WiMAX to win market share early on.

There has been a huge effort behind TD-LTE in 3GPP, the technology trials conducted recently by China Mobile and the multivendor TD-LTE technology demonstrations at the recent Shanghai Expo, all of which point to the likelihood that TD-LTE will be commercially ready around the same time as, if not sooner than, the FDD version.

Investors and operators alike are seeking assurances that WiMAX networks are capable of migrating to LTE sometime in the future. WiMAX vendors are therefore eager to point out that the equipment they supply today can, at some future date, be converted to TD-LTE by means of a software upgrade.

Meanwhile, efforts continue to enhance the performance of existing WiMAX networks and to develop next-generation 802.16m products. But with only a small number of vendors backing 802.16m, or Phase 2 WiMAX, there must be some doubt as to whether the technology can be commercialized late in 2011 as hoped.

The risk to 802.16m is that the availability of TD-LTE, also in late 2011, might make that the preferred technology route for WiMAX operators.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

How Heavily Will Policy Control Feature in the Operators' LTE Strategy?

Operators planning to deploy LTE are looking for intelligent traffic management systems as well as ways to create a more personalised service for users in an increaslingly competitive market. As the mobile operators find themselves dealing with growing volumes of data traffic, new applications and services on the network on top of pressured margins, operators have seen that providing a bigger pipe with the introduction of LTE may not be enough. Policy control and its role in service and subscriber management, has emerged as one of the key talking points in the telecoms industry in the past year.

There have been a flurry of telecoms software companies offering (to use the 3GPP terminology) Policy and Charging Rules Function (PCRF) which is a central point for managing network infrastructure costs and enabling subscribers to enjoy a wide variety of services and a high quality experience. The Policy Controller can also be deployed in conjunction with Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) solutions.

Companies such as Starent, Bridgewater Systems, Camiant, Blueslice Networks, Sandvine and Allot Communications are just some of the companies that have landed deals with large operators.

However, some operators think that introducing tiered pricing will go a long way to deliver enhanced user experience for customers that are willing to pay more for mobile broadband. The Head of OSS from Telenor in Norway said recently at Informa's Broadband Traffic Management conference that operators should keep it simple and LTE should be able to manage all the data traffic that operators will have on thier networks in the next few years.

Is keeping it simple, the best way to managing the network? With the expectation that there will be a vast number of different services that are available on the network, perhaps a more sophisticated solution is necessary. However, after simplifing the network in order to reduce latency, is adding the policy control feature like going backwards and bringing back more complexity into the network?

Thursday, 4 March 2010

What Opportunities does LTE Provide for MVNO's?

In the Verizon Wireless conference webcasts one of the things talked about was how applications and devices can be sold either going through the operator's channels, but that companies could also use the MVNO model (VZW called it the wholesale model) to sell devices directly to the consumer.

VZW has set up nPhase with Qualcomm. As described on their website: nPhase is an enabler of Machine to Machine (M2M) and Smart Services solutions across industries including energy, healthcare, consumer products, telematics, heavy off-road machinery, industrial equipment, and commercial products. We enable our clients with complete end-to-end solutions that wirelessly connect their products and business assets to deliver ground breaking possibilities for new business models, differentiation and growth.

What possibilities does this bring to the table for MVNOs? Should MVNOs be looking at personalised healthcare services or smart metering, since they have the experience of working with the operators to provide these sorts of services?
Wireless Logic the MVNO based in the UK is already looking at M2M and sees embedded connectivity as a strong prospect. The US based MVNO Wyless is also working with healthcare providers to develop niche healthcare services serch as remote monitoring applications.

MVNOs seem best placed to provide value added services for specific vertical markets. It will be interesting to see what other innovative ideas MVNOs can come up with and what the impact of having LTE and a bigger pipe will be.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Is Skype the Future of Voice?

The industry has decided that IMS (or VoLTE) is definately the solution to providing voice over LTE, but recent announcements by the likes of Verizon Wireless who will be joining forces with Skype, was an interesting move.

From March, consumers in the USA will be able to get Skype on a wide range of VZW phones, including the BlackBerry, Droid by Motorola, Eris by HTC and the Motorola Devour. The service will allow users to make and receive unlimited free Skype-to-Skype voice calls and send and receive instant messages. The devices selected for the Skype deal are likely to be generating most of the revenues from data anyway. Could this be VZW starting to look a new business models for its upcoming LTE network?

Commenting on the announcement, Dario Talmesio, Senior Analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media, said: “The Skype/Verizon announcement demonstrates that mobile operators are beginning to change their attitude towards VoIP providers, they have gone from blocking to managing what they consider to be an issue."

VZW isn't the first operator to embrace this level of openess. 3UK launched “Skype on 3” back in May 2009 and celebrated it billionth phone call over Skype last month. Preferring to offer free voice for it customers and generating revenues from data only, this has proved to be an extremely successful business model in them in the UK.

Skype has just released software for Nokia's Symbian operating system, expanding its reach to more than 200 million smartphones around the world, allowing users to make free Skype-to-Skype calls rather than using voice minutes. Nokia has been ramping up Internet services to boost its sales in the highly competitive smartphone market. Last month, it began giving away its navigation software, Ovi maps. Skype added that it will soon release its service for other Symbian devices from handset makers including Sony Ericsson.

The majority of mobile operators however, have yet to make a firm decision on mobile VoIP. Operators have realised that future revenue growth will be from data services and that in the future - and especially with the introduction of LTE, voice will just be one of many applications on the handset or smartphone. But voice still accounts for a major part of operator revenues and they want to hang on to it for as long as they can.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Can a LTE-WiFi Business Model Work?

With most operators deciding to back LTE over WiMAX, the LTE versus WiMAX debate is over. WiMAX will have its place in the industry, but will not be the global mass market technology that it was touted as. But what about WiFi?

Over the past year WiFi has been the operator’s new best friend. WiFi offload has been an important part of traffic management for operators such as ATandT and Telefonica. Both operators have city-dwelling iPhone users that have had less than satisfactory 3G experience. In a recent interview with Fierce Wireless CEO of Telekom Austria, said that the company was prepared for the continued growth in mobile data traffic, but suggested that pushing data onto Wi-Fi made sense and CEO of Softbank said in recent interview that mobile networks would not be able to cope without WiFi. In Japan 50% of data traffic happens inside the home during peak hours, which makes it ideal to harness WiFi technology. He did also add that "3G and LTE is the way to provide blanket coverage, but WiFi helps to provide a richer experience."

Thousands of devices have been WiFi enabled, as Blackberry and Apple have turned Mobile WiFi into a prime time mobile technology. Even though it is not a technology that is likely to have huge levels of coverage, WiFi is still fast becoming a mainstream mobile technology.

By cellular standards WiFi is a crude technology. With no power control, no frequency awareness, limited mobility, handover capability and range the QoE simply doesn't match that of 3G, but WiFi’s simplicity and low cost has led to mass deployment of the technology.

Although some operators seem happy to offload some of their traffic onto WiFi, will this still be the case with LTE? Both LTE and WiMAX positioned themselves as WiFi killers and surely with the amount of investment that is going into or will be going into LTE, there shouldn't be a need to offload traffic onto WiFi?

Vendors are however looking to provide dual mode LTE-WiFi devices. This confuses the LTE business model slightly as consumer will have to pay a premium in order to connect to the high speed, low latency (etc etc) LTE network, but could potentially be bumped off onto a cheap, lower quality WiFi network. It is a model that seems to work for 3G, but can it work for LTE?

Friday, 26 February 2010

Lack of LTE Devices, Still a Worry?

At this years Mobile World Congress, vendors were announcing LTE devices of all shapes and sizes. Besides modems, vendors showed netbooks and portable Wi-Fi hotspots that are compatible with LTE.

Perhaps the most impressive of the devices was the E398 modem unveiled by Huawei. The E398 is the world’s first triple-mode LTE modem compatible with all three major network standards: LTE, UMTS, and GSM. The triple-mode modem is based on Qualcomm's MDM9200TM chipset and will enable end users to seamlessly switch from LTE to either UMTS or GSM. The modem also supports multiple mainstream LTE frequencies.

The Huawei E398 modem will be initially launched in the world's first LTE/GSM shared network in Sweden operated by Net4Mobility, a joint infrastructure venture between Tele2 Sweden and Telenor Sweden.

Toshiba at the Mobile World Congress show this week showed off its Satellite T130 notebook PC with an integrated LTE network module from Sony Ericsson. During demonstrations at MWC the PC-maker demonstrated data download speeds of up to 16Mbps. This is significant as the PC is one of the first few with the high-speed connection option.

The AL600 from ZTE is being developed for the North American market and will operate in the 700MHz band, which Verizon will use in its upcoming network. The modem will also operate LTE in the 2.6GHz band,to cater for European operators.
ZTE is also working on a portable Wi-Fi hotspot that lets users share an LTE connection using Wi-Fi.

Samsung’s new LTE netbook, bolstered with the presence of its own in-house designed LTE modem chipset Kalmia has been dubbed the world’s first LTE netbook PC. The device was also demonstrated at the MWC. Kalmia, which enables the development of a small form factor netbook with LTE capability, was brought to the fore by way of a live video streaming via the company’s own LTE network equipment on the Samsung netbook N150.

LG announced its LD100, a LTE data card, at CES in January. Anritsu demonstrated data throughput
of up to 100 Mbps downlink and 50 Mbps uplink speeds on the LG device at MWC. LG also demonstrated handover between LTE and CDMA with their VD13 device. The company came up with a device for the Handover back in August, the M13, but the VD13 is an even slimmer device!

Perhaps less well known is that Ericsson is also working on integrating LTE into laptops and notebooks. The company is most known for its mobile networks, but it also sells modules for integrating mobile broadband into laptops and netbooks. Ericsson's module will operate in multiple frequency bands for LTE and HSPA. But it won't start shipping the module until LTE has become a "mass market" technology, and that won't happen until the beginning of 2012, according to Ericsson.

Huawei and ZTE will ship its modems -- the E398 and the AL600 or AL620, respectively -- by the end of the year. Samsung promises to ship its modem during the first half of 2010, according to a spokesman. But operators only expect to get their hands on a limited number of modems, with volume shipments starting in the beginning of 2011, according to Magnus Zetterberg, CTO at Telenor Sweden.

One of the things vendors have to think about more about when designing products for LTE is which frequencies they will operate on as operators will be using various frequency bands for LTE. LTE pioneers Verizon Wireless, NTT DoCoMo and TeliaSonera will all use different frequency bands for their respective LTE network. So for roaming in the U.S, Japan and Europe to work, modems will have to support 700MHz, 2100MHz and 2600MHz with more bands likely to be needed in the future.

With the GSMA focusing its efforts on roaming for LTE, this should help to encourage device manufacturers that there is sufficient momentum and demand for LTE devices. It should also make operators that think that LTE is not ready, think again...