Saturday 18 October 2008

WiMAX publicity videos from Alcatel-Lucent

Alcatel-Lucent (ALU) has couple of interesting videos on youtube on WiMAX.

The first one is more of educational video showing how WiMAX is useful for everyone in everyday life:

Honestly, other technologies could be as useful as WiMAX. The other one is more of marketing presentation showing ALU offers on WiMAX.


Thursday 16 October 2008

LED-Fi: Replacement for WiFi Hotspots

Before we start, I have to confess that I made up LED-Fi. I was thinking more of LiFi but there is already a LiFi technology from Panasonic (not al all related ti this one though).
According to a post in cellular news, Lightbulbs Could Replace Wi-Fi Hotpsots in future:

­Boston University's College of Engineering is launching a program, under a National Science Foundation grant, to develop the next generation of wireless communications technology based on visible light instead of radio waves. Researchers expect to piggyback data communications capabilities on low-power light emitting diodes, or LEDs, to create "Smart Lighting" that would be faster and more secure than current network technology.
This initiative aims to develop an optical communication technology that would make an LED light the equivalent of a Wi-Fi access point.

"Imagine if your computer, iPhone, TV, radio and thermostat could all communicate with you when you walked in a room just by flipping the wall light switch and without the usual cluster of wires," said BU Engineering Professor Thomas Little. "This could be done with an LED-based communications network that also provides light - all over existing power lines with low power consumption, high reliability and no electromagnetic interference. Ultimately, the system is expected to be applicable from existing illumination devices, like swapping light bulbs for LEDs."

Little envisions indoor optical wireless communications systems that use white LED lighting within a room - akin to the television remote control device - to provide Internet connections to computers, personal digital assistants, television and radio reception, telephone connections and thermostat temperature control.

With widespread LED lighting, a vast network of light-based communication is possible, Little noted. A wireless device within sight of an enabled LED could send and receive data though the air - initially at speeds in the 1 to 10 megabit per second range - with each LED serving as an access point to the network. Such a network would have the potential to offer users greater bandwidth than current RF technology.

Moreover, since this white light does not penetrate opaque surfaces such as walls, there is a higher level of security, as eavesdropping is not possible. LED lights also consume far less energy than RF technology, offering the opportunity to build a communication network without added energy costs and reducing carbon emissions over the long term.

The ability to rapidly turn LED lights on and off - so fast the change is imperceptible to the human eye - is key to the technology. Flickering light in patterns enables data transmission without any noticeable change in room lighting. And the technology is not limited to indoor lights; its first real test may very well come outdoors, in the automotive industry.

I can understand how the downlink would work but not sure how uplink data transfer would work.

Similar technology using Light Bulbs has been available for some time. See this and this.

Wednesday 15 October 2008

More defections to LTE camp

Nearly a year back, I blogged about Verizon defecting to LTE rather than going for UMB as it would be its natural evolution path. Last week Canada's Bell Canada and Telus Mobility announced plans to overlay their CDMA networks with HSPA technology by 2010 with an eventual move to LTE technology.

In a recent blog, I mentioned that operators moving from EV-DO to LTE can go via HSPA path or can also go for eHRPD. Fortunately, 3GPP saw that some operators may move to 3GPP camp and leave 3GPP2 due to economy of scale and much more variety of handsets, test tools, etc. Going back to the news item:

The move follows Verizon Wireless' decision to deploy LTE in the 700 MHz spectrum it won earlier this year. However, Verizon is skipping an HSPA deployment, choosing to continue investing in its EV-DO network that will likely complement the new LTE network for some time. Telus said the HSPA deployment would enable "a smoother transition to long term evolution (LTE) technology."

"Bell's transition to the global 4G LTE standard with a combined EV-DO and HSPA network path aligns us with more than 30 major carriers worldwide planning a similar move to LTE," said Stephen Howe, CTO with the operator. "This broad global technology ecosystem will mean a fast, efficient and cost-effective network transition to 4G LTE, and access to the broadest possible range of next-generation phones and data services."

Telus Mobility and Bell Canada both won spectrum in Canada's AWS-1 auction.

Tuesday 14 October 2008

Which way: Femtocells or UMA?

Discussions are again resurfacing about which technology should be used to improve coverage; Femtocells or UMA. Honestly, I have not been a big supporter of UMA (and you dont have to agree with me) and earlier this year when Nokia raised doubts about the technology, i stopped following it completely. Kineto has been the biggest supporter of UMA and is still carrying the torch.

Kineto recently received over $15 million in investment from Motorola that it plans to use to increase its reach in UMA. Last month it had received investment from NEC. One of the reasons for the resurgence could be because the UMA technology has matured since being used for some time. T-Mobile has already rolled Hotspot @ Home using UMA. Also more phones are now available supporting UMA.

One of the drawbacks that will always be present in case of UMA is that special handsets will be required that would support WiFi as UMA is based on 802.11. This means more expensive phones and higher consumption of power leading to smaller battery lives. One more problem with UMA is the interference due to other ISM band devices and there are many technologies like Bluetooth, etc that are competing for the band.

The drawback in case of Femtocells could be that their price is still quite high as complete Node B + RNC functionality is generally available in a Femtocell and at the same time all the aspects have not yet been standardised. Along with these, Femtocells that use the same spectrum as that of the operator can cause interference with the Macro cell. This would in turn require very clever management of spectrum frequencies, etc.

A possible long term solution could be (but I dont see anyone agreeing to it right now) that phones with UMA technology become more common and a combined UMA + Femtocell equipment is rolled out by the operator. At the end user premises, depending on the strength of rf reception, the equipment can either use UMA or normal Femtocell functionality. If this idea is agreed upon, then there would still be couple of years before all interworking and other technological problems are ironed out.

Monday 13 October 2008

Femtocells and the stealing of Spectrum

When Femtocells are finally rolled out, it would be possible for anyone to create their own little mobile cell anywhere to enhance their coverage. At least that is what the Femtocells are supposed to help with. This would also mean that the spectrum would be open to abuse by someone who wants to abuse it.

Let's take a scenario in which someone buys a Femtocell from an operator in UK. The Femtocells will be operator specific since they will contain lots of parameters and addresses that would be terminating in the operator network. Then that person can take the Femtocell away to another country (say India) and connect the Femtocell to an Ethernet port in India. The IP packets would be routed via IP to the operator and the user is now connected via Femtocell to the UK operator even though he in in India. He would get the same treatment as in case he was in UK.

Let me point out that this would be illegal because the Spectrum in India would belong to an operator in India or this spectrum may be used for something completely different.

The operators and the device manufacturers are aware of this potential abuse. As a result they are going to use a two step approach. The first is that they would allow Femtocell to register from a registered telephone line via an IP address. They may have access to ISP data or would be aware of the range of IP address being used by the ISP. The Femtocell user will hence have to register their Telephone line and ISP with the network operator and if they change them then this would need to be informed to the operator. The second is that they would check the location of the device via GPS. This can have two problems. The first is the cost of the Femtocell will increase and the second is that unless the Femtocell is near a window or an open area, there would be no GPS signals received and the GPS approach may not work. One of the obvious use of Femtocell in London city for example is in the basements where there is absolutely no coverage due to their location.

Note that from the above you can see that even if the Femtocells are advertised as PnP or Zero Touch, etc., there would still be some overhead that will always be required.

Even if we assume that both the above approaches are being used, it may stop mass market fraud but may not be able to deter individuals who are smart enough to work around them. For example the user in India (example in the start) may use VPN to tunnel the IP packets to their home or registered address in UK and from there the packets will go to the operator network. Similarly it is not too difficult to fool the GPS receiver into believing its location.

The operators are aware and working on something better then the above strategy. I have not come across any papers yet suggesting work around these problems.

This also highlights an important problem regarding emergency calls. Should the emergency calls go via Femtocell or should they be re-directed to Macro cell. Again a clever algorithm would be needed for this. There could be a configurable parameter in the Femtocell which can check during the startup if Macrocell is present or not. If Macrocell is present then emergency calls should be re-directed and if not present then the user should be able to initiate it via Femtocell.

There are probably many more problems that would be highlighted once Femtocells are rolled out.

What on earth is this 4G, anyway?

Over the past two years I have been hearing a lot about next generation technologies. It all started by 3.5G i.e. HSPA evolution etc and hence the debate entered into the area of 4G.
Everybody comes along on the blogs, articles, tech magazines etc and make himself/herself comfortable as per their liking with the word 4G.

Some people use the term "4G" to describe WiMAX technology. This terminology i.e. 4G used by WiMax camp does indeed upset some people specially the ones in the LTE camp.

Everyday I come across individuals who have different view regarding the 4G terms. Some do shockingly tell me that neither WiMax nor LTE is a 4G technology rather LTE evolution or LTE advanced will be termed as a 4G technology.

I have literally reached to stage now where I think I should give up now and just leave to almighty to decide what actually a 4G technology is. If you ask me about my personal opinion on this then my view is quite clear in this. I categorize 1G as analog mobile, 2G as digital, 3G as CDMA, and 4G as anything using OFDM. It's pretty simple, it is straightforward, there's not a lot of haggling.

Wikipedia says "There is no formal definition for what 4G is; however, there are certain objectives that are projected for 4G. These objectives include: that 4G will be a fully IP-based integrated system. 4G will be capable of providing between 100 Mbit/s and 1 Gbit/s speeds both indoors and outdoors, with premium quality and high security."

By the Wikipedia definition, three out of four definitions are met under the existing definitions of WiMAX; nobody thinks that the current definition of WiMAX is going to be able to crank up to 1 Gbit/sec, but life, as they say, ain't so simple.

A spokesperson for Nokia has said "There's no official owner of who defines 4G," and you would think if anyone could tell you what 4G was/is/will be, it would be Nokia.

ITU-R is in the process of defining IMT-Advanced, but, funny enough, the standards body has backed away from the phrase 4G. IMT-Advanced is a "big tent" term that will/may/should encompasses 802.16m and LTE-Advanced which in turn are faster than WiMAX and LTE standards respective. Maybe?

If I understand this descent into acronyms and definitions, even the forthcoming, first generation LTE would not qualify as a 4G technology. That is, if we call IMT-Advanced as the term formerly known as 4G - but not called 4G by ITU-R.

I know this whole argument of 4G terms upset many people. They think and rightly so that the whole concept behind a 'Standards Body' is so that such arguments are moot. These guys think that people use different terms to coin their own standards for marketing, one-upmanship and generally nonconformist attitudes.

Well let's hope that some day somebiody will come out with a clear idnetity of the 4G technology which is acceptable to everybody. Meanwhile my friend in the picture above is working hard to find out what 4G really is.

Sunday 12 October 2008

Revolution of Mobile Phones Arhitecture and Design

The war for the best phones design is heating up and giants like Nokia, Samsung and Sony Ericsson are doing everything they can to outdo each other in terms of design and different application provided on the phone.

There is no doubt this is the era is youths and you would be surprised to see their skills and various things they can do with their mobile phone.

The biggest question which arises is what exactly and how much one need from their mobile phone. If we consider all sections of the society then in my view five things which makes a mobile phone attractive are Talk, text, Music, Games and Mapsor does it so?

Well after the release of iPhone with touch screen the competiton has definitely taken a new dimension.

Continuing in this direction last week Nokia released a new phone at a press unveiling in London, the previously rumoured touch-screen Tube, which it now calls the Nokia 5800 XpressMusic phone.
This device, which has been pegged as Nokia's answer to the iPhone, is both Java and Flash-enabled.

Since the release of iPhone Nokia has been taunted for not having a handset that effectively competes with Apple's 3G iPhone. When Apple CEO Steve Jobs debuted the 3G iPhone, he took some swipes at the Finnish manufacturer by pointing out that the iPhone 3G managed to download a website in 21 seconds while the Nokia N95 took 33 seconds to load the same page.
This latest Nokia phone will have host of features that will be run off of Nokia's latest Symbian operating system, the S60 5th edition. The phone is the latest entrant into the arena to see which handset can become an IPK i.e. an iPhone Killer. As with many such devices, the 5800 has some features similar to Apple's iPhone 3G, and a few that make it unique.The phone will come in three different versions: a quad-band GSM with 850/1900 WCDMA, a quad-band GSM with 900/2100 WCDMA and Quad-band GSM with no 3G capabilities. It has both a 3.2-inch touch-screen display and a 3.2 megapixel camera, WiFi, GPS and HSDPA capabilities, stereo speakers, a touch-screen, drop down media bar menu and finger and stylus user interface controls. It has 8GB of memory, available through a microSD slot. A 16GB slot will be available next year.

It does get a wow out of your mouth after looking at the above specs for this latest Nokia phone.
One of the striking things that Nokia is proposing with its latest touch screen phone is the Music service which could be the start of something new. As per this music service users can download all the music they want and get to keep and play it forever.

Nokia's glitzy launch in London of its latest touch screen phone comes with Music service will have pleased music lovers and the gadget press alike, but UK mobile operators have expressed their displeasure by vowing not to sell the service over their networks.

While these operators will closely monitor this free music download service, their refusal to cooperate with Nokia stems from two, significant issues. Firstly, Nokia is insisting upon a profit-sharing deal albeit that operators can see little margin in selling the handset. Secondly, the operators will be saddled with much increased network traffic caused by the unlimited downloads associated with the service. The fear is that this could run into several Gigabytes per month per handset, which could cripple operators' existing data networks.

Insisting that the situation was not all gloom, Nokia claims to be negotiating with several operators in the hope it can sign several deals in time for Christmas. However, given the majority of the larger European operators already have, or are planning, a music download service, Nokia's Comes with Music can only be seen as a threat.

However, a recent study by market researcher TNS Technology revealed that people aged 16 to 64 wanted to download 64 music tracks a month--which, on a yearly basis, equates to over £600, making the Comes with Music service at £130 look more of an attractive proposition.
Keeping the competition alive, Research in Motion officially also recently unveiled the first touch-screen smartphone in its history. Known as the BlackBerry Storm, or 9500, this new BlackBerry is a 3G device and comes with a "responsive touch screen" that attempts to simulate the tactile experience of actual hardware.

Hewlett-Packard is also planning on releasing a consumer-oriented smartphone. The unnamed device will be released first in Europe, sometime in the late fourth quarter, and will be marketed by a mobile carrier and sold in retail stores. The phone will run on Windows Mobile 6.1, be a touch-screen device and have a full QWERTY keyboard. A worldwide release is scheduled for sometime in 2009.

This war of producing the best design for the mobile phone is definitely good for the consumers especially for the ones who feel proud in carrying a smarter gadget in the form of their mobile phone.

Wednesday 8 October 2008

Future Mobile Terminals: Multiservice, Multinetwork, Multimode

There is an interesting paper in IEEE Wireless Comms Magazine 2008, " ENABLING MULTISERVICE ON 3G AND BEYOND: CHALLENGES AND FUTURE DIRECTIONS" and a gist of that article could also obtained from this presentation by one of its authors.
  • MultiService: The UE should be able to perform multiple services simultaneously. Though this is possible to quite an extent in the present phones, there are still limitations and few allowed combinations that will have to be changed
  • MultiNetwork: These MultiServices should not be restricted to a single network at any time. A user could be having a voice call using HSPA+ network while he is watching youtube clips using 802.11n.
  • MultiMode: For these MultiServices on MultiNetworks, the users will have to use MultiMode terminals with n different kinds protocol stacks. So the terminal would support WLAN, UMTS, HSPA+, LTE, 802.21, WiMAX, Bluetooth, DVB-H, etc. (sorry if missed something else)
This Multinetwork environment providing Multiservice with Multimode terminals is also referred to as Hetrogeneous Wireless Network or HWN.

The real challenge which has not yet been present on the current terminals is that these multiple technologies not only independently provides services to a user, but also interacts with others in a collaborative manner to provide a given QoS guarantees. This will probably require revolutionary design change from the existing approach of multiple protocol stacks each independent of each other.

Another big challenging problem to solve would be automatic handovers horizontally and vertically. A horizontal handover migrates a connection between two homogeneous networks. A vertical handover deals with the migration between heterogeneous networks (e.g., from cellular to WLAN). The terminal will need to have intelligence to handover a particular service horizontally or vertically independent of other services. The terminal will also have to take into account the delay and the loss associated with the handover.

This is all very interesting concept but the complexity and challenges will mean that this wont see light before 2016 or rather 2020.

Tuesday 7 October 2008

Nortel 4G: Cracks in the wall

Sometime in distant past, it seemed that Nortel had everything. They were big in UMTS and HSPA, had a share of CDMA pie in Americas, had loads of patents in OFDM technology which is the basis of most Next Generation technologies, had strategic partnership and very much into R&D on WiMAX and LTE and at the same time also working on 4G Optical technologies.

Then they got rid of 3G and HSPA infrastructure by selling it to Alcatel (now Alcatel-Lucent) and started focussing on 4G only. Then their CDMA business started to suffer because people in Americas are moving onto GSM and CDMA growth opportunities are limited. Recently Nortel has again been in news because it wants to sell its Metro Ethernet Networks (MEN) business.

The MEN division includes Nortel's optical business and its carrier Ethernet work, including its Provider Backbone Transport (PBT) technology. That's big news, but so is the lowered forecast. After predicting single-digit sales growth this year, Nortel is now saying its 2008 revenues will be 2 to 4 percent less than the $10.95 billion it reported in 2007.

According to a report in Unstrung, Nortel isn't so keen on developing LTE either, despite repeated claims that it was well positioned to be a major player in that market. When asked during analyst conference call about what actions Nortel might take regarding its 4G developments, CEO Mike Zafirovski said the company is looking for "opportunities to de-risk" its investment. "Future consolidation is necessary in wireless. We're exploring options for 4G that will be best" for Nortel, its customers, and the industry, said the CEO, unhelpfully.

What might those options be? Zafirovski said that "what we did with UMTS and Wimax" are examples of what might happen. Nortel's WiMax strategy is now tied up in the Alvarion relationship, while it sold its 3G UMTS infrastructure business to Alcatel in late 2006.

Analysts, still parsing Nortel's words, see some value in Nortel getting help from partners. “Ever since Nortel exited the UMTS market it’s been next to impossible to see how investing in their own LTE base station would result in anything but huge losses," says Patrick Donegan, Heavy Reading's senior wireless analyst. "Going down the same OEM path as they have with WiMax would at least ensure that those huge losses won’t be suffered. Whether they can go beyond that and carve out a position in LTE which is actually profitable with an OEM partner is unclear but certainly plausible.”

But, just like with carrier Ethernet and optical, the market is too tough for Zafirovski to believe Nortel can be a leading and profitable player. "With eight, nine, ten players competing, industry dynamics require various forms of cooperation," he added.

Despite all the predictions and Hype, 4G or LTE is far away. WiMAX will be rolled out but in chunks and there are already too many people in WiMAX. What Nortel needs and is looking for is some significant partner or perhaps a merger (takeover?). In the meantime it maybe some time before its investors hears any good news from Nortel.

Monday 6 October 2008

Beware of Mobile Billing Strategies...

Since most of the operators are now being forced in the corner due to competition, requiring to offer bigger and cheaper bundles of voice and data they are now fighting back with clever strategies. I have listed some strategies that has been my experience and of some of the people I know. Please feel free to add yours via the comments section.

  1. Apparently, operators lose quite a lot of money when people call customer services. As one of my colleagues put it, operators profit for a month is wiped out when someone makes a call to their customer services and asks to speak to a representative. So this option of speaking to a representative is now buried three or four levels deep and you are offered an option of posting your query via the website and also you are asked to make sure you have seen the FAQ before doing this.
  2. Some operators used to have 24/7 customer services for personal users which have now gone and has been replaced by 12/6.5 or 14/6 services.
  3. The option to call free to customer services has in some cases been replaced by a flat fee of 10p or 25p to discourage the callers.
  4. Once upon a time, people used to get bundles that allowed inclusive minutes to landlines and same network mobiles. That was changed to ‘any network any time’. Now the calls to the same network (which costs really nothing to the operators) are coming back in disguise. You get a bundle of free minutes ‘any network any time’ plus ‘extra’ N hundred minutes to people on the same network. This encourages closed group of people to move to the same network.
  5. Another one is that if you have a contract phone for over six months then you can get another one for half the price as long as you have one contract on your name. What this does is that you have one for six months in an 18 months contract then you get another one which costs you half and that is for 18 months contract as well. After another 12 months, if you don’t renew the first contract then you have to pay full amount for the second contract which would defeat the purpose of getting half price contract. So you renew the first one and the cycle goes on and on.
  6. The same as in above case but with Mobile broadband. Some operators offering you free or cheap mobile broadband are generally using you as guinea pig; check their review before buying into them.
  7. Earlier the inclusive minutes on the bundle were billed by seconds. So if you had 500 minutes, it effectively meant 500 x 60 seconds. You could use them the way you want in any small amounts you want. The new bundles are in minutes (read the fine print ;) so they are effectively just 500 minutes. Even if you call someone for 5 seconds, you have spent 1 minute. Vodafone and ‘3’ in UK have also been forcing their existing contract customers who were on the old style bundles to move them into partial new style bundles. What they are saying is that for the first 60 seconds you will be billed for a minute but then after 60 seconds, they are billed by seconds. So to get the best out of your existing contract you will have to make sure that your call lasts for long time.
  8. It used to be free to pickup voicemails by some operators but that is no longer the case and you are billed for atleast 1 minute.
  9. More and more bundles are coming with extra SMS’s which generally costs nothing to the operators.
  10. Some new packages have extra video call minutes and MMS’s thrown in which makes it look great but how many people actually use them?
  11. Every operator has now started abusing the term ‘unlimited’. Never trust anyone offering anything ‘unlimited’. They all have a fair usage policy stuck in the terms and conditions. For unlimited broadband the fair usage policy is around 1-5GB depending on the operator and for unlimited SMS’s the fair usage policy is generally upto 100 texts a day.
  12. Always preserve your original ‘terms and conditions’ copy. The operator can suddenly change them on their website but for your contract the originals would be valid unless the operator sends you a specific mail informing about the change. Sometimes a sudden change in terms and conditions by operators will allow you to walk out of your contract free of any commitments.
  13. Finally there is Femtocells strategy. I agree they haven’t really been launched but this is the strategy marketers been working on to sell them. Get a Femtocell and get cheap calls and SMS. When on Femtocell your bundle increases by 5 times. So if you spend 5 minutes calling someone when camped on Femtocell then you will only be charged for a minute. What more, upto 4 people can use a Femtocell at any time for calls or data services. If you get 2 mobiles on a 24 month contract then the Femtocell is free of charge.

Remember the operators hire very clever billing strategy consultants to keep ahead of the game so always doubt a deal which seems too good to be true. There is no such thing as free lunch :)