Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Story of two Femto's from opposite end of the world

Verizon (USA) wireless introduced a femtocell product officially and have called it as "mini-cell site". Made by Samsung this will retail at $250+. The big advantage with this is that the phone calls that originate/terminate on "mini-cell site" would be free. The big problem is that this cell only serves voice but not data. So no faster data or any enhanced data services on this one. Maybe that is in the pipeline...

On the other side of the world, in Singapore, Starhub had launched the first "commercial" femtocell service called "Home-zone" back in Nov. It has received positive review in Telecom TV Wireless 3.0 article.

All I had to provide in advance was provide my cable modem MAC address and the phone numbers of the mobiles that would be used in the house (up to four). As soon as theHuaWei femtocell was connected it was recognised by the network it immediately took over from the nearest base station (about 300 metres away) by ‘shaking hands’ with the two mobile phones in our house.

The only noticeable difference was that my handset (a 3GiPhone) showed the StarHub network name and unique cell number. My wife’s phone (an HTC running Windows Mobile) thought it was roaming and only displayed the symbol for that function. I am told that newer Nokia phones actually state they are connected to a Home Zone service. Presumably, as femtocells become more common there will be a standard way of indicating connection. This notification is pretty important as I will explain later.

Previously on one side of the house I had good service to the network, on the other almost none. I found it quite clever that as I walked outside through the doors on either side of the property, the connection switched to the main network. I doubt if this was planned and was most likely coincidental, but it continues to amaze me how clever it is to do that. If the signal was much stronger then the Home Zone service could be subject to abuse. Apart from the differences mentioned above, and just in case I don’t notice the cell ID on my handset, as a call is made a comforting voice lets me know that I am making the call from my Home Zone. I thought this might become annoying but it is comforting to know that I’m connecting via the femtocell and saving my valuable package minutes.

In fact, all calls made from my fixed line (via cable) service, are also free but as my mobile plan comes with a number of free minutes and SMSs included each month, these are not decremented when I connect via the femtocell. Of course, the international segment of my calls are NOT provided free! I spent some time chatting with StarHub’s billing specialists to see how they handled my femtocell or Home Zone calls.

As expected, each call had a unique femtocell identifier and this determined how the call would be handled in the billing system.

It also allows for some creative plans and billing by operators hoping to capture extra market share using femtocell technology.

By the way, if a call is instigated on the Home Zone network and I move outside of the femtocell's range, the call is handed off to the main network but continues to be zero rated. A nice feature I thought. However, calls started on the main network are NOT handed off to thefemtocell, if you happen to already be on a call as you arrive home. That would create quite an interesting billing scenario I suspect.

So, what’s in it for the service provider? Firstly, I am charged a nominal fee of SG$16 (US$11) per month for the use of the femtocell and I suspect that this covers the cost of the unit I was provided with. Considering that I have two digital home services over the cable network also offered by StarHub (a free service if you are also a cable TV customer), then why would I want to pay for the new access method?

Well, I guess I won’t need those two other phone lines any more and will, like many others, use my mobile number as my primary and only contact point in the future. So StarHub loses two lines that earn them no revenue and I get the same free service via my mobile phone and we both win.

Where this does make a big difference is that customers of StarHub’s main competitor, SingTel, who still pay a monthly subscription for their dial up service, may be tempted to swap to StarHub and get the same service via their mobile phone. There will be thousands of permutations of how femtocells can be used for competitive advantage across all markets, but this is just one. This is as ‘sticky’ as it gets!

Of course, I am doing StarHub a great favour as well. If you consider that I pay for my broadband access and that all my home zone calls and data traffic go down that route, I have eased some burden on Starhub's wireless network. If enough people swap to femtocells this could provide a dramatic reduction in 3G/HSPA network traffic.

And when you consider that backhaul costs keep increasing this is great news for operators and should reduce the need for continuously expanding wireless infrastructure.And what about those customers who have poor or marginal coverage in their home or apartment? Femtocells are exactly what they need. As femtocell production numbers increase their cost will also drop and they may be given away free to high ARPU prospects and customers.

Like all new technologies, StarHub discovered some early glitches that have since been remedied. Enterprising early adopters worked out that they could take their femtocell with them and simply plug into a broadband ethernet port anywhere in the world and make calls to Singapore for free on their mobile phones! This has now been corrected and the femtocell must be connected directly to the StarHub network to be recognised.

Early femtocells also had difficulty with the hand-off to and from external cells and with automatically varying signal power as the handsets came closer to the femtocell. Working closely with the equipment vendor StarHub has ironed out most issues and the latest femtocells appear to be efficient and reliable.

Operators like StarHub see this technology as a complementary and an effective tool to attract and maintain customers ahead of their competitors. They also see femtocells as an avenue to push promotions and offers to customers over the air, and they may become quite a weapon in capturing key customers in one very tough market. If all their customers have the same experience as me, femtocells will be a big winner.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

LTE Status: Jan 09 updates

According to this news, Verizon Wireless says that the Next-Gen 'LTE' Wireless Network Still On Track For 2010 Launch:

Despite a tanking economy and a potential delay getting access to the spectrum Verizon bought in last year's FCC auction, the telco says it's still on track to roll out its next-generation wireless network next year.

On the company's earnings call today, Verizon COO Denny Strigl said he's still hoping LTE will be commercially available in the first half of 2010, with in-house testing to begin later this year.

Meanwhile in Sweden, Swedish telecommunications operator TeliaSonera has signed contracts towards the launch of an 4G high-speed wireless network in 2010, saying it aims to be one of the first with an LTE network up and running.

TeliaSonera said on Thursday it had signed up Ericsson to construct its initial Stockholm LTE (the Long Term Evolution of 3G) network, and Huawei for the initial Oslo network. Both equipment makers said it was their first commercial LTE contract.

The telco said it is still evaluating suppliers for further LTE networks across Sweden and its other markets.

Monday, 2 February 2009

No cancer risk due to phones but maybe due to the masts

One of the recent studies dispelled the myth that phones can cause melanoma or eye cancer:

Regular mobile phone use does not appear to increase a person's risk of getting a type of cancer called melanoma of the eye, German researchers said on Tuesday.

The study involving about 1,600 people detected no link between the time a person spent using a cell phone over about a decade and their chances of developing melanoma of the eye, they wrote in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

The findings contradicted an earlier, smaller study by the same researchers that had raised concern about such a link.

Melanoma is an aggressive form of cancer that can spread quickly. It arises in cells that produce the pigment called melanin that gives skin its color. The eyes also have cells that produce melanin. Melanoma of the eye is rare. The condition also is called uveal melanoma.

The issue of whether long-term use of cell phones can cause cancer, in particular brain tumors, has been a hot topic, but most studies examining the matter have found no such association.

In the other news, Barack Obama has turned to a Midland anti-mobile phone mast campaigner to help the fight against cancer.

Eileen O’Connor, as a founder member of the Radiation Research Trust, has led the battle against the relentless growth of mobile phone masts and technology for the past seven years.

And now the US President’s cancer panel, set up by Obama to research the possible links with both nuclear and electro-magnetic radiation, has asked Eileen for her views on the issue.
The trust has supported widespread research into the possible dangers of mobile and wireless radiation and campaigns for the technology to be made safer.

Eileen said: “Obama’s panel has launched an information gathering exercise and I was invited to provide evidence. While I am not building up my hopes, I am delighted the issue is being taken seriously by the President.

“President Obama recently said science is about ensuring that facts and evidence are never twisted or obscured by politics or ideology.

“It’s about listening to what our scientists have to say, even when it’s inconvenient and I welcome this approach.”

The evidence gathered by the panel will be considered in drawing up advice to the new President on measures needed to be taken to improve the health of Americans.

Any steps taken are likely to be considered around the world.

Eileen first suspected a link between mobile phone masts and cancer when the arrival of a mast in her home village of Wishaw, near Sutton Coldfield coincided with a cluster of cancer cases, including her own.

The campaign hit the headlines in 2003 when the mast was pulled down in the middle of the night and residents blockaded the site to stop it being replaced.

The Radiation Research Trust funds and draws together scientific research from around the world and lobbies government to adopt a more cautious approach to mobile technology.

A key theory is that it is the electromagnetic radiation frequency, and not intensity or power of the signal, which can cause the damage. It is also thought that some people are more sensitive to the effects than others.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Mobile Backhaul Networks and their Load

These are self explanatory slides on Mobile Network Backhaul presented by Professor Steve Ferguson, Head of Market Strategy, Product Area Broadband Networks, Ericsson in the LTE World Summit last year.

Friday, 30 January 2009

Commercially Viable Video over Wireless Broadband

(Click on the diagram for full sized image)

Continuing the LTE World Summit theme, Paul Steinberg, Fellow and Chief Architect - Telecommunications Wireless Infrastructure, Motorola spoke on 'Video Impact and Opportunity on a LTE Network'.

The image above conveys loads of information and I found it very interesting so I have shared it with everyone. The main message of the presentation was:
  • Mobile Video is Real & LTE Enables Commercially Viable Wireless Video
  • Technical Innovations Improve the Viability of Mobile Video Delivery
    • Video Encoding / LTE Air Interface / Devices / Network Architecture
  • Operators Can Leverage Video as Differentiator to Monetize LTE Networks

Thursday, 29 January 2009

LTE Femtocells Killer App: Wireless HDD

Just read this article:

Security appears to be all washed up, as USB sticks with sensitive data are being left regularly in pockets when workers take their clothes to be cleaned at laundrettes.

According to a survey from Credant Technologies, who claims that 9,000 USB sticks have been forgotten and left in pockets of clothes taken to dry cleaners. These figures were obtained from phone interviews with 500 dry cleaners across the UK, who found an average of two USB keys per year. Extrapolating this to the 4,500 dry cleaners in the UK leads to the 9,000 figure.

Data sticks are most frequently found in city centres and commuter areas with one proprietor in the City of London finding 80 memory sticks in 2008 alone.

Back in the LTE world summit last year, one of the things I mentioned was, that once LTE Femtocells are available we may be able to create innovative and groundbreaking applications to run on it. I was aware of some people suggesting that the broadband providers may throttle the backhaul traffic on the Femto but I was assured by one person from Sweden (or Finland ... cant recall for sure) that in the Nordics there is already upto 100Mbps speeds available and most of the people use P2P networks thereby consistently loading the ISP's. He did not think that there will be a problem.

One of the applications I suggested was a wireless Hard Disk Drive (HDD) or maybe a better term would be mobile USB (MUSB). The following slides are extracted from my presentation as I am being a bit lazy (and busy) to put them here.

As always, I am happy to receive feedback, comments, criticisms, etc, etc.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Recipe to design Killer Applications

Back in the LTE world summit, I presented recipe for designing killer mobile applications. I have listed them out here but feel free to suggest some more things or to correct me.

Recipe to design killer applications:
  • Something new everyday
    • E.g., News
  • Available instantly whenever needed
    • E.g., Youtube or similar VOD services
  • Challenging or Entertaining
    • E.g., Games, Music, etc.
  • Something that can reduce cost
    • E.g., VoIP services like Skype
  • Keeping in touch
    • E.g., Facebook, MSN messenger, etc.
  • Something to help in everyday life
    • E.g.,GPS, Maps, LBS, etc.
  • Purchase whatever and whenever you like
    • E.g., E-bay or Amazon
You may notice that I have not listed Email and browsing above because they fit multiple categories. Can you add to the list?

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

HSPA+ arriving soon from Vodafone and TIM

Telecom Italia Mobile (TIM) says it will be offering mobile data packages with peak download speeds of 21Mbps by mid-2009, rising to 28Mbps by year-end. The services, based on HSPA+ technology, will initially work via PC datacards using Qualcomm chipsets, CellularNews reports. Ericsson will supply equipment for the network upgrade.

Vodafone has trialled the Release 7 version HSPA+ mobile broadband technology in its Spanish network, and has achieved actual peak data download rates of up to 16Mbits/s.

The field trail of the HSPA+ 64QAM technology was done in conjunction with chip supplier Qualcomm Inc. and network gear provider Ericsson, following convincing results in laboratory tests.

Vodafone now plans to trial mobile broadband data connections with peak rates of up to 21Mbits/s early in 2009 using HSPA+ MIMO functionality.
The operator says the technology would be capable of video downloads at more than 13Mbits/s in good conditions and an average of more than 4 Mbits/s across a full range of typical cell locations, including urban environments.

If the trials prove a success, Vodafone plans to make this technology available in selected commercial networks.

HSPA+ technology is the next evolutionary step in the (3G) HSPA roadmap and increases performance through the use of the more powerful 64QAM modulation technique. Download performance is also improved through the use of multiple antennae (MIMO) technology on both base stations and data devices.

The operator is also working with several device vendors on the testing and validation of these devices ready for commercial availability.

Other major operators known to be conducting trials of HSPA+ technology include 3 and Australian company Telstra.

Telecoms equipment supplier Huawei has revealed that it will be showing off the world’s first commercial HSPA+ modem at the upcoming Mobile World Congress event, taking place in Barcelona next month.

Huawei’s connection to the Vodafone trials is unknown, but The Link has done a bit of detective work and observes that Vodafone released a statement early last year announcing partnerships with Huawei (amongst others) to develop the service. Huawei’s commercial HSPA+ stick could therefore be the first glance of Vodafone’s upcoming service, unless of course another network has quietly beaten it to the punch.

No release date or price has been revealed, but it does sound like HSPA+ will be arriving a lot sooner than we’d first thought. Mobile World Congress is taking place from the 16th – 19th February.

Monday, 26 January 2009

Reversing trend of outsourcing

For years the companies has flourished in their business where outsourcing was one of the major source of saving money and still getting good work done.

One of the main reason why India become the major hub for outsourcing was because of it’s immense pool of skilled science graduate which were far cheaper than in US and Europe.
Although in the last decade the salaries in India has risen manifolds but it still remaines the main destination for outsourcing simply because there is no shortage of the skilled techies.

But the current economic climate is changing the whole dynamics and the early signs are for what they call Outsourcing may be coming home.

With the rising unemployment in US and Europe and with so many people are desperate for the jobs all of a sudden companies see the pool of workers who are ready for work in far less then they were may be five years ago.

Remember no body wants to outsource if only they can get the work done at home.
In the current market situation there is a need to cut costs and increase productivity and for that reason some tech companies are looking for a new approach that bypasses traditional overseas locations like India.

One company who has taken a lead in this is IBM who is focussing on two U.S. communities which are East Lansing, Mich., and Dubuque, Iowa. This could be a trend setting move which other could follow very soon.

IBM believes that in these places there is access to skills also there is a willingness of local universities to cooperate with their business endeavours, and some government incentives to make it economically worthwhile. IBM hopes to create 1,500 direct and indirect jobs in five yearsin East Lansing, Mich and 1,300 jobs in Dubuque, Iowa.

Dubuque didn't just open the door and invite IBM into town but they also offered Big Blue (IBM) an enticing package of incentives worth $55 million over 10 years. These include a loan of $11.7 million that will be forgiven if IBM fulfils its hiring pledge. A local development agency also will spend $25 million to rehab an historic former department store.

Another major factor which is contributing towards bringing the jobs back to US from India is the stimulus package considered by the new president Obama. Although it has not been passed yet by the Congress, Obama has repeatedly discussed IT spending together with the rebuilding the US’s crumbling roads, bridges and schools.

I remember back in early 90’s when India opened its economy to go global one of the first companies to make use of the cheap and skilled science graduate was IBM.
For years India has been the primary location for technology outsourcing not only for IBM but other major tech companies as well.

This all seems to be changing now and the cycle seems to reversing.

It’s not only US but the Europe as well, which is going to get benefited by this reverse in trend. One of the astonishing thing which I came across just last week is that the Japanese companies who has R&D centres in UK are now considered as a cheaper options as compared to the ones in Japan. With the value of British pound fallen so much in the last six months the work force in UK all of a sudden becomes cheaper.

Could this be a new trend?

Industry analysts expect more tech services companies to establish operations in low-cost parts of the U.S and Europe.

I believe that in the coming months and years you'll see more of this although it might not be huge, but it will be a nice niche.

I am calling from the loo to tell you 'I Love You'

Almost one in two Australians admit to using their mobile phone while on the toilet and a quarter of men believe the mobile is an acceptable way to propose to their partner, a survey reveals.

The survey, commissioned by Microsoft and completed by 2,500 people across Australia, China, India, Japan and Taiwan, was conducted to determine just how integral the mobile phone has become in society.
It found that 48 per cent of Australians admitted to using the mobile phone while in the toilet, compared to 66 per cent of Chinese people who do so.

Of the occasions surveyed, 80 per cent of people said they would use their phone while eating a meal with others, 62 per cent said they'd use it while driving and 48 per cent would do so while trying to sleep.
Married women were also more likely to check their partner's phones than married men, while 30 per cent of people admitted to using their mobiles to flirt with someone other than their spouse or partner.

A quarter of Australians would use a GPS to track their partner's whereabouts, while 13 per cent said they would use their phones during "extremely intimate moments".

It was also revealed more than double the amount of men (24 per cent) to women (11 per cent) believed it was acceptable to propose to their partner using their mobile phone.

The Synovate survey on consumer behavior, commissioned by Microsoft's Windows Mobile division, found 58 percent of Asians polled across China, India, Japan, Taiwan and Australia wanted to use their mobiles on flights.

The 69 percent of respondents in favor of using their phones while flying, said this would help keep friends and family informed of flight changes, according to the survey.

Indians are the "most social" with 69 percent most likely to use their phones in a cinema, 21 percent in a place of worship and 79 percent at a wedding ceremony.

One thing parents across the Asian region agreed about was that children under the age of 12 should not be given a mobile phone.

The survey also revealed consumer preference for different form factors. The Chinese, Indians and Taiwanese are predominantly in favour of touch screen phones with the increased language input capabilities offered by such devices.

However, the Japanese prefer a flip phone while Australians prefer the more traditional numeric keypad.