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Africa poised for 4G boom as 700 MHz goes global November 24 2015

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The most important decision so far from the ITU's World Radio Conference (WRC-15) is to move the 700 MHz band from a regionally to a globally harmonised allocation for mobile broadband.

The move was widely expected, but is significant nonetheless, setting the stage for global services - LTE or 5G - in the 694-790 MHz spectrum, and for major economic impact on LTE roll-out costs, in Africa in particular.

In 2007, it was allocated for this purpose in the Americas and Asia-Pacific (ITU Regions 2 and 3), but not in EMEA (Region 1). For Region 1, incorporating Europe, Russia, the Middle East and Africa, a decision at WRC-12 created the possibility of allocating the 700 MHz band after WRC-15 for mobile service.

However, this high level allocation does not lead magically to the economies of scale which would accompany a virgin global band. North American operators have already deployed LTE in 700 MHz, but with a fragmented band plan which is very different from those elsewhere, creating problems for handset uniformity, and roaming, within US borders, let alone internationally.

And the GSMA, which represents mobile operators, is not satisfied just with this spectrum, but wants the ITU to open up the sub-700 MHz band (470-694 MHz) for cellular use also. This spectrum, with its excellent range and indoor penetration, would provide a valuable coverage band for the machine-to-machine services which will be a bedrock of 5G business cases. 

The 700 MHz decision, then, is something of a tidying-up exercise, since many countries are already allocating the frequencies and even deploying networks. In the Americas and many Asia-Pacific nations, 700 MHz was the first digital dividend spectrum to be repurposed from broadcast to mobile broadband use. Outside north America, most regulators have adopted a fairly harmonized band plan known as AP700 (driven from Asia-Pacific but also supported by most Latin American administrations).

In the EMEA region, 800 MHz was the first digital dividend and has been widely harnessed for LTE deployments or plans, with 700 MHz providing a second dividend. This region is divided on whether to follow the AP700 plan - most operators and regulators would like to get as close to it as possible, to maximize economic efficiencies and global roaming, but many will be unable to follow it completely, because of interference issues with other services.

Some countries are going ahead with 700 MHz auctions even though the frequencies will not usually be freed up until near the end of the decade, and even without full clarity on the band plans. Germany was the first European country to sell this spectrum, and France followed suit, concluding its auction last week.

The ITU said its latest decision would not harm other sectors, despite lobbying from broadcasters and aeronautical navigation agencies.

ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao said in a statement: "The WRC-15 decision represents a landmark in the development of broadband mobile on a worldwide scale, regardless of location, network or terminal used. It goes a long way in enabling bridging of the digital divide, while fully protecting the other services currently operated in the band."

The provisions adopted by the ITU include protections for broadcasting and aircraft navigation systems.

François Rancy, Director of the ITU Radiocommunication Bureau, added: "The global harmonization of the 694-790 MHz frequency band that has been decided by WRC-15 paves the way for manufacturers and mobile operators to offer mobile broadband at an affordable price in currently underserved areas."

The biggest impact of global 700 MHz is likely to be in Africa. In Europe, the 700 MHz spectrum is likely to be incremental to many carriers' business cases, whereas in Africa, it will often be central to delivering broadband on an unprecedented scale, with the social and economic impact that delivers. There are signs of a coming mobile broadband boom in parts of this diverse continent - a report from the GSMA earlier this year forecast that the number of unique mobile subscribers in sub-Saharan Africa will pass the 500m mark in 2020.

Africa delegations surprised everyone at the WRC-12 conference by getting the ITU to agree that the 700 MHz band could also become a second digital dividend in Region 1 after WRC-15. In September 2014, a meeting of the ITU and the African Telecommunications Union (ATU), saw Africa become the first region in the world to come up with a harmonized band plan for both the digital dividend bands. The September meeting resulting in a coordinated mechanism for the dividend agreed by 47 sub-Saharan African countries. The consolidation of national plans conforms with the regulations originally set out in 2006 at the ITU's Regional Radiocommunication Conference (RRC-06), and with international switchover deadlines of June 2015 (for UHF) and June 2020 (for VHF in 33 countries).

Aims of digital inclusion and new services would be further supported by adding the sub-700 MHz band, argued GSMA chief regulatory officer, John Giusti. He denied that the Association is ignoring the needs of broadcasters, proposing that mobile broadband should gain a co-primary allocation, and employ the latest technology to enable harmonious sharing.

 Speaking in Geneva, where the WRC is taking place, he said: "Today, the UHF band is lightly used for terrestrial broadcasting in many countries. By implementing the latest technologies, these legacy services could be maintained in a smaller amount of spectrum, maximizing the use of this valuable spectrum resource by allowing both mobile and broadcasting below 700 MHz."

He continued: "Adding a co-primary allocation in the sub-700 MHz band at WRC-15 would offer governments the flexibility to meet the changing needs of their citizens, who are increasingly accessing video content via 'second screen' mobile and tablet devices, and expand the well-established socioeconomic benefits generated by mobile broadband. There is no evidence that the existence of a co-primary allocation to mobile has had a negative impact on broadcast investment."

He said that, if no change is introduced in this band, it "would likely not be until at least 2023 before governments could revisit allocations in the sub-700 MHz band, with a further 5-10 years before it would reach the public in the form of new and innovative services."

WRC-15 runs from November 2 to November 27. While specific allocations for 5G are the remit of its successor, WRC-19, some pointers towards future spectrum policies are expected to emerge. However, some operators are likely to use frequencies, including those in 700 MHz, which are part of the current program, for new networks including specific M2M/IoT systems, and/or 5G.

Many carriers believe the propagation qualities of the 700 MHz band will be well suited to low power M2M applications, for instance in smart cities, especially as they may have achieved sufficient coverage for conventional LTE data and voice applications with existing 800 MHz assets, and are turning to higher frequencies, such as 2.6 GHz, to add capacity for consumer services.

Paired with evolving, ultra-low power variants of LTE (NB-IoT and LTE-MTC), some MNOs, especially in Europe, say they will be able to use 700 MHz frequencies to compete with specialized smart city networks such as LoRa and Sigfox. These would-be standards are gaining ground in the absence of an M2M-optimised LTE option, but they have the disadvantage of operating mainly in licence-exempt spectrum (the 868 MHz band in Europe), which has security and reliability implications for mission critical functions.

Qualcomm and others have made proposals to the 3GPP and to regulators to earmark a 2×3 MHz sub-section in the 700 MHz band, specifically for M2M and NB-IoT use. They believe that would help 4G operators be competitive in M2M markets such as smart cities, but others - including many carriers - want all spectrum to be usage-neutral and to have the freedom to deploy whatever seems most appropriate.


ITU brings dose of realism to 5G agenda June 23 2015

BY CAROLINE GABRIEL

The ITU always brings a dose of sobriety to a new standards party. Amid the escalating claims about when 5G equipment will be available (now, according to some vendors) and when services will be deployed (2018, even 2017 in 'pre-standard' form), the ITU-R Working Party came up with predictable conclusions from its meeting in San Diego, California. The forthcoming standard will be called IMT-2020, reflecting a timeline for finalizing the specifications by the end of the decade.

The official name will do nothing to stop companies labelling every new piece of radio equipment '5G', but it does start to streamline efforts towards something officially and globally unified. Nevertheless, the ITU's frameworks are always out of step with the work of technical standards bodies and with the real market - and that may be even more the case with 5G, especially if that ends up building significantly on current innovations in areas like virtualization and small cells.

For instance, the ITU frameworks tend to be conservative in their timescales, but over-ambitious in their core requirements - meaning that real world standards-based kit appears earlier, but without hitting the ITU performance levels. The ITU's timeline is 2020, but like NTT Docomo in 3G and 4G, some Asian operators will deploy pre-standard 5G before the 2020 date, and do almost as much as the ITU to shape how the new networks perform in reality.

In terms of performance targets, IMT-Advanced (4G) was supposed to achieve at least 100Mbps downlink data rates to a mobile end user and 1Gbps to a stationary one. The candidate technologies were actually LTE-Advanced (Release 10 and above) and WiMAX 2, but the former is only now being rolled out, while real world 4G was based on lower-spec'd LTE (and, in the early days, original WiMAX).

In other words, the market, industry alliances, and technical standards bodies like the 3GPP, decide how far vendors and carriers push a new technology to its limits.

So does the ITU have a real role to play? The answer is yes - it does provide a framework which draws in spectrum allocation, operator requirements, regulatory policies and many other factors on a global basis, which helps avoid fragmentation and keep everyone on a single track which is defined without the same level of vendor politics as the technology standards (though of course the ITU has politics of its own).

Nevertheless, defining the framework for IMT-2020 technologies will be an unprecedented test of the ITU's processes and value to the industry. It is clear that '5G' will encompass a vastly larger range of spectrum bands, use cases, power levels and (probably) connectivity standards than the relatively single-minded standards of the past, which relied on a single air interface geared mainly to increasing bandwidth/data rate.

This time, as the ITU acknowledged in its statement of vision for 2020, there will a far more multi-faceted platform to consider. There will be connected 'things' of all kinds, virtualization, massively dense networks, ultra-low power applications, and many other considerations. The ITU's secretary-general, Houlin Zhao, said in his statement: "The buzz in the industry on future steps in mobile technology - 5G - has seen a sharp increase, with attention now focused on enabling a seamlessly connected society in the 2020 timeframe and beyond that brings together people along with things, data, applications, transport systems and cities in a smart networked communications environment."

The body gave few hints about the specific technology attributes it envisages for IMT-2020. Its next meeting, on July 21, will approve the recommendations of the San Diego event, and more detailed work will be presented at the October ITU-R Radiocommunication Assembly.

It will now work with the telecoms industry and other players to specify detailed technical requirements, and the criteria against which to evaluate candidate technologies, probably by year end. It promised to take into account the needs of a wide range of future scenarios and use cases.

Only then will would-be 5G standard technologies be able to compete to be accredited as official IMT-2020 systems. Not that acceptance by the ITU ensures commercial success - for IMT-Advanced, WiMAX2 was selected alongside LTE-Advanced, while IMT-2000 (3G) included the little-deployed TD-CDMA.

In the absence of many hard details as yet, there was plenty of speculation about how the ITU perceives 5G. The organization itself said it had defined overall goals, process and timelines and that "this process is now well underway within ITU, in close collaboration with governments and the global mobile industry".

Some delegates to the San Diego summit were more forthcoming - according to the Korea Times - citing the country's Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning, a contributor to the ITU-R process - the ITU believes 5G networks must have the capacity to transmit data at over 1000Mbps to over one million IoT devices within one square kilometer.

However, another report emanating from Korea, that the ITU will mandate baseline data speeds of 20Gbps for 5G, proved to be false. Indeed, the ITU itself told Inside5G that, "as of now, the peak data rate of IMT-2020 for enhanced mobile broadband is expected to reach 10Gbps. However, under certain conditions and scenarios, IMT-2020 would support up to 20Gbps peak data rate."

It will be no surprise that Korea and Japan are prominent in the ITU-R process, and are already engaged in one-upmanship about the importance of their contributions, as well as their plans to be the first in the world to deploy '5G' services, albeit it with pre-standard kit. Of course, 5G may well be a wireless generation that is shaped by China, whose vendors and operators are also engaged in advanced R&D and standards body participation, though making somewhat less public noise than their neighbors.

At the recent CommunicAsia 2015 conference, the only significant point of consensus, in a debate between four organizations contributing to the ITU-R deliberations, was that ultra-low latency, machine-to-machine communications would be the top priority for 5G, and this would be even more important to enabling future services and business models than increased speeds.

In other respects, there were clear disagreements between various 5G projects, and between Japan and Korea. As noted by TelecomAsia, representatives from the four groups agreed to disagree on the KPIs (key performance indicators) for 5G, during a panel debate at the show.

The ITU-R itself, the Korea 5G Forum, the Fifth Generation Mobile Communications Promotion Forum (5GMCPF), and the 5G World Alliance all had somewhat different approaches. Colin Langtry, leader of the 5G study group at ITU-R, was the least controversial, telling the conference that the main aim is to enable ultra-reliable communications and low latency, among other capabilities. He also said that "co-opetition" between different 5G groups would be positive for the end result.

Meanwhile, Youngnam Han from the Korea 5G Forum called for three new KPIs to be added to the ITU-R's framework. The Forum published three white papers in March, setting out KPIs and promising candidate technologies, as well as spectrum requirements and candidate bands. The KPIs tie into the eight core requirements set out by the ITU-R, which include peak data rates up to tens of Gbps, 1ms latency and mobile hand-off at 500 kilometers per hour. However, Han wants to add others which go beyond the ITU remit, including the handling of interruption time, and pinpointing a terminal's location to "within a few centimeters".

Hiroyuki Morikawa, a Japanese member of the 5GMCPF, was more focused on timelines and called for a schedule of milestones to be laid down. The two Asian powerhouses may have different priorities, but they are keen to lead the world in 5G roll-out, and especially to stay ahead of the US. "Korea and Japan are the leading countries" in 5G, partly because of their large concentration of device makers, Han said. He graciously said that the US and Europe were "welcome" to join the debate about 5G KPIs, with Langtry hastily saying that the western regions were already involved, but not leading the discussions.

Korea aims to launch pre-standard 5G in time for its Winter Olympics in 2018, though Han was vague about exactly what that would entail, only commenting that the network could be based on "anything that meets the eight KPIs laid down by the ITU-R". Japan hopes to conduct a proof of concept, at least, by the end of 2017 and will outline the details of that late this year. "Not surprisingly, the Japanese plan is very similar to the Korean plan - it's because we're neighbours," said Morikawa.

Another group, the 5G World Alliance, was heavily focused on IPv6 to enable the IoT - unsurprisingly since its chair, Latif Ladid, is also founder and chair of the IPv6 Forum. He told the conference that users would soon need millions of IP addresses, not one, and urged the mobile industry fully to embrace IPv6 this time around, something it had failed to do in 3G and even partially in 4G


5G bodies at odds as critical ITU meeting looms June 04 2015

BY CAROLINE GABRIEL

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Real progress on standards, rather than inflated claims for '5G', is coming closer, with the ITU (International Telecommunication Union) holding a 5G working group to finalize core specifications in San Diego, California next week.

However, though some Asian operators claim they will have commercial 5G networks up and running as early as 2018, these will almost certainly be based on pre-standard equipment. Just three years ahead of that deadline, there is still little agreement on the key objectives of 5G, let alone the specific technologies.

At the CommunicAsia 2015 conference this week, the only significant point of consensus was that ultra-low latency, machine-to-machine communications would be the top priority for 5G, and this would be more important to enabling future services and business models than increased speeds.

In other respects, there were clear disagreements between various 5G projects, and between two of the countries in the vanguard of mobile R&D, Japan and Korea.

As noted by TelecomAsia, representatives from four key groups, all of which will have input to the ITU's deliberations, agreed to disagree on the KPIs (key performance indicators) for 5G, during a panel debate at the show.

The ITU-R itself, the Korea 5G Forum, the Fifth Generation Mobile Communications Promotion Forum (5GMCPF), and the 5G World Alliance all had somewhat different approaches. Colin Langtry, leader of the 5G study group at ITU-R, was the least controversial, telling the conference that the main aim is to enable ultra-reliable communications and low latency, among other capabilities.

He also said that "co-opetition" between different 5G groups would be positive for the end result. "There is a degree of competition, but it's friendly competition and constructive competition and it will come up with a good result," he told the panel.

Meanwhile, Youngnam Han from the Korea 5G Forum called for three new KPIs to be added to the ITU-R's framework. The Forum published three white papers in March, setting out KPIs and promising candidate technologies, as well as spectrum requirements and candidate bands. The KPIs tie into the eight core requirements set out by the ITU-R, which include peak data rates up to tens of Gbps, 1ms latency and mobile hand-off at 500 kilometers per hour. However, Han wants to add others which go beyond the ITU remit, including the handling of interruption time, and pinpointing a terminal's location to "within a few centimetres".

Hiroyuki Morikawa, a Japanese member of the 5GMCPF, was more focused on timelines and called for a schedule of milestones to be laid down. The two Asian powerhouses may have different priorities, but they are keen to lead the world in 5G roll-out, and especially to stay ahead of the US. "Korea and Japan are the leading countries" in 5G, partly because of their large concentration of device makers, Han said. He graciously said that the US and Europe were "welcome" to join the debate about 5G KPIs, with Langtry hastily saying that the western regions were already involved, but not leading the discussions.

Korea aims to launch pre-standard 5G in time for its Winter Olympics in 2018, though Han was vague about exactly what that would entail, only commenting that the network could be based on "anything that meets the eight KPIs laid down by the ITU-R". Japan hopes to conduct a proof of concept, at least, by the end of 2017 and will outline the details of that late this year. "Not surprisingly, the Japanese plan is very similar to the Korean plan - it's because we're neighbours," said Morikawa.

Another group, the 5G World Alliance, was heavily focused on IPv6 to enable the IoT - unsurprisingly since its chair, Latif Ladid, is also founder and chair of the IPv6 Forum. He told the conference that users would soon need millions of IP addresses, not one, and urged the mobile industry fully to embrace IPv6 this time around, something it had failed to do in 3G and even partially in 4G.

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