Tag Archives: mobile

Fibre Mobile

16 Nov

Describing Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC) as Fibre Broadband (more truthfully ‘phoneline broadband’ on shorter lines) has led to (a) great confusion for consumers and businesses and (b) huge dissatisfaction when advertised speeds cannot be delivered on account of the variable constraints of the remaining copper in the final link.

Thankfully that dilution of truth by Fixed Operators has not yet been mimicked by Mobile Operators.

mobile-phone-comms-tower-3031If they did so, any cellular mobile service delivered from a Base-Station linked to the wider world by fibre optics could be marketed as ‘Fibre Mobile’ – a tag that would seem nonsensical as many folk imagine that Fixed and Mobile broadband are direct competitors.

Not all cellular Base Stations are currently fed by fibre ‘backhaul’. Many of the consumer complaints of poor mobile service are rooted in coverage and capacity limitations (congestion) further back in the network and in an environment where highly variable demands on the service make tailored design difficult.

Design complications arise not only from the siting of Base Stations and their ‘backhaul’ capacity. There are technical limitations with wireless propagation – radio signals behave differently in different parts of the spectrum.   Designers must contend with a wide range of physical environments – the thickness of walls, foliage on trees and user devices moving at speed across Base Station areas – and they are also constrained by the licensed spectrum available, typically with separate upload and download frequencies.

The point of these observations is that these constraints and performance limitations will be cruelly exposed in the coming era of 5G Mobile. That exposure stems from (1) raised expectations of vast capacity to deliver video and other interactive ‘cloud’ applications and (2) the intended use of much higher radio frequencies. System designers will gain some relief from those challenges by advanced antenna design and complete digitalization – nearly all traffic is now in data form, including voice calls that in earlier mobile generations (and fixed line telephony) were ‘analogue’.

The dominant service design factor is the frequency. Ofcom is already planning to licence frequencies above 26GHz – vastly higher than currently used spectrum typically around 1.8 GHz to 2.6GHz. Lower frequencies (or in old terminology ‘Long Waves’) can travel further – hence the use of 0.7GHz for TV and radio broadcasting.

Some of that legacy TV spectrum usage has been cleared away to make room for wide area coverage of low data-rate services – typically sensors linked with ‘Internet of Things’ applications that often operate only in one direction.

fibre-mobile-freq-coverage-graphHigher frequencies are best used for higher-intensity and interactive applications – and readers will be familiar with the large dishes that beam signals ‘line of sight’ across the country.

At the frequencies now being considered for use in 5G mobile devices, typical coverage areas are reduced to around 200-metre radius and indoor penetration through walls becomes an issue – but throughput capacity is not so much of a problem.

The bottom line on 5G design development is that a vast number of very small lower-power base stations will be needed. These may be more like today’s WiFi routers, or in the style of pizza boxes, with external antenna that are almost invisible compared to today’s mighty masts. And almost all will need a high capacity link back to the Internet and other networks in both directions.

Estimates vary but complete coverage of the UK’s 24million hectares and property (outside and indoors) could, in theory, need between 5 to 7 million small base stations requiring high capacity fibre optic connections. The current operating model, with few sites earning high revenues for property owners, will need to change to many sites (including street furniture such as lampposts) with low (or even zero) wayleave fees.

It does not take a genius to understand that the future of Mobile communications is inextricably linked to the local availability of fibre connectivity that is (a) future-proofed (unlimited capacity) and (b) symmetric i.e. having an equally high speed in both directions.

Short-term improvements for current systems such as ‘national roaming’ and ‘mast sharing’ do not address the longer-term challenges – although they may provide some clues for future technical design and the shape of future regulatory and competitive (but more collaborative) market forces.

What is urgently needed is a reimagining of how we transition from the established notions of infrastructure competition to a more advanced appreciation of consumer and business needs and encourage the willing cooperation of users in shared infrastructure development.

At the same time, the UK’s ability to implement 5G Mobile requires a complete rethink of fixed line environments. The passive infrastructure (i.e. holes and poles) needs to be liberated and, like other utilities, managed in partnership with public agencies. Renewed investment in this arena is challenging and less than glamorous but urgently needed in this era of full-throttle fibre transformation.

Surely with that imaginative but radical ‘separation’ we could envisage a massive shift away from legacy copper networks to energy-efficient pure fibre optics. Sadly most of the public investment in the asymmetric ‘Superfast Fibre’ broadband (FTTC) ‘cul-de-sac’ has been a colossal diversion from the long-term ‘future-proofed’ requirements.

Our economy’s future now depends on policy developers, regulators, local governments and industry setting aside previous tech-ideologies and reaching an understanding of future interdependencies. Only then can the work of educating consumers and enterprise begin – an essential first step towards a more collaborative future that can enable the transition to 5G.

 

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Ofcom: crowd-sourced data and mobile performance quality

16 Apr

A fair crowd gathered yesterday in London to hear Ofcom’s tentative views on improving consumer information in the mobile phone arena.

Representing the UK’s Communications Management Association I found the meeting experience, much like many a mobile call, variable.

Full story here

Ofcom considers crowd-sourced data on mobile service quality

9 Mar

If anyone knows the everyday reality of mobile network performance it is surely the user.

The mobile phone itself must be the most obvious source of data – even (or especially) when signals fail, calls drop out and texts are delayed.

Ofcom’s ‘Call for Input’ on this ‘Quality of Experience’  debate – what should or could be measured – raises the prospect of a prevarication-free zone where the development of an App to monitor the realities of coverage, throughput and call quality could gain regulatory blessing without being delayed by any Operators’ reluctance to be so exposed.

The debate may even be a sign that Ofcom is keen to champion the interests of the users rather more than bend to the interests of operators.

The consultation is open until 1st April.

Ofcom asks- is the Quality of Mobile not Strained?

Less roaming risk – more roaming reward?

14 Dec

Progress towards elimination of excessive Mobile Roaming charges in Europe may be moving at a glacial pace but at least they are moving faster than the efforts to introduce national roaming within the UK.

As they square up to bidding at the UK’s auction for 4G spectrum all mobile operators are acutely aware of the costs of infrastructure investment.   At the same time ordinary users are equally aware that when their signal fades they guy in the next seat may well have a good signal from another operator.   The regulator has always claimed that national roaming (like its EU-wide counterpart) is technically too complex.  Maybe the cost of duplicate base stations will, at last, force the operators to collaborate – ‘tho it seems unlikely that they can get their heads around sensible nationwide wholesale mobile connectivity.

Meanwhile across the EU, INTUG, the representative body for business users, is working hard to define the market requirements for the July 2014 change that requires all operators to offer roaming as a separate service – thus calling time on the era of unexpectedly high bills.

Full story here

 

4G race starts as 5G warms up

28 Oct

The imminent launch by mobile operator Everything Everywhere of the UK’s 4G services (with others to follow in 2013 when spectrum is auctioned) comes just 2 weeks after announcement of government research funding for  5G.

The £11.6m from the UK’s Research Partnership investment fund will be more than matched by a further £24m from a consortium of mobile infrastructure providers and operators.  The funds enable a 5G innovation centre to get underway at Surrey University.

Since the heady days of 2G (GSM) Europe has lost pole position in mobile technologies although we should not forget that Cambridge-based ARM has a dominant presence in billions of mobile devices.

The shape of mobile things to come is highly speculative and, with pressure for ever-greater spectrum efficiency and higher-capacity links to support bigger and faster applications, there is a huge interdependency on the adequacy of the fixed digital network to handle the traffic from thousands of smaller localised mobile base stations.

The expected explosion of demand for M2M devices and ‘The Internet of Things’ may already be stretching the limits of 4G and no-one imagines that the global standards-making process for 5G is going to be an easy collaborative ride.

Full story here

Tricky times for Telco’s.

4 May

A recent report from AD Little highlights the decline of core revenues and the difficult choices facing European incumbents.

Whilst fixed line operators may look to diversify or develop OTT services, these options are viewed differently by Mobile operators.

The Groupe Intellex editorial considers the choice between yet more austerity measures and massive infrastructure investment – and this strategic choice is not just one for corporate leaders.

Full story here.