Sunday 5 October 2008

Customer service is the key, Location Based Services will grow

Back in The Day, before the Internet and deregulation the phone companies understood customer service. With the current experience I have with some of other people whom I know I do believe that the customer services ahs gone down.

Let me give you an ugly first-person example. Two years ago, a friend on mine moved from a townhouse into a house, literally "across the street with a similar post code. He had two phone lines to move and his nightmare with the phone company to move phone service started on a Friday and went through the weekend. That weekend was full of promises and excuses to send techs out for "installing" service on a known-good phone line, before he finally got a hold of a supervisor on Monday to turn on the one line - no installer necessary; it would have taken two to three weeks to reschedule, since he had been bumped out of the queue due to no fault of his own. So another TWO WEEKS before he could get the second line up and running. And he still had to pay charges for "installing" the line.

Two years later and nothing has changed in terms of services by these phone and ISP companies.

Customer service matters and it influences existing business and future sales.
This is where most of the mobile companies these days trying to win the battle with the traditional phone companies. I have experiences people moving away from the traditional landlines and ISP’s with the good deal on their mobile with the mobile broadband together with amazing applications to go with the deal. The mantra of being "all about the customer" is definitely the key for the mobile operators and vendors. When it comes to delivering entertainment content and other applications such as GPS etc, the deal with the mobile phone companies definitely fits into the vision of the customers.

In the past few months we have already seen the deals where you can download songs and listen to them on your mobile just like an MP3 player. Continuing into this direction the operators and vendors have started showing signs of flexing their muscles in another interesting area i.e. LBS applications. There is no doubt in my mind that any location based services will have future and it definitely interests the customers.

Companies like Vodafone, O2 and AT&T have already hinted in the direction of launching LBS applications for their customers.

AT&T will launch navigation applications using LBS in first quarter 2008. Location, location, location is the key to win new customers and AT&T Inc went into this direction by announcing the deployment of assisted GPS technology (A-GPS) within its wireless network to enhance existing and planned location-based services (LBS) used with A-GPS capable devices. AT&T deployed assisted GPS technology throughout its network, paving the way for more enhanced location-based services. The carrier, which initially deployed a cell-site triangulation technology to meet the 2006 FCC E-911 requirements, has now added GPS to its technology portfolio.
AT&T also announced recently that it will launch two new navigation applications in the coming weeks, MapQuest Navigator and AAA Mobile navigator. In addition, the operator hinted that it would soon be expanding into other LBS categories including location-enabled social networking and a family-oriented service along with privacy controls.

The above developments clearly is the sign of providing superior navigation tools to the customers and thus giving them more choice.

A-GPS technology gives capable devices a significant jump-start on identifying the user’s initial location. GPS devices search satellites each time they are turned on to determine starting latitude and longitude, a process that previously took as long as several minutes. With A-GPS, the operator’s network speeds up that query by identifying nearby cell sites, helping the device more quickly hone in on the appropriate satellites. Assisted in this way, A-GPS capable devices can identify a user’s initial location in fewer than 20 seconds, delivering greater convenience to customers using LBS.

Continuing in the direction of providing enhance customer services the telecomm companies are now providing new downloadable applications that give its customers more ways to use compatible mobile phones as navigation devices.
I absolutely believe and I think most of you would agree with me that using a mobile phone for navigation is affordable, convenient and intuitive because it eliminates the need for consumers to buy or carry yet another gadget. And unlike traditional navigation devices, which can be hard to transport from car to car or difficult to use while walking or riding a bike, a mobile phone is always on hand or in hand.
Most of the time I have seen people with their car broken down and hence calling for the road side assistance.
The first question which is being asked to the customer is about their current location. With the use of A-GPS through their mobile, customers can now send GPS location directly to a roadside assistance operator.

Applications such as MapQuest Navigator, powered by Telmap, gives customers access to turn-by-turn, voice-guided driving and walking directions, 3-D moving maps, 16 million points of interest from MapQuest’s database, quick route recalculation for missed turns, real-time traffic alerts, gas prices, gas station locations and City’s Best restaurant and venue ratings.
The above services have been highly successful since their rollout, and LBS has ranked among the fastest-growing categories of applications especially for the mobile operators.

Together with the above services customers with the help of navigator can now get the turn-by-turn driving directions, full-color moving maps, a fuel finder feature that lets customers identify the cheapest nearby gas and access to YELLOWPAGES.COM’s database of millions of business locations.

Telecomm companies can see the potential in A-GPS and hence it paves the way for new offers from the operators in the LBS space, which include plans for a family-oriented service and a location-enabled social networking service. Dating and social networking service surely is a bit hit the youths and thus new source of revenue generation.

Future network enhancements will also allow users of non-GPS devices to enjoy location-based services such as local search tools from YELLOWPAGES.COM.

Clearly all the above services sound good but then everything comes at a price. These days’ teenagers having the mobile device with the A-GPS technology can access to some unwanted materials. It is thus very important for the vendors and operators to continue to build out a comprehensive suite of parental and privacy controls. For example, AT&T is developing best-in-class tools to enable parents to manage how their children can share their location. For services sold by AT&T, the tools can be applied on a phone-by-phone and application-by-application basis and will launch alongside the first applications enabling users to share their location with others.

The growth for the A-GPS is very promising which is further supported by MapQuest when it announced the beta launch of MapQuest 4 Mobile, a free, downloadable application that extends capabilities to compatible BlackBerry smartphones. MapQuest 4 Mobile offers users an easy-to-use interface and the same accurate directions and maps they rely on from the site. Local search is also accessible, enabling users to search for businesses by proper name or category. Additionally, MapQuest 4 Mobile provides hybrid imagery, traffic and incident information as well as a GPS "find me" feature which locates a user and tracks the progress to their destination. MapQuest 4 Mobile also utilizes smaller map tiles allowing for faster downloads and quicker screen refresh. Smartphones are growing at a record pace and this an important market segment to address as more users rely on their phones for maps and directions. MapQuest 4 Mobile is a step in that direction for providing next generation services to customers that mirrors the intuitive interface and simplicity. MapQuest 4 Mobile is the latest addition to MapQuest's suite of mobile products which include voice-guided navigation from MapQuest Navigator. The newest mobile product continues MapQuest's on-going mission of providing mobile services that help consumers get to where they need to go, anytime, anywhere. MapQuest 4 Mobile can be downloaded from a mobile browser at For additional information about MapQuest 4 Mobile please visit

It is really exciting to use all these services and I must admit that having them is like a new toy which always keeps you interested.

Thursday 2 October 2008

Next Generation GPS Mobile Applications

While attending some seminars, which I cannot give more information about, I heard about exciting NextGen-GPS mobile applications being developed by various companies. GPS is going to make our life very simple (and maybe our brains lazy) .

Imagine the following scenarios:
  • You are going from place A to B and someone asks you to drop something where he is (place C) then he can just send you an G-SMS (Its a name defined by me but please feel free to use it) to his GPS mobile. Your phone will ask you if you want this is 'final detination' or 'via destination' or you want to do something else (store, ignore, etc). You can set this as 'via destination' and your original destination remains unaffected.
  • You are supposed to visit a particular shop in the city and the area is quite big. Your girlfried goes regularly so you give her the remote-control of your GPS and she can point the area (final destination) where you should be going.
  • You are going to watch some match in a particular stadium and around that place there are say 4 car parks. You can select your destination based on 'number of free spaces in a car park' or 'cheapest car park' or 'most secure car park'. You will automatically be routed to the car park based on your criteria. If you have a live update on then this information will be dynamically updated till you reach your final destination. If there are far more parking places then the cars then these car parks can bid for your custom and this will be handles by the GPS transparently.
  • You are a member of car sharing organisation. Whenever you need a car, you press a button on your car sharing application and it immediately tells you how far is the nearest car available and gives you an option of different cars which you can select in an area. You select one of the cars and press reserve and then walk to it. I remember hearing of something similar put PC based and that would (I suppose) have lots of limitations as you have to book it in advance and you have to know your location when you require the car, etc. With this GPS based approach you can be anywhere and you can see real-time information.

There are many more interesting things being developed but they are all conceptual at the moment. I am not sure when they will come to the market. I suppose IMS will be one thing that will be required for these kinds of applications. Whenever they are available, they are surely going to make our like far simple.

Monday 29 September 2008

SIM-free option for LTE

Dean Bubley, in a post in Seeking Alpha has proposed a SIM-free option for LTE. I have heard this being discussed before in some forums but have not seen yet any concrete steps by 3G to address this issue.

Let me be clear that I fully support the SIM based option which gives you convinience to change handsets while keeping the same number and also easily move between different operators by getting Porting codes (PAC codes in UK) but sometimes when you are travelling or in between places the SIM free option allows you to use Pay as you Go services from the device of your choice. So rather than being tied down to the SIM you will be tied down to the device (Laptop or Handset).

If this option is not available it would still be possible by a service provider to provide you a service based on the device IMEI but the extra 'Access technology based' security would not be there. This means that you would be relying completely on the IP security which should generally not be an issue since this is not very different than what you would use in case of accessing web through your workplace or from a cafe. Also since this option requires extra customisation of LTE based technology which is not standardised by standards, service providers may be a bit reluctant to use this approach.

Alternatively, service providers may go for alternative technologies like WiMAX and WiFi. All laptops have WiFi inbuilt and it wont be long before WiMAX option is available. WiMAX dongles may come in handly for times like these. These technologies dont require any SIM cards so it may be simpler for people to use this.

By not providing the SIM-free option for LTE, there may not be much impact from Laptop users who dont care which technology they use as their hardware is generally capable of supporting quite a few options but it may impact the smartphone user market. These smartphone users who have time to kill on the airports or hotels may make use of their time by registering their phone to a local service provider and then making cheap international calls and browsing via their handset. They may not have to worry about hunting for cyber cafes and even if they find one worrying about the spyware, etc trying to grab passwords/pins on the PCs being used.

Over the next year we will have to wait and see if operators or device manufacturers or service providers are going to propose this option and once it is proposed it would be interesting to see how many people oppose it :)

Sunday 28 September 2008

Evolution Of Bluetooth

Last week I had an opportunity to attend a Short Range Wireless SIG (special interest group) conference organised by Cambridge Wireless. The conference was about Bluetooth technology, where it’s heading and future of Bluetooth. Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) was formed around 10 years ago. Bluetooth SIG is privately held non profit organisation whose main tasks are to publish Bluetooth specifications, administer the qualification program, protect the Bluetooth trademarks and evangelize Bluetooth wireless technology.

The Bluetooth SIG global headquarters are in Bellevue, Washington, USA and has local offices in Hong Kong, Beijing, China, Seoul, Korea, Minato-Ku, Tokyo, Taiwan and Malmo, Sweden
During the presentation in the conference there were discussions on technical and general stuff about short range wireless and hence I learned some amazing things especially about Bluetooth technology and its application in our daily life. Although my expertise and main focus lies in the area of 3GPP technology i.e. HSPA+, LTE etc I occasionally do pay an interest in Bluetooth and other W-Fi technologies. After attending the SIG conference I do know now that there are some amazing things that can be done with Bluetooth other than just using it as a Hands free kit while talking on you mobile. There are already around 2 billion Bluetooth enabled devices in various forms in the market place.

In terms of business there is also an enormous scope to develop customized applications that can work with Bluetooth and UWB (ultra-wide band, ultraband, etc.).

UWB is advanced form of Bluetooth where the MAC/PHY layer is changed to accommodate high data rates.

UWB is a radio technology that can be used at very low energy levels for short-range high-bandwidth communications by using a large portion of the radio spectrum thus enabling higher data rates. UWB communications transmit in a way that doesn't interfere largely with other more traditional 'narrow band' and continuous carrier wave uses in the same frequency band. IEEE 802.15.4a in its draft standard and working group has proposed UWB as an alternative PHY layer.

Low energy Bluetooth is another emerging flavour which will be talked very often in the coming days. Bluetooth low energy is the next generation of wireless standard from the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) addressing a completely new set of applications but building on the installed base of Bluetooth devices. As the name implies devices based on Bluetooth low energy consumes only a fraction of the power of the classic Bluetooth radio thus allowing small and low cost implementations.

Bluetooth low energy technology is designed with two equally important implementation options:

  • Single-mode (stand-alone) implementation: Targeted at applications requiring low power consumption and small size; typically button cell battery -powered devices, for e.g. sports & fitness equipment and sensor devices
  • Dual-mode implementation - an extension to a classic Bluetooth radio: Targeted at mobile phones and PCs.

Bluetooth low energy is very robust through frequency hopping compared to other similar technologies. It is very secure through optional 128 bit AES encryption.
The significant factor of Bluetooth low energy is its low power consumption which is by very low standby activity, fast connection setup and low overhead in data packets.

Bluetooth low energy technology explores new market opportunities. It is sometimes unbelievable to see where and how Bluetooth low energy technology can be used. One of the most amazing uses of this technology which I came across was when I came to know that a double amputee can walk again using Bluetooth. Marine Lance Cpl. Joshua Bleill (USA Army) lost both his legs above the knees when a bomb exploded under his Humvee while on patrol in Iraq on October 15, 2006. He has 32 pins in his hip and a 6-inch screw holding his pelvis together.

Now, he's starting to walk again with the help of prosthetic legs outfitted with Bluetooth technology more commonly associated with hands-free cell phones.
Bluetooth is definitely evolving and low energy Bluetooth is very much part of its evolution. The technology has a major parto play in our daily lives and the currently the Sports and Health Care is the significant area where the major focus is lying.

Bluetooth Low energy has a major role to play in sports and fitness. I personally has experienced the use of the Bluetooth device when I visit to Gym. I have to put the device around my chest and the machine then displays my heart rate transmitted by the Bluetooth device. This is amazing as I can constantly monitor my heart rate and based on that I can vary the intensity of my workout.

Thus sports person has sensors i.e Bluetooth device located on the body, shoes, garments and other fitness gear measuring the exercise session such as duration, speed, distance, cadence, slope, location, heart rate, energy consumption etc. Together with this information, when using GPS location related information can be combined with the data. Thus using a Bluetooth device is like training with a virtual partner. The use of the application can motivate and give feedback to the user and remote users, e.g. coach, team mate or a virtual partner. They can access the data remotely and then make decisions based on it for example the exercise can be simulated on exercise bike or treadmill along with multimedia content.

Low energy Bluetooth device thus helps play a significant role in sports persons real time activity and training monitoring.

I have seen Golfers using Bluetooth devices to record their swing. Golfers can thus monitor the real time data and thus can improve their swing. Golf player’s motions are recorded with sensor devices and the data is uploaded to a host device. The recorded data or values are transmitted to web service where the athletes can be remotely monitored online or offline by coach, audience, etc.

Health care is another major area where low energy Bluetooth devices have a significant role to play. There is a potentially market of greater than US$1 Billion for wireless health monitoring products. Examples of currently available medical devices using “Classic” Bluetooth technology are:

  • ECG Monitors
  • Cardiac Defibrillators
  • Blood Glucose Meters
  • Insulin Pumps
  • Pulse Oximeters
  • Blood pressure Monitors
  • Weight Scales

Examples of healthcare devices suited to Bluetooth low energy technology, requiring very low power and long battery life are:

  • Thermometer
  • Blood pressure monitor
  • Weight Scale
  • Heart Rate Monitor
  • PERS
  • Blood Glucose Meter

Let’s consider the example of how the technology can help in the case of Diabetes management. The patient will be fitted with a small low energy Bluetooth device i.e. Blood Glucose meters typically powered by small coin batteries, operating for a year or more. Blood glucose measurement, data is automatically sent to the mobile phone and to the central Personal Health Record. Patient and care providers automatically alerted if the sugar level is outside preset limits and reminders and advice can be sent back to the patient and test compliance can be monitored.

Low energy Bluetooth devices can used in the consumer electrnics control as shownin the picture below.

I must say I was really impressed to finds out how the Bluetooth technology can be used in our daily life. Just by using a simple and small device many patients life can be saved as they are monitored constantly.

Tuesday 23 September 2008

NEC and Ubiquisys to help deploy first IMS based Femtocell Solution

Japanese operator SoftBank is to score a world first in January, when it becomes the first service provider to launch 3G femtocells in a commercial capacity.

SoftBank, Japan's third placed carrier behind NTT DoCoMo and KDDI, said it will offer 3G femtos from January 2009 using kit from UK-based Ubiquisys and a supporting IMS core from NEC.

According to Unstrung:

Japan's Softbank Mobile Corp. is still trying to get the national regulator to change a quirky policy that could thwart its plan for a large-scale femtocell deployment, according to an industry source. In Japan, only a qualified engineer can install a base station, and that rule applies to the small, low-power base stations, too.

Femtocells are supposed to be "zero touch" and easily installed by the users themselves. So, a regulation that mandates sending out an engineer to plug in each and every home access point would kill an operator's femto business case.

The Japanese policy is expected to be changed by the end of the year, which wouldn’t be too soon for Softbank. According to our source, the operator has already installed 20,000 devices, has chosen an NEC Corp. solution -- which uses Ubiquisys Ltd's femtocell -- and is also checking out equipment from Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. Softbank isn't quite ready for a mass market deployment because there are still some technical issues, according to the industry source.

Meantime, NTT DoCoMo Inc. said last week that it was going to use the new HSPA version of Mitsubishi Corp. femtocell for its Home Area service.

There have been couple of so called Femtocell launches already namely T-Mobile Hotspot@ and Sprints CDMA Femtocell but they are not really Femtocells because they just provide an extension for voice services and no other type of services.

The Femtocells are called ZAPs (Zonegate Access Points) and Japanese customers will be able to get their hands on them from Jan 2009.

Monday 22 September 2008

LTE may be not that far, T-Mobile tested LTE

In his recent blog Zahid wrote that LTE is still far away. Well I had the similar feeling as I read the similar article saying that LTE is still far away.

But just when you thought Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology was a dream of the future, T-Mobile comes along and yanks it into the present.

T-Mobile claimed that it has become the first carrier to successfully test LTE technology in a real-world environment in a test it conducted in Germany in conjunction with Nortel. The two companies were able to transmit data from one moving car to another on opposite sides of the Rhine River, without loss of quality or data, even across different cells.

T-Mobile claims it is the first wireless network operator to demonstrate the 4G technology using LTE. T-Mobile in partnership with Nortel tested LTE under real world conditions and were able to transmit data to and from vehicle driving in Bonn between Deutsche telecoms headquarters on the left side of the river Rhine and T-Mobile headquarters on the river’s right bank.

As mentioned by Raju Shanbhag in his blog the above data transmission test by T-Mobile went smoothly without interruptions and without loss of quality even across different cells on the four kilometre test track area.

This test of LTE data transmission across the cell is quite significant when considering the fact that the mobility is the basis of the mobile communication.

Although in some articles one do get the feeling that LTE might still be far away but the above development certainly tells the different story.

The world's largest mobile operator in terms of subscribers, China Mobile, is defnitely seems to be keeping an eye on these developments and hence it is eager to begin testing 4G TD-LTE soon, a time division duplex (TDD) version of LTE that will be backward compatible with the struggling Chinese 3G standard TD-SCDMA.

Mobile industry is certainly pushing the LTE and trying to ensure that LTE should not be delayed. The news of successful LTE test conducted by T-Mobile is one step further in this direction.

According to a new study from ABI Research there will be more than 32 million LTE customers by 2013. Around a third of these will be in Asia-Pacific with the remainder split about 60-40 per cent between Western Europe and North America. It would appear that the mobile industry is once again doing what it does best, overhyping new technology whilst it is still in development. Announcements about LTE arrive almost daily, each more positive than the next. U.S. CDMA operator Verizon Wireless announces its intention to migrate its network to LTE, Nortel and Motorola announce plans to focus on LTE, perhaps at the expense of WiMAX and so it goes on. Only time will tell whether the hype is justified or if the mobile industry is about to get another dash of cold reality.

Android: Dream(s) OS.

Back in Feb, I blogged about Google's Android that was being shown off in MWC 08. Now its turned up in Dream. By that I mean HTC dream.
People are anxious to get their hands on the phone and are waiting for it to be launched in UK so they can do some more analysis on that. For the time being its going to be available only in the USA. Its going to be launched tomorrow.
Honestly, I dont know much about phones OS's and I havent cared much about them till date. The only time I start looking at the features, etc. is when I am looking for a new phone. Android is promising to be a bit different and first truly open OS which can revolutionise the world of Apps. As you can see from the leaked picture, its a QWERTY phone so I have my interests in it ;)One can argue that the world of Apps have already been revolutionised by the iPhone, which is true but what lacks with the iPhone is the freedom to compete with Apple itself. The following is from PC world blogs:

Apple has officially kicked two popular apps out of its App Store over the past days. Podcaster, a program that lets you circumvent iTunes to directly download podcasts, found out it was getting the "REJECTED" stamp just before the weekend. Now, the makers of the popular tethering tool NetShare are sharing a similar plight. NetShare disappeared without notice in August. Its creators now say they've finally been told they too are banned for good.

This, I am sure, would be welcome news for Google as it will be billing its OS as truly democratic OS. Gizmodo have given 5 reasons to like (and not like) Android:

Reasons to like Android:
  1. Its open
  2. Will accelerate the process of gradual devolution of carriers to open, dumb pipes.
  3. You'll have tons of hardware options
  4. Opportunity to create any apps you like
  5. Best Google Apps experience on any mobie device

Reasons to dislike Android:

  1. Google can keep more track of you
  2. It's not on the US's two biggest carriers, AT&T or Verizon (I dont care about this one)
  3. Carriers can put their own App stores on the phone
  4. There wont be a consistent Android experience because anybody can put it on any hardware with many other apps combination
  5. Too many apps and features can cause confusion

The HTC Dream is also known as G1 (Generation 1?). There are already rumors about the second generation Android phones circulating:

The second-generation Android phone will be manufactured directly by Google instead of third-party manufacturers. With the help of a Google engineer, we were able to descend to the forty-second sub-basement in the Googleplex to their hardware labs for an unauthorized sneak peek.

The phone will harness the computing power of every Google datacenter in a single handset. It'll be like having the brain the size of an entire planet in your hand," said one Google engineer who wished to remain anonymous.

One issue designers have been facing is to find enough for the phone to do so it doesn't get bored. "We have it compiling kernels, factoring primes and monitoring calls for the NSA, but after about thirty minutes of doing that the phone lets out an audible yawn and shuts itself off," said our source.

The phone is unsurprisingly called Gphone. Other rumors include Google's design to take over the enterprise market since more and more people are moving away from Laptops to Smart Phones.

Unofficial Pics of LG's KC910 has also surfaced. The phone is also rumored to contain Android. Some people are even suggesting Sony Ericsson is going to launch Xperia with Android.

The prediction right now is that Android will capture 4% of market share in Q4 which is around 400,000 of the 10.5 million overall smartphones. If Android delivers the trademark Google quality, the figure may be higher.

Saturday 20 September 2008

Embedded 3G wireless technology on the up

With the emergence of technologies like HSPA, HSPA+ and LTE the laptop technology has been on the up. Laptop with the embedded modems is becoming popular. This doesn’t surprise me at all as I myself have used laptop with the built in mode. I had to just put the SIM and connect to the network using the connection manager on the laptop. As soon as I started browsing the network moved me onto HSDPA (HSPA+ in near future). As you can imagine the user experience is amazing as one can browse on the laptop while on the move that too with high speed.

In order to provide this facility Intel and Quallcom is really working hard to come out with the chipset which can provide good support for 3G technology.

Quallcom can see the potential in wireless broadband and hence came out with a Gobi chipset to support the 3G embedded technologies in the laptops. Although the initial response for the chipset was not very encouraging, the chipset is now getting support from operators like Vodafone and At&T together with the laptop vendors.

Recently a new report from the research firm, Senza Fili Consulting, says that by 2014, vertical market applications will use more than 154 million connections on 3G, WiMAX or LTE networks, generating more than $43 billion in service revenues, and that vertical services will reach 24 percent of WiMAX subscriptions and 14 percent of LTE subscriptions. While the enterprise market is a potentially lucrative one, however, it is challenging to serve, and operators will need to prepare well to give these customers the attention and performance they will demand, the firm cautions.

The above report thus further increased the interests towards Gobi chipset. Recently the support for the chipset has definitely increased and Qualcomm just received more support for its Gobi embedded laptop chipset by At&T. AT&T has certified the technology to be used on its HSPA network along with two of Panasonic's Gobi-enabled rugged notebooks.
In addition, HP's refreshed line of notebooks, which have built-in Gobi technology, are also certified for AT&T's network.

On the CDMA front, two of Panasonic's Gobi-enabled laptops received certification from Verizon Wireless for use on its EV-DO network.

Gobi allows users to switch seamlessly between 3G networks around the world, including GSM, EDGE, HSPA, and EV-DO. Vodafone, which operates an HSPA network in Europe, has backed the project, complementing partner Verizon's U.S.-based EV-DO network.

One of the keys to Gobi's innovative design is that it standardizes API, and allows developers to develop a potentially endless variety of applications that sit above the card firmware, while providing no problem with certification.

HSDPA and EVDO networks have now been widely deployed globally. As with initial 3G launches these networks are first being used to deliver wireless broadband via data cards. Yet unlike previous technologies, the technologies are providing a user experience which lives up to the marketing. These services are mobilising workers with speedy connection to a VPN, email, applications and the Internet. Over the past 12 months the vendors and operators have devised the strategies to market 3G wireless broadband to laptops and thus slowly moving away from the initial data cards methods. Users obviously prefers laptops with the embedded 3G wireless technology as it is easy to operated and gives better experience. Operators like Vodafone and Orange for this has already launched business bundle comprising of laptops, embedded with SIM cards which is aimed at small and medium size businesses.

Thursday 18 September 2008

Consensus on LTE Femtocell Layer as starting point

Many people in our industry are now of the opinion that the best way forward with LTE is to roll them out as Femtocells and then when more and more people start using them, then start deploying LTE Microcells/Macrocells.

There is this news in Gigaom:

Will personal cell towers replace the giant monstrosities currently sitting on rooftops and beside highways? Manish Singh, a VP with Continuous Computing, says that may be the case with the 4G buildout. He spoke with me about the company’s new line of software and hardware for carriers deploying LTE networks, noting that those in North America and Europe are asking whether they should deploy citywide — or one consumer at a time, using femtocells.

He said two things are driving this, one being the huge capital expenditure associated with building out a wireless network and the second being the length of time it has taken for widespread use of the 3G data networks. Verizon started deploying its EVDO networks in 2003, but only in the last few months — thanks to better pricing and the iPhone — has 3G data been used by many customers. When it comes to 4G provided by LTE, a controlled femtocell deployment ensures that customers could get LTE speeds of up to 150 Mbps (in theory) while at home or in coffee shops and use the existing 3G network while out and about.

The femtocell strategy will be used in another 4G rollout — this time for WiMAX — as part of the Clearwire joint venture involving Clearwire, Sprint, Google and several cable companies.

And there was this other news in Electronics Weekly by CTO of PicoChip:

Approximately 60% of mobile usage already takes place indoors, yet providing in-building coverage is a technical problem at the gigahertz frequencies used for Wimax and LTE. This is only set to get worse as the mobile continues to replace the home phone. Research indicates that, as “all you can eat” data packages become commonplace, this number is likely to reach 75% by 2011.

As transmission frequency increases, in-building penetration degrades. The additional attenuation reduces throughput for those users indoors, but there is another effect too: if the traditional macrocell allocates more power to reach the indoor user, this increases the interference for other users. Such realities inevitably have a quantifiable, negative impact on cell capacity, making it impossible to deliver 10 times the performance of 3G that is a fundamental requirement of the 4G vision.

Furthermore, the large cell approach is fundamentally less able to provide the benefits for which LTE was intended. As Cooper’s Law identifies, the best way to increase traffic density is via smaller cell sizes. A macrocell gets hit twice in this respect – it has poorer total throughput due to RF conditions and it has to spread that throughput over a much wider area.

Most operators considering the roll-out of LTE already have widespread HSPA networks. If terminal devices are going to be multimode (LTE and HSPA and GSM, for example), there is little point in deploying LTE everywhere and ensuring ubiquitous coverage, since the user experience may be no better than that provided by HSPA (or could be worse). The capital expenditure of a small cell approach need not be prohibitive. Indeed, substantial savings will be available on the back of the technological innovations that are driving down the bill of materials costs for residential femtocells.

A small cell approach also has cost implications for operating expenditure. These networks need to incorporate self-optimising technology to eliminate manual configuration during deployment and throughout the life of the equipment. These self-optimising networks (SONs) will, for instance, dynamically optimise radio network performance in use and provide intelligent backhaul capabilities. Operators are already recognising these requirements and mandating the provision of SONs; the emerging residential femtocell in WCDMA is proving this capability now.

This network architecture change will produce corresponding changes throughout the infrastructure value chain. The network equipment industry will move towards a consumer market approach – in a manner similar to the use of “commercial off-the-shelf” (COTS) technologies in the military equipment market, infrastructure manufacturers can borrow from femtocell innovations to benefit from consumer electronics economics. This will place an onus on IC suppliers to offer unprecedented levels of systems-level expertise and support.

The traditional macrocell approach will flounder at the next stage of network evolution: they are too expensive a solution and do not deliver the required results.

Last month in a blog, I mentioned that the Femtocell issue is becoming urgent because of the Release 8 freeze date in December. Othmar Kyas from Textronix argues the same thing in a different way in Total Telecom:

Currently, 3G femto access points, which are the WLAN-like devices residing at customer premises, are connected to so-called femto gateways via the customers' private DSL links using largely proprietary protocols to provide femto-specific functionalities such as plug and play, self-organising features, guest user management, roaming or charging. The femto gateway, which can connect to thousands of femto access points, translates the femto communication links to the "Iu" interface, which is the standard connection between a 3G core and a 3G access network.

In order to resolve resulting compatibility and interworking issues, 3GPP, the standardisation body behind the GSM family of technologies, has nominated this issue as a study item in the upcoming version of its standard, 3GPP Release 8.

Release 8 is also the first version of the 3GPP standard that contains the long awaited fourth-generation (4G) GSM variant LTE (Long-Term Evolution). Femto aspects in this study cover both 3G (UMTS) and 4G (LTE) infrastructures. 3GPP Release 8 describes the femto architecture in an official standard document for the first time. It introduces the concept of home base stations for 3G and 4G using the nomenclature Home Node B (HNB) and Home eNodeB (HeNB). Additionally, it defines a new interface capable of directly connecting home base stations to 3G and 4G core networks, the 'IuH' interface.

According to the 3GPP specification, all home base stations in the future will have to provide the following functionality:

• HNB and HeNB deployed as small UTRA and EUTRAN cells, respectively, in domestic, small office and similar environments.

• The HNB and HeNB interconnects with the 3G core and Evolved Packet Core, respectively, over a fixed broadband access network (e.g. DSL, cable, etc.).

• Support for full mobility into and out of a HeNB coverage including service continuity where applicable.

• Operators and owners of HeNB and HNB will be able to control access to the resources provided.

The full specification for HNBs, HeNBs and IuH will become available with Release 9 of the 3GPP standard, which probably will not publish before the beginning of 2010. (Release 8 is scheduled to freeze in December 2008 and to publish in early 2009).

The second challenge that needs to be overcome before the 'femto dream' can materialise is the cost of the femto hardware. To be successful in the competitive consumer market, femto access points probably need to sell below US$200. Current chip-set prices for 3G femto base stations still range significantly above $100, indicating that there is still substantial work needed in terms of manufacturing cost reduction.

Will the lack of standardisation or the hardware cost hinder the success of femto? Have equipment manufacturers and operators learned the expensive 3G-lesson? Will the femto equipment be as plug-and-play and as interoperable as claimed? Will the performance live up to the high customer expectations?

Finally, there will need to be attractive tariffs or flat-rate payment plan offers from operators to kick start a 3G business that reaches far beyond early adopters and business users but actually grabs a mass market.

Kick-starting the LTE technology as Femtocells may have its own advantage and will help iron out the initial problems which are bound to cause hiccups otherwise. Yesterday I mentioned that LTE may be far away but it can be rolled out earlier if this approach is taken. As it was mentioned earlier, 60% of the people access data from their homes, LTE based Femtocells may be what may turn this figure into 90%+. What is needed now would be some killer applications ;)

Wednesday 17 September 2008

LTE still far far away

FierceWireless has a relaistic analysis of LTE on their website:

The adoption of 4G wireless and Long Term Evolution (LTE) network technology is a long way off and will probably not be adopted on a large scale by network operators until around 2015, according to the host and panel participants at Andrew Seybold's Wireless University, a co-located conference held in conjunction with the CTIA Wireless IT & Entertainment conference in San Francisco.

If LTE technology does come online, Seybold said, it will be at hotspots where there is an incredibly high demand for data, pointing out repeatedly that for carriers voice services still pay the bills and data does not.

Though LTE may provide 30 percent to 40 percent greater network efficiency in a 10 MHz spectrum over HSPA and EV-DO technology, Lawrence questioned whether or not that was sufficiently efficient to justify a multi-billion dollar investment in an entirely new network when 3G technology is just hitting its stride.

Even though this article does not paint a very rosy picture, I think its prediction is more on the conservative side. In earlier posts there is a mention of 32 million users by 2013 and even nationwide (USA) rollout by 2014, but they are not far off from this analysis. Considering that there are already over 3 Billion users expected to become 4 Billion by 2012, 32 million is not a very big number. There could be even more than that even in the hotspots.

The main thing that needs to happen now is for some operator to take the 'giant leap' of moving to LTE once its available. NttDoCoMo would definitely do that but is there anyone else willing to do the same?