Sunday 30 November 2008

Is Urgency for LTE growing?

Few weeks ago in response to Zahid’s blog I wrote that LTE may not be that far away as might be thinking.

In this blog I would like to carry this thought forward. With more and more giants moving into LTE camp as compared to WiMax there is a sense that LTE will soon pick up. Recently I have been sensing that thee is some urgency out there in regards to LTE development. Vendors and operators are pushing to the extent to get the technology out as soon as possible.

As I mentioned some time ago that I am really a big fan of HSPA+ and I once again say that till LTE arrives, HSPA+ can serve the purpose up to an extent.

As we already know that T-Mobile recently tested LTE and this really gave a push to the technology. There are lots of 3G operators now who share T-Mobile’s LTE aspirations although reaching to these LTE or 4G goal will not be straight forward. Lot of urgency for LTE also depends on what the operators do with HSPA+. Some of the operators might go for HSPA+ and hence wait longer before deploying LTE.

It’s quite interesting to see that operators such as T-Mobile are going for LTE whereas some operators currently staying away from LTE and hence going to launch HSPA+. Evidently LTE as it still a long way away from mass market maturity hence it’s going to be difficult for some operators to stick to its guns for LTE. I guess this also is one of the major factors contributing towards the urgency for LTE.

Currently the three big operators pushing LTE development are China Mobile, NTT DoCoMo and Verizon wireless. T-Mobile believes it is every bit as aggressive as those three operators and should be included in that list. The evidence of this is the urgency shown by T-Mobile when it tested LTE recently.

T-Mobile believes that LTE is suited in the long run, i.e. till 2020, to be the technology that you can consolidate all technologies onto -- GSM and UMTS.

Another operator showing urgency toward LTE is the world's largest mobile operator in terms of subscribers, China Mobile. China mobile plans to begin testing LTE soon where only the lack of chipsets are holding back its plans at the moment. Many telecom experts believe China's operators will essentially leapfrog 3G as the government continually delays tenders and opt for a 4G deployment like LTE.

At the same time as I mentioned some of the operators might decide not to get sucked into HSPA+ and rather push for LTE. This urgency for LTE is certainly demonstrated by T-Mobile once again when it announced it will not deploy HSPA+. The operator has indicated that to boost its mobile broadband throughput it will instead invest in LTE thus stepping up the pressure on equipment vendors. However T-Mobile might deploy HSPA as long as no hardware upgrade is required.

The above developments is allowing some to accuse T-Mobile of attempting to force equipment vendors to place greater emphasis on the development of LTE as against further refining HSPA+. Given that China Mobile, DoCoMo and Verizon Wireless have each made aggressive statements regarding their intent to push forward with LTE, then those interested in such plots have more to go on.

However, there is a question as to whether these operators, including T-Mobile, can wait for LTE, especially given the marketing hype around mobile broadband offers.

There is no denying that the above mentioned operators are aware of this situation and hence I guess this is main reason why they are showing immense urgency towards LTE.

Friday 28 November 2008

Femtocells as the starting point - more info

Informa has recently come up with a report titled "Opportunities for femtocells in the mobile broadband ecosystem: the economic case for LTE and 3G+". I found the following very relevant to this topic that I have blogged earlier about:

One idea is to use LTE initially as an access point rather than a full standalone network, which would bypass all the difficulties and delays that may happen in developing the core network for this technology. Here femtocells, picocells or GAN dual mode solutions could help operators to achieve this goal. As well as the time to market advantage, operators will also have a good opportunity to test LTE access networks and their business case for it before engaging in any wide scale network rollouts. This will obviously help them to minimize risks while giving them enough time to get their networks more stable and ready for the challenge.

Deploying LTE through femtocells is now an industry accepted solution as mobile operators can incrementally add capacity to their networks where it is most needed. This is expected to be in the home environment where 60% of communication is expected to take place during 2013. Instead of performing ‘forklift’ upgrades for their macrocell networks, mobile operators can test the LTE business case by initially launching LTE femtocell networks. Overall capex is expected to be much less than for a macrocell network – but on the other hand, LTE femtocells will only create localized coverage and capacity hotspots for a limited group of end users.

Several chipset and hardware platform manufacturers have launched products for LTE femtocells, including Picochip and Agilent. The upcoming 3GPP femtocell standard is expected to provide compatibility for LTE femtocells and mobile operators are expected to announce their LTE strategies in 2009. Informa Telecoms & Media expects that the majority of mobile operators – especially those that have invested heavily in 3G – will incorporate femtocells in their LTE strategies either for business case validation or for selective, incremental capacity upgrades for their mobile networks.

Thursday 27 November 2008

SDR: Today and Future

I also got an opportunity to attend the SDR briefing in LTE World Summit. There were many interesting presentations including one titled "SDR in Mobile Devices" by Thierry Dubois, SDR Market Analyst, IMEC, Belgium. Infact last year I blogged about SDR from Imec presentation as well. The following is an extract from Thierry's presentation:

The key benefits of SDR are as follows:
  • Reducing the Bill Of Materials (BOM)
  • Lower development costs
  • Facilitate better reuse of intellectual property (IPR)
  • Possibility to upgrade products already in the field
  • Enabler of the Cognitive Radio vision
There are three main areas where SDR's are required but some problems exist as can be seen from the diagram above.
  • Flexibility is the key for baseband. Some of the common signal processing blocks may not be reusable. This means that though some protocols can easily be defined for a particular baseband, others may not be possible for that baseband. Good progress is still being made though on this front.
  • Reconfigurable RF is some way away, further down the road.
  • The biggest challenge is the antenna interface for which no proper solution exists. Some solutions being worked on right now include MEMS based solution, Carbon nanotubes, Special ceramic materials, etc.
The next step after SDR is cognitive radio (CR). The main advantage for using CR would be because spectrum is over-allocated but under-utilised. There are lots of white spaces in the spectrum that could be utilised by devices intelligently of their own.

Cognitive Radios are defines as: A radio that can autonomously change its parameters based on interaction with, and possibly learning of, the environment in which it operates. Through appropriate radio resource management, such a cognitive radio should make flexible and efficient use of network/spectrum resources.

CR would consist of Intelligent Sensing hardware and Intelligent Sensing Algorithms. There are two types of CR being considered:
  • Opportunistic Radio: A radio that co-exists with other systems using the same spectrum. E.g., White Space Devices
  • Smart Reconfigurable Radio Systems: A radio that makes flexible and efficient use of network/spectrum resources across heterogeneous environments. Seamlessly roaming possible on different networks, countries, frequencies, etc. It requires true paradigm shift i.e., spectrum liberalization
An Introductory paper on SDR is available on Bitwave Semiconuctor website.

Wednesday 26 November 2008

Femtocells as the starting point

I blogged earlier about 'LTE Femtocell Layer as starting point'. During my visit to the LTE world summit, I didnt find (m)any takers for the idea initially. Then in his presentation, Prof. Simon Saunders, Chairman of Femto Forum, seemed to encourage the idea. As FemtoForum is technology neutral, he started with the case for WiMAX Femtocells. He quoted a VP from Comcast saying that Femtocells are "absolutely key to WiMAX" and he envisioned future services and packages that would encourage customers to use their WiMAX femtocells and stay on Comcast’s network.

Then he threw the following slide to the operators saying that introducing LTE network via Femtocell could be a way to roll out the LTE network.

In Release 8, HSPA based Femtocells will be standardised and Release 9 (De. 2009) will deliver LTE standards-based femtocells. Some operators are in hurry to roll out their LTE networks next year, since LTE home eNodeB's wont be standardised in time for them, maybe we will see LTE Femtocells as intial offering by some operators by mid-2010.

Tuesday 25 November 2008

LTE: 3G or 4G?

Continuing the discussion from LTE World Summit:

Adrian Scrase, Chief technical officer, 3GPP, France threw light on the topic which I have mentioned many times in my blog. I have always maintained that LTE can be called 3.9G but media and some other presenters have always been referring to it as 4G. Here is a slide from his presentation on his topic.
I think now when LTE-Advanced and IMT-Advanced comes, it will no longer be referred to as 4G/5G/6G. Someone will have to come up with some clever new term :)

Monday 24 November 2008

“Your Wireless Future” at “Tomorrow’s Wireless World”

This one is from Chetan Sharma's blog (via Forox). The following is an extract from his blog:

Earlier this week, I had the distinct honor of moderating a panel of some of the most eminent senior wireless research scientists and CEOs of wireless companies from Finland where we explored the future of the wireless landscape from user interface to reduction in carbon footprint to privacy and security issues and much more.

Many people might not be aware but the City of Oulu in the central part of Finland is a leading epicenter of wireless activities with many major industry players setting up shops for doing R&D work. In fact, it is quite likely that one of the companies out of Oulu has had an impact in some way on the mobile phone you have in your pocket (and we are not including Nokia).

The topic of our panel was “Your Wireless Future” – a broad topic that is always difficult to cover in 60 minutes or less.

I started by asking the panelists about what in their view have been some of the defining trends over the last 12 months. Summary of answers – iPhone; android; move towards full mobile browser; browser will reduce fragmentation and more innovation will happen on this front; with the rise of smartphones, security and privacy have become an issue,

Some other salient points (read issues and opportunities) from the discussion:
  • It is forecasted (by WWWRF) that in another 10 years, we will have 1000 radios per every subscriber. That would translate into few trillion nodes around us. The level of complexity and carbon footprint will be enormous. One has to figure out a way to address both.
  • City of Oulu has first of a kind experiment with NFC where the technology has been embedded in day-to-day life from home, school, train station, restaurant, probably every object in the city. Pretty interesting experiment that will lead to interesting use cases and technology implementations.
  • There are so many protocols being integrated into the device that hackers are targeting not only the data but the protocol weaknesses to gain access. IT finally starting to address smartphone issue in their networks.
  • The role of Cognitive radio and SDRs will gain prominence as more access technologies get introduced.
  • In a ubiquitous environment with finite spectrum, “sensing” technologies will have a great role in optimization. Sense and do the best for the consumer, the device, and the network. Hyper connectivity will become the norm.
  • In addition to touch, gesture and face recognition will add to a better multimodal experience.
  • Mobile payments is coming and going to make a big impact. We have to of course sort out the business models.
  • 3Cs of mobile – convergence, context, and community (Nokia’s Mantra).
  • The very business of R&D has changed significantly with corporations choosing to outsource R&D and the cycle of concept to market launch has shrunk from 6 years or more to 12-18 months.
  • More innovation will come from integration of existing technologies rather than some big breakthrough.
  • Demand for bandwidth will keep growing.
  • Significant opportunities in medicine, enterprise, and other industry verticals.
  • In developing countries, while consumers are willing to pay for expensive devices, they don’t have any appetite for expensive service plans.

Some discussion points from Craig’s (Dr. Craig Barrett, Chairman of Intel Corporation) and our Q&A session:

  • World will go to free MIPS and free baud (computing and communications). What happens then?
  • Moore’s law is good for another 15 years based on 5 generation of future chipsets that they have in the labs. And it will probably keep going after that.
  • Awareness of context really important.
  • Many types of devices will proliferate including MIDs, education devices, some designed specifically for special purpose (medical monitors) and geographies (emerging markets).
  • Global challenges are education, health, computing, and communication.
  • In the developed world, wireless technology can help reduce the cost which is increasing at the rate of $200B/year and in the developing world, technology can help provide access to health care.
  • Convenience and access trumps security concerns.
  • Areas of opportunities – Telemedicine, education, economic development, governance, energy and environment.
  • This is Craig’s 11th recession. Principle to tackle has been the same every time. You cannot save your way out of recession. You can only innovate out of a recession. Intel R&D budgets will remain the same.
  • Innovation is key to surviving and competing in the global economy, now more so than ever.
  • The fact that so much can be done in these tiny piece of electronics is just amazing and the drive to do better and more using technology keeps him going, keeps him inspired.
I am looking forward to an interesting future ;)

Sunday 23 November 2008

Phones can be unlocked by GeoSim

We all have used different phones over the period of time while on contract with a certain operator. The tricky situation comes when we move onto different operator and would sometime like to use the old phone. The way to crack this is quitely simpy unlock the phone and off it goes on any network.

GeoSIM, an international SIM card supplier, now says that it has introduced the “SIM PIG”, a SIM-like chip that bypasses the network lock on mobile phones, thus enabling any SIM card from any network to be used in a locked handset.

I honestly do not know whether this is good or bad, but simply for my own personal reason it’s good. Recently I moved from one operator to another and decided to go pay as you go. Hence I wanted to use my old phone on the new service provider but couldn’t do so until I got my phone unlocked.

SIM PIG claims to be able to unlock iPhone, Windows Mobile, HTC, Nokia, Sony Ericsson, Blackberry and many more 3G handsets. It is inserted with the SIM card into the handsets SIM card slot. The PIG then dynamically bypasses the network lock on the mobile phone. The company says it does not affect any of the handset functionality and all features are maintained, nor it does not invalidate any warranty on the handset. Once SIM PIG is removed, the handset reverts back to its locked condition.

Using the SIM PIG does not require any technical knowledge and is quick and simple to insert. As the name suggests, SIM PIG SIMply PIGgy backs on to the SIM card when it is inserted to the handset.
So how does GeoSim is able to do this business of unlocking the phone or by passing the lock?
GeoSIM routes your dialling instruction away from the local operator and sends your call to the GeoSIM “Hub”. A few seconds after you make your call, your mobile phone will ring. You answer the “callback” and you will be connected to the person you wish to talk to.
In summary:
  • Dial the number you want to call.

  • A few seconds after you dial, your handset will ring. Answer the “callback” from the GeoSIM Hub.

  • You will then get connected to the number you are calling.

Hmmm very strange… I am really dying to know whether some body uses this method.
Do GeoSIM and SIM PIG work in the United States?
Are they fully “legal” here in UK or Europe? I don’t know…

Delay in LTE can be blessing in disguise

Most of us know by now that Sprint and Clearwire is going to combine shortly to create a company which will trade into WiMax feverishly. The idea is that the joint company which will be called as Clearwire would foster competition in the mobile broadband arena and accelerate build out or deployment of advanced technologies such as WiMax. These are the kind of developments that keep LTE camp nervous but at the same time provide them some motivation as well.

With the merger it is anticipated that company's WiMAX network, to reach 140 million potential customers by 2010. It not a coincidence that Sprint chose WiMax as a 4G standard as it is available now and our customers want 4G now.

The company Clearwire says that it has deployed WiMAX in Baltimore and plans to deploy it in Chicago, Dallas, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., pending the close of the deal. This development together with some other factors gives enough confidence to WiMax supporters that the technology would minimize the market penetration of LTE simply because WiMAX is coming to market first.

Everybody will agree with me that WiMax is definitely in a very good position and it is WiMax’s battle to loose as far as battle of 4G is concerned.

On that other hand I am learning that network operators are just now beginning to see a return on their 3G networks. This gives the operators some encouragement to say they won't be ready to upgrade to an OFDM-based technology until about the time LTE is ready and why should they if they are able to generate handsome revenues with the existing 3G technologies.
On the other hand this delay in deployment of OFDMA based technologies by operators does gives mobile WiMAX time-to-market advantage over LTE by at least two years.

The fact that LTE won't be ready for another two to three years may actually turn out to be a boon for LTE as the time frame will allow mobile operators to get as much life as possible out of their existing 3G networks. Incremental upgrades to enhanced 3G technologies such as HSPA+ and EV-DO Rev B will allow for almost the same data rates as the initial LTE deployments, which will effectively set the stage for large-scale LTE commercial rollouts in three to four years.
LTE has a further advantage because the majority of cellular operators around the world will choose LTE as their migration path given the fact that 3GPP has tabbed LTE as the next-generation standard for the GSM community.
It is certainly a truth that WiMAX is a very robust technology that has been quite successful in many parts of the world as a fixed broadband solution and will continue to do so, especially in under-served markets. Although mobile WiMAX networks are already going live thanks to Sprint/Clearwire and Korea Telecom, the prospect of additional mobile WiMAX networks from Tier 1 operators is looking pretty grim.

Lets see how hard the WiMax camp will fight and how shrewdly the LTE camp will play the game.

Solving the LTE voice dilemma

Continuing the discussion from LTE World Summit, this is something that has been discussed in the past by myself and other blogs as well. We know that there is no out of the box solution for voice calls in Release 8 but there are some solutions that are being standardised for this problem. Dr. Howard Benn, Director of Cellular Standards, Motorola Mobile Devices gave an interesting presentation on this topic titled, "Voice –how to talk over LTE". Here is the summary of his presentation along with some more information:
As we know, IMS was introduced in Rel 5 but even till today, there has been no major IMS rollouts. There are some operators working on deploying the IMS solution but in reality its not been as successful as it should have been. If IMS is available then the problem of voice call on LTE goes away. The problem can be solved using Voice Call Continuity or VCC. Infact there is a bunch of specifications on IMS Centralized Services (ICS) and network Centric VCC for solving this and other similar problems.

So with IMS not being available, the first alternative for this problem is Circuit Switched Fallack (CSFB). In this, as can be seen from the MSC above, the user is attached to an LTE network. MSC can send Paging to the UE and if the user accepts the voice call then he is handed over to 2G/3G network. The big problem with this approach is additional time required to establish the voice call and the PS services might get disrupted, depending on how its handled.

The second solution is to have a Generic Access Network (GAN... previously known as UMA) based solution. This is similar solution to the ones used by some Femtocells. This would mean that the UE's would require GAN chipsets and GAN is known to be power hungry so it can impact the battery life significantly.

China Mobile's, Bill Huang in a recent interview mentioned that “We could carry voice over UMA” and “We will have an LTE network that supports voice…”. He was referring to this approach mentioned above.

Finally there are always proprietary options like Skype that can be used along with the data services to solve the voice problem.

Infact a service like Vonage, modified for mobiles, can solve this problem easily. You can connect a VoIP client from your phone or device to Vonage and you are given a landline number that you can pass to others. When calls are received on this number, the client in the mobile rings and you answer the call normally.

Nick Yamasaki from KDDI mentioned that KDDI will roll out LTE with CS fallback option for voice initially but then SRVCC (Single Radio VCC) solution will be adopted in future.

Saturday 22 November 2008

iBurst may give WiMAX run for money

One of the themes that emerged from the LTE World Summit was that no one was looking at WiMAX as a competitor for LTE. LTE is being thought as 'Mobile Broadband' whereas WiMAX is being thought more of as 'Low-mobility/Fixed Broadband'. They would serve different needs and their market will hardly overlap. I have blogged about iBurst in the past and I think it may give some competition to WiMAX.

David Brunnen from Personal Broadband UK (cant find their website) gave an interesting perspective on iBurst and even though many people have not heard of it, it can still compete in the market. They have a big presence in Australia and last year won the spectrum for the whole of Ireland + Northern Ireland between 1785 - 1805MHz. Even though they have won the 20MHz band, they think that they can do with 5MHz or maximum of 10 MHz. They have also partnered with iBand and would probably allow roaming between them.

The main thing about iBurst is that it has very good spectral effeciency and an average throughput of around 600kbps. Data Rate of 1.061Mbps downlink/ 346Kbps uplink with System capacity 24.4Mbps downlink/ 7.9 Mbps uplink is supported. At the same time it offers high mobility with handovers at speed of over 100kmph. The cell radius is 1.5-3km in urban and 5-7km in rural area. Because of adaptive antennas, the same frequency can be reused and the interference can be reduced thereby increasing the cell capacity.

The biggest problem with iBurst is that there are very few players. Kyocera is the only base station supplier. On the devices side, Kyocera is the lead player but there are other new players like Dovado which has won some big contract with first US iBurst operator and Moovera (bought by Icomera) which also has some similar devices.

Last year Kyocera announed that iBurst has more than 140,000 subscribers. This year iBurst South Africa has been shortlisted for an award of "Best Operator in Developing Country". In last 6 months they have increased the subscriber numbers by 30%.

With the big players heavily invested in HSPA+/LTE and many others having a foot in WiMAX, it would be interesting to see how a possible iBurst success might be viewed. I would like to hear from people who have experienced this technology on what their feeling is about iBurst.

For more information on the iBurst technology, see Kyocera's iBurst Technology homepage.

Latest news on iBurst available from website.