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Tuesday, 30 October 2007

VoIP: Not fashionable anymore


People who have used VoIP calls to make international calls will no doubt no the number of option available nowadays. Yesterday '3' released a VoIP phone in conjunction with Sykpe. While this will definitely be a boon for a lot of people, it makes me wonder how many similar deals will be coming soon.
An analysis in Register says, 'VoIP is Dead. It's just another feature, now'.
Think of Skype as a kind of parasitic virus that threatens to bring the host to its knees - but which can't survive without a living host. Bloggers and mainstream newspapers are another good example.

How so?

Well, Skype has no network of its own - it's simply an open protocol (SIP is more than one protocol, but bear with me) wrapped up in some proprietary bits. Apart from a few authentication servers, its only real asset is its "brand" - which isn't the most concrete or tangible line item to have on your balance sheet.

So at bottom, Skype needs somebody's else's network on which to operate. And because Skype has next to no income, and because its users can melt away as rapidly as they joined, it has no chance of attracting the capital investment needed to build a real network of its own, either.

(This is a problem for the entire VoIP sector - how do you attract capital when the price of the product itself is tending to zero? Only a fool would possibly see this as a good investment. Fortunately for Skype, it found its fool in the shape of Meg Whitman of eBay, who was dazzled by the Swedes' "front loaded" [translation: fictional] business plan).

All this means is that Skype is a kind of freestyle MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator) - only without any contractual commitments, and utterly dependent on the generosity of hosts to permit it to operate. This isn't a problem when the access network is a commoditised and unrestricted internet connection - such as the home or the office network. But it's a huge problem when the user is out and about - because there's no ready host for the parasite to attach itself to.

So today Hutchison Wampoa, which owns the 3 networks, called Skype's bluff.

Hutchison has been pushing VoIP to the trapdoor for a while now. It recently killed the alternative "host" for the Skype-organism, by blowing away the business model for public Wi-Fi. 3 UK's excellent high-speed HSDPA network blankets much of the country - and you can access it from a laptop with a monthly tariff that's about the same as the price of an hour's Wi-Fi. If you're already a 3 subscriber, the network will throw in a USB dongle for free. If you need mobile data, you'd be bonkers to sign up to a Wi-Fi plan.

RIP, public Wi-Fi.
Ovum has another interesting analysis titled, '3 cosies up to Skype'

The bigger operators, such as Vodafone, T-Mobile and Orange, have all taken flak recently for alleged hostility towards customers using VoIP on their networks. Now, here comes 3, not only encouraging its customers to use VoIP, but bending over backwards to make it easy for them. That this initiative is being taken by 3 is no coincidence, of course. As the smallest and newest of the UK mobile operators, 3's best hope for growth is to disrupt the status quo wherever it can.

In the short term, 3 may be able to use the Skype phone effectively to boost its subscriber numbers. In the long term, though, if 3 is successful with the Skype phone, the X-Series and similar projects, it might end up creating its own strategic problems. Imagine the scenario: on your mobile phone you use Skype for phone calls, Hotmail for messaging, Google for search and directions, YouTube for TV and music. What do you need your mobile operator for? The answer could turn out to be: subsidising phones, carrying data packets, and dealing with problems & complaints. Does that add up to an attractive business?

Whatever the case, VoIP is no longer an 'it' term and maybe the next time i am upgrading the phone, i may think of getting one with VoIP hotkey on it.

Monday, 29 October 2007

SDR for LTE

Image above shows a Mobile Phone with and without SDR


Since LTE will have highly flexible bandwidth and it would be possible to use phones in many different bands with facility for reprogramming if the operator you are using your phone with has completely different frequency band it is being proposed that Software Defined Radio (SDR) be used with LTE.

I am not aware as of now a practical mobile device with SDR so this would be an interesting leap if adopted by the mobile manufacturers.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

WiMAX is now an official 3G standard (Was it not 4G?)


Last Thursday evening, the UN agency ITU in Geneva officially admitted WiMax into the IMT-2000 family, which includes the dominant 3G technologies CDMA-2000, W-CDMA and TD-SCDMA. This is the first new addition since MT-2000 was approved in 1999.
"To have WiMax approved as an IMT-2000 technology is a huge win for the WiMax Forum," said Ron Resnick, president of the WiMax Forum, the industry group that certifies interoperability of products using the technology.
In addition to a significant gain in credibility for mobile WiMAX, the main impact of the ITU decision concerns the European market where one of the main barriers for mobile WiMAX adoption was the lack of spectrum availability in the 2.5GHz band. In Europe, it was initially decided that the 2.5-2.690GHz bands would be considered as being IMT-2000 extension bands, or more simply, UMTS/HSPA bands. Of course

WiMAX backers considered this to be unfair and adopted two strategies in order to address this situation:


Theoretically, as a member of the IMT-2000 family of technologies, mobile WiMAX can be deployed by mobile operators using their current 3G spectrum. However, there is almost no chance to see existing mobile operators deploying 16e in their 3G spectrum. There are two key reasons for this:

NOTE: What the standards body actually voted to support was OFDMA (Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiplexing), which forms the basis of WiMax today but is also set to power future technologies, including LTE (Long-Term Evolution), a system now under development as the next step in the GSM migration path. Commercial LTE deployment is expected in 2009 or 2010.
What this means is technically, ITU didn't accept WiMAX (802.16d/802.16e) per say as 3G standard. What they have done is, accepted "IMT-2000 OFDMA TDD WMAN specification" as 3G standard which in normal terms reffered as 802.16. Put another way, the ITU didn't accept WiMAX, It accepted WMAN. As per the definition of WiMAX forum "WiMAX based upon the harmonized IEEE 802.16/ETSI HiperMAN standard". One more point, ITU approaved 802.16 as a Time Division Duplex (TDD) but not for use in Frequency Division Duplex (FDD). Most of the licensed frequencies are based of FDD. [from Amandeep Singh's post if forum oxford]
Background:

The Mobile WiMax system profile was standardized in February 2006. According to several industry sources, the key features of Mobile Wimax are that it uses OFDMA, MIMO, Beam-forming and a number of other recent technology advancements that are labeled as features in 3.9G [LTE]. As a result, Wimax has some key advantages in comparison to other 3Gs, which were set up 7 years ago. It supports several new features necessary for delivering mobile broadband services at vehicular speeds greater than 120 km/hr1 with QoS. Some of Wimax’s key new features and benefits include:
  • Introduces OFDMA, which improves spectrum efficiency (the amount byte transferred on given width of frequency) around two times more than current 3G technologies or Wi-Fi. For the same service, Wimax only need about half of the base station as would for HSPA or EVDO –RevB.
  • Enables a wide range of advanced antenna systems including MIMO, beam-forming, space-time coding and spatial multiplexing. It thus increases the covering range of Wimax; it also can dynamically allocate frequency band (from 1.5 to 20 MHz) based on user’s signal strength, bandwidth requirement. It thus makes better use of available frequency to support more users.
  • Dynamic Power Conservation Management ensures power-efficient operation of battery-operated mobile handheld and portable devices in Sleep and Idle modes. Which may be critical for small devices like cell phones.
  • With 5 millisecond latency between hand-hold device and cellular tower, plus the support of QoS, make Wimax good for high quality VOIP, this wireless data network also competes with 2G and 3G on voice service. This is the reason why Qualcomm and Ericsson are strongly against it.
  • Wimax is an open standard, which means there will be no or very little royalty (Qualcomm, the San Diego-based chipmaker, now charges patent royalties approaching 5% of the price of a 3G handset). This is one of the biggest advantages of Wimax.
  • Another key feature of Wimax is that it defines a Framework or APIs and leave implement details to individual company. It thus makes it possible to plug in those most recent progresses and keep itself up-to-date, and this also encourage competition to develop better system.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Korea! The new leader of Digital World


I didnt realise how big Korea (South Korea ofcourse ... also known as Republic of Korea) was in digital world untill it was brought to my attention by a post on Forum Oxford. Our friend Tomi Ahonen has also co-authored a book on the same topic titled 'Digital Korea'. (Excerpts from the book here). Recently he spoke on CNN and the video which you may find informative is available here. You may notice several stats in this post which have been extracted from ITU's Digital Life publication.

Once considered an industrial backwater, Korea’s effort to reinvent itself as a high-tech powerhouse has seen the country notch up a broadband scorecard the rest of the world yearns to emulate. In 1995, Korea had less than one Internet connection per 100 inhabitants; today, this modest nation of 72 million people leads the world with a household broadband penetration of 89.4 percent.
Korea’s avid belief in technology as a potent driver of economic development has taken it to the No. 1 spot worldwide in terms of digital opportunity, according to a comprehensive survey by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a United Nations agency.
The ITU’s Digital Opportunity Index measures a wide range of indicators across four principal categories: coverage and affordability; access technology and device; infrastructure; and quality of service. Scoring 0.8 out of a possible perfect 1.0, Korea’s success in rolling out affordable high-speed services has helped position broadband as an everyday ubiquitous utility, much like power or water, rather than the premium service offered by operators in markets elsewhere. That’s in turn spurring new product and service innovation, as manufacturers and operators alike scramble to take advantage of higher speeds and more robust NGN-based network architectures.

Some Stats which shows the potential and the progress of technology in Korea:

  • Korea’s impressive literacy rate—at more than 98 percent it’s one of the highest in Asia—and exceptionally high level of school enrollment also means young Koreans are motivated and empowered to embrace the online world.
  • Under the government’s commitment to what it terms "edutopia," 10,000 schools have been connected to the Internet and 330,000 teachers and 210,000 classrooms provided with PCs. At the same time, 50,000 high-achieving students from low-income families have been given free PCs with five-year broadband subscriptions.
  • The country’s highly urbanized population has made it a natural for WiFi. There are now more than 10,000 hotspots, from bars to local beaches, and most operators bundle WiFi with broadband for a small additional charge.
  • Triple-play services offering converged voice, data and video are already available or imminent from KT, Hanaro, Dacom, SK Telecom and some smaller service operators. One of the first to take the plunge, Hanaro says it already has 500,000 subscribers for its VoD HanaTV IPTV portal launched 12 months ago and is forecasting 1.4 million by the end of 2008.
  • The rise of bandwidth-hungry, triple-play services is also prompting a large-scale migration from DSL to FTTx. With 74 percent of Korean households already passed by fiber, UK consultancy Point Topic notes that Korea’s DSL subscriber base is falling steadily, while FTTx subscribers grew by 1.2 million in the second half of 2006.
  • 100% of South Korean internet access has migrated to broadband (the world, about 30%).
  • It is the first country where all internet connections were upgraded to broadband and today 100 mbit/s broadband speeds are offered and gigabit speeds are planned.
  • The first country to launch digital TV broadcasts to cellphones and cars, and where 100% ofcellphones sold are cameraphones and nearly three out of four cellphones is a high speed 3G phone.
  • The country where over half pay using the cellphone, 43% of the nation maintains personal profilesand blogs, and 25% of the whole population have participated in videogaming inside the same game.
    90% of South Korean homes have broadband internet access. The world average is about 20%.
  • 63% of South Koreans make payments using their cellphones, the world average is under 5%.

Friday, 12 October 2007

3G Subscribers: 60 Million +


  • In Q4 2006, only one quarter of the net new mobile connections made in Europe was 3G enabled.
  • In the first quarter of 2007, just over two in five connections were to a W-CDMA network, but the majority of the additional customers were still GSM.
  • In the second quarter of 2007, for the first time, the majority of net additions were to W-CDMA services, with 8.0m of the 14.5m new connections made being 3G capable - a proportion of 55%.
  • This is also the highest quarterly net additions figure for 3G recorded in Europe so far, exceeding the 7.3m registered in Q4 2006.
  • It is also worth pointing out that a 3G net addition is often simply an existing GSM customer who is upgrading to a 3G handset: to say that 55% of net additions in the second quarter in Europe were 3G is not, therefore, to say that 55% of Europeans who signed up for a mobile service for the first time between March and June chose a 3G service.

More on this here

Thursday, 11 October 2007

UMPC's with HSPA

The Ultra-Mobile PC (abbreviated UMPC), previously known by its codename Project Origami, is a specification for a small form factor tablet PC. It was developed as a joint development exercise by Microsoft, Intel, and Samsung, among others. Current UMPCs feature the Windows XP Tablet PC Edition 2005, Windows Vista Home Premium Edition, or Linux operating system and low-voltage Intel Pentium or VIA C7-M processors in the 1 GHz range.

Back in April Samsung's released tiny SPH-P9000 Windows XP UMPC/mobile phone combination. Now according to reports, the SPH-P9200 is ready for market in Korea, with Samsung even having published the manual by mistake . The device now runs Windows XP Home edition on a 1GHz Via C7-M processor, has 512MB of RAM and a 30GB hard drive. As before, the 560g P9200 is very much a VoIP-centric device, with three methods for getting online - Wi-Fi, WiMax and HSDPA connectivity all come as standard - in addition to a SIM card slot for mobile phone connectivity. A five-inch screen, five-hour battery life, video-conferencing camera and slick white exterior complete a desirable little package, although there's no indication yet of whether Samsung will release it at closer to PDA prices or full-blown PC prices.

In other news, Intel announced plans to add the wide-area networking technology and support for 3G mobile technology as options for ultramobile PCs running Windows or Linux. The company also plans to add WiMax as an option to its Centrino notebook package next year.

More on UMPC here.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Shaky foundations of WiMAX

Dov Bar-Gera, WiMAX Telecom CEO, says "technical hold-ups
could delay his commercial launch of mobile WiMAX in Austria, Slovakia and Croatia".
I was under the impression that WiMAX was all ready to steal the march from LTE camp and the standard was much faster and simpler than 3G+ because it doesnt care about backward compatibility.
Earlier blog titled, "Will WiMAX compete with 3G+" did mention the shortcomings of WiMAX compared to 3G+ but this latest article from Telecommunications Magazine gives an interesting insight into the WiMAX world:
Last March, the GSM Association, a lobby group for GSM technology, published the results of a report commissioned from consultancy Arthur D. Little, which purported to shred the business case for mobile WiMAX in markets where 3G is already in service.
Ericsson, a confirmed WiMAX opponent, is equally dismissive. Mikael Halén, director of government and industry relations for the Swedish vendor, reckons HSPA, a high-speed version of 3G, will have 20 times as many subscribers as mobile WiMAX by 2011 (600 million vs. 30 million).

Australia’s incumbent operator Telstra has also snubbed WiMAX in recent weeks. In July—still smarting from the Australian government’s decision to award a sizable broadband contract to chief rival Optus—Telstra dismissed the capability of the WiMAX technology Optus plans to launch, arguing it is "unproven" and "vastly inferior" to its own HSDPA service.

None of this has deterred some big operators from announcing varying levels of commitment to WiMAX technology over the summer months. In the United States, for example, Sprint Nextel has upped the scale of its investment in a nationwide network to US$5 billion from about $3 billion. And in Europe, UK-based Vodafone has surprised some by joining the WiMAX Forum, the main lobby group for WiMAX
Led by Ericsson, 3G vendors are trying to encourage 3G operators to include the LTE (long-term evolution) standard in their development plans. Promising speeds to rival those of future WiMAX technology, LTE is being promoted as an evolution of 3G technology and, therefore, a more natural choice than mobile WiMAX for an existing 3G operator.

The trouble is, LTE has not yet been standardized. In the absence of defined technical specifications, its critics have been able to cast doubt on whether it has much in common with 3G at all. They point out it uses a different air interface called OFDMA—which, coincidentally, is also used by WiMAX—and so will not be able to reuse much 3G infrastructure, making it as costly a deployment option as mobile WiMAX. If operators are persuaded by this argument and already see the need to plan for a post-HSPA future, they are unlikely to wait for LTE.

But Ericsson sternly repudiates LTE criticisms. "We will have LTE modules that fit into existing 3G base stations," says Halén, who expected an LTE standard to be released in late September (nothing had been announced when Telecommunications went to press) and commercial deployments to appear in late 2009, just 18 months after Sprint Nextel aims to launch its first mobile WiMAX service. "For an existing 3G operator, it will be far more expensive to roll out WiMAX than LTE," he insists.

3G’s long commercial lead in some markets is the one challenge mobile WiMAX may face. More than 100 operators have launched the relatively immature HSPA in 63 countries. This appears to give 3G a major advantage over mobile WiMAX on economies of scale.

As a result, WiMAX operators may find it hard at launch to compete with 3G on price, especially in markets such as Austria, where intense competition between the country’s 3G providers has driven the monthly price of an HSPA service down to as little as €15 ($20). The challenge is recognized by WiMAX Telecom’s Bar-Gera, who is gunning ultimately for about 400,000 mobile WiMAX customers across Austria, Slovakia and Croatia.

"Unfortunately we will have to adapt to this price level," he says. "It will be difficult, but we will match it."

Sunday, 7 October 2007

The GPON Standard


Towards the end of 2008, HSDPA+ will offer up to 28mbps download and 5,8mbps upload speeds, and in the second half of 2009, HSDPA++ will offer 42 mbps download and 12 mbps upload speeds. In the same year long-tern evolution (LTE) technology will push mobile data throughput to 100 mbps download and 50 mbps upload speeds and take the networks from 3G to 4G technology.
Another broadband technology in the pipeline is Gigabit Passive Optical Networks (GPON), which will provide high-speed fibre cable to the home at 100 mbps over distances up to 20km, and will be available in two to three years time. Unfortunately with so many technologies in evolution it is difficult to kep track of all the new things happening in Telecom world but here is my attempt to explore these new technologies.
In April Freescale made the following press release:
The delivery of rich digital content to the home and small office via fiber takes a major step toward reality today with the introduction of the MSC7120 from Freescale Semiconductor – the industry’s first voice-enabled Gigabit Passive Optical Networking (GPON) SoC.

The multi-core MSC7120 integrates a Power Architecture™ CPU, a StarCore™ DSP and a data path engine to deliver a complete PON sub-system in a single device. It addresses the high data forwarding throughput requirements of several applications including the delivery of “triple play” (voice, video and data) broadband services to the home or small business.
GPON technology supports the convergence of IP over optical networks, offering connection speeds much higher than today’s DSL- or DOCSIS-based networks. It is a key enabler for bandwidth-hungry “triple play” applications such as HDTV and Video on Demand.

Analyst firm IDC forecasts that worldwide consumer and small business broadband subscriptions will grow to approximately 400M subscriptions by 2010.

As the number of broadband subscribers worldwide expands, GPON is recognized as an emerging solution to challenges that threaten to constrict delivery of rich content to end consumers over “last mile” infrastructure.

“Over the next few years, GPON technology will become a viable solution for increasing bandwidth in today's access networks, especially as carriers address the increasing demand for video as a key element of their ‘triple play’ services,” said Aileen Arcilla, senior research analyst at IDC.
Wikipedia has good introduction on PON standards:
Early work on efficient fiber to the home architectures was done in the 1990s by the Full Service Access Network (FSAN) working group, formed by major telecommunications service providers and system vendors. The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) did further work, and has since standardized on two generations of PON. The older ITU-T G.983 standard is based on asynchronous transfer mode (ATM), and has therefore been referred to as APON (ATM PON). Further improvements to the original APON standard – as well as the gradual falling out of favor of ATM as a protocol – led to the full, final version of ITU-T G.983 being referred to more often as broadband PON, or BPON. A typical APON/BPON provides 622 megabits per second (Mbit/s) of downstream bandwidth and 155 Mbit/s of upstream traffic, although the standard accommodates higher rates.

The ITU-T G.984 (GPON) standard represents a boost in both the total bandwidth and bandwidth efficiency through the use of larger, variable-length packets. Again, the standards permit several choices of bit rate, but the industry has converged on 2,488 Mbits per second (Mbit/s) of downstream bandwidth, and 1,244 Mbit/s of upstream bandwidth. GPON Encapsulation Method (GEM) allows very efficient packaging of user traffic, with frame segmentation to allow for higher Quality of Service (QoS) for delay-sensitive traffic such as voice and video communications.
Some Applications of GPON can be found here.

Thursday, 4 October 2007

LTE: Fujitsu achieves Downlink speed of 900 Mbps

DoCoMo and Fujitsu Laboratories have made progress in jointly developing prototype wireless base station equipment, and maximum downlink transmission speeds of approximately 900Mbps have now been achieved through the application of MIMO technology, a core technology for high-speed, high-volume wireless communications.

In November 2006 Fujitsu was selected by DoCoMo to develop and manufacture prototypes and commercial equipment for DoCoMo's "Super 3G" wireless base stations. Since then, DoCoMo and Fujitsu Laboratories have made good progress.
Since being selected to develop and manufacture DoCoMo's Super 3G wireless base station equipment, Fujitsu and Fujitsu Laboratories have worked with DoCoMo in developing the required technologies, and the companies have succeeded in developing a prototype wireless base station that achieves maximum downlink transmission speeds of approximately 900Mbps when using four antennas each (4x4 MIMO) for Super 3G base station transmission and mobile station reception as well as employing Fujitsu Laboratories' short-delay, high-speed error correction decoding technology.
Going forward, along with applying the results of development and evaluation work on MIMO and other Super 3G prototype technologies, Fujitsu will work to further refine the high-efficiency amplifiers and high-performance baseband processing technology it has developed for 3G wireless base station equipment in order to develop optimized commercial Super 3G wireless base station equipment that is compact, energy-efficient, economical, and highly scalable.
Fujitsu's prototype equipment will be exhibited at CEATEC Japan 2007 (2-6 Oct).
In other news, ABI Research has a new report that claims UMTS Long Term Evolution (LTE) will dominate the world’s mobile infrastructure markets after 2011. While LTE will encounter competition from other mobile broadband technologies, its supporters point to its flat architecture, low latency, and IP NGN (Next-Generation Network) capability to provide a range of SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) services.

However LTE faces competition from other broadband wireless technologies and it will need to demonstrate clear technical and economic advantages to convince network operators. The mobile variant of WiMAX will start to appear in 2007 as the WiMAX Forum Certification program ramps up. The industry is also working on HSPA+, which could offer the same performance in a 5 MHz bandwidth. Without additional spectrum, operators could face a difficult choice.