Why spectrum sharing?
Commercial access and use of spectrum has traditionally been authorized in two ways: either through individual licenses or in accordance with license exempt (unlicensed or ‘commons’) rules. It is believed much of that spectrum is lightly used or even not used. At a time when most observers believe people, organizations and businesses will need vastly more Internet and communications capacity, that is a waste of scarce resources. To move incumbent users to a new frequency band is also a very costly and time consuming proposition. Thus, spectrum sharing offers a cheaper and quicker way to maximize use of scarce resources.
The Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA), in partnership with Maravedis-Rethink, has published its Annual Industry Report for 2016, revealing that the Internet of Things (IoT), the hyper-dense network and 5G will not be economic or practical without the convergence and coexistence of licensed and unlicensed technologies.
The introduction set out a picture of the wireless world, in which many types of spectrum and network increasingly work together to create a seamless pool of capacity for service providers, enterprises and consumers to use.
A year ago, when the Wireless Broadband Alliance announced its Vision 2020 program, it was moving away from a specific focus on Wi-Fi, and towards a far broader platform based around many unlicensed spectrum bands and technologies. This recognized the fundamental and exciting role that unlicensed spectrum will play in pushing the boundaries of wireless experience and business cases between now and 2020; and in the platform that becomes 5G.
Unlicensed spectrum technologies have come a long way from being the disruptive younger sibling of the licensed-band networks, to having an equal place at the table. Indeed, this year’s upcoming WBA report looks beyond unlicensed spectrum on its own, and towards the rising levels of convergence with licensed technologies, to enable new performance levels and flexibility for service providers of all kinds.
Coexistence, and increasingly, full convergence will drive the next generation of wireless technologies, along with some key enablers of the heterogeneous network (HetNet) – network virtualization, new management techniques such as self-optimizing networks (SON), flexible approaches to spectrum licensing and aggregation.
Without convergence, the Internet of Things, the hyper-dense network, and indeed 5G will not be economic or even practical. These are three cornerstones of new emerging business cases for wireless service providers, whether mobile operators, pure-play Wi-Fi or machine-to-machine operators, or wireline carriers with a wireless element to their platforms. All of them will depend on different unlicensed technologies coming together, and often working with licensed networks. For instance, for the IoT, over two-thirds of operators expect to deploy two or more different technologies in parallel.
Converged networks will enable or enhance many business cases which rely on massive IoT connectivity or on hyper-dense data networks. Many of these will be seen in the context of the smart city, a key area of focus and activity for the WBA in 2016, and this year’s report devotes a full section to the massive potential of these environments to drive social and economic improvements, and in so doing, to influence future wireless technology roadmaps.
Those roadmaps will lead eventually to 5G – not just a radio upgrade, but an end-to-end platform, spanning the core to the edge of the network, and a top-to-bottom one, from the radio to the applications layer. Current developments in the Wi-Fi market, including the next wave of 802.11 standards and moves towards virtualization, will feed into this new platform alongside those from the cellular and M2M worlds. The result will be a flexible, radio-neutral 5G environment in which a whole new generation of business models will be able to thrive in unlicensed as well as licensed spectrum, building on a long history of innovation in the Wi-Fi community.
Join us at the Wireless Global Congress in San Jose November 14-17, 2016, to learn more about the WBA’ vision in this four day event, featuring a two day conference programme and two days of membership meetings and invitation-only sessions.
WiFi roaming on a grand scale is the order of the day as a rising percentage of wireless data travels over the unlicensed-band technology, and as a wide range of service provid-ers put WiFi at the heart of their networks.
Just weeks after the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) – the grandfather of WiFi roam-ing – announced agreements to allow movement between 23 operators of city networks, CableLabs, the cable industry R&D organization, pledged to launch a roaming hub for as many as nine US cable operators, by early 2017. That could further accelerate the creation of a nationwide network of cableco-deployed hotspots to supplement the CableWiFi Alli-ance’s huge roll-out.
A nationwide roaming agreement of that kind, which could provide seamless access to many hundreds of thousands of hotspots and homespots, would be a threatening thing for mobile operators, despite their potential use of the network for offload. But it would mini-mize the need for WiFi-first operators – expected to include the largest cableco, Comcast, soon – to rely on cellular MVNO partnerships. That, in turn, would tip the balance of pow-er against the MNOs, in terms of the ability to keep mobile users on their networks to monetize them; and in discussions with cablecos about fees for WiFi offload versus MVNO access.
Mitch Ashley, president of CableLabs’ Kyrio for-profit subsidiary (formerly NetworkFX), said in an interview with FierceCable that his unit expects to launch WiFi roaming ser-vices for up to nine US cablecos in the next three quarters; and that it aimed to sign roam-ing deals between this collective of smaller operators, and the major players, most of which are also members of the CableWiFi Alliance. That Alliance was formed in 2012 by
Comcast, Cablevision, Time Warner Cable, Bright House Networks and Cox Communica-tions and now has about 500,000 locations. Non-member Charter recently acquired TWC and BrightHouse while Altice of France acquired Cablevision but, so far at least, the roam-ing arrangement remain the same.
Ashley said in the interview: “We will connect into members of the Cable WiFi Alliance. We are a complement to it. I don’t see us joining the Cable WiFi Alliance. But we will inter-connect with their members.”
He added: “The WiFi roaming hub is a service that we put together targeted primarily at the mid-tier operators to provide them roaming capabilities across their footprint as well as to larger cable providers. It drastically increases the footprint of a mid-tier operator such as Midco.” Midco is upgrading its public WiFi network in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to support the hub. Kyrio recently completed technical and field trials of its hub with two other unnamed mid-tier cablecos.
The organization is also in talks with non-cable WiFi operators and Kyrio says it is open to aggregators like Boingo or telcos like AT&T, though it has not signed deals with these companies.
Kyrio will move from its current AAA authentication method to the WiFi Alliance’s Passpoint technology at some point in the future, adding seamless access for SIM-enabled devices and improved security.
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We tend to take broadband availability and affordability as a given, at least in large cities! That’s not what we found in a recent research we conducted on behalf of the wireless broadband alliance. In fact we found that More than half of world’s urban population has no broadband access. 57% of world’s population are urban unconnected, with 37% of these people living in some of the world’s wealthiest cities like New York or Shanghai.
This report presents the findings of research conducted by Maravedis on behalf of the Wireless Broadband Alliance regarding the state of the urban unconnected population in 18 large cities as well as each of their related international regions.
The conclusions presented take into consideration an analysis of urban broadband adoption at both the city and regional levels.
- The digital divide phenomenon is not limited to rural or remote areas. A staggering 57% of world’s urban population remains unconnected, either with fixed or mobile broadband. That represents more than 2.2 billion people living in cities across the world.
- Wide differences exist in broadband access when comparing metro areas. This means that an important segment of the population inside large cities are being left out of the digital age, either because they cannot afford the service or because the service is simply not available in their neighborhood.
- Large, sophisticated cities are still lagging behind in terms of broadband penetration. Los Angeles, New York City, and Shanghai are good examples. More than 25% of their population unconnected.
- Affordability and social inequality represent the primary obstacles to urban connectivity. Urban citizens still remain unconnected either because they cannot afford the broadband service or the device. The research methodology is explained at the end of the paper.
Findings at the City Level
First, analysis at the city level reveals a huge contrast when it comes to urban broadband access between large cities around the world. Among the cities researched, the lowest proportion of citizens without broadband access is in London (UK) where only 8% or 683,095 of the population is unconnected. However, in Lagos (Nigeria) the portion of unconnected is 88.2% or 10,168,090 people. This demonstrates a wide gap between cities. This is not a surprising result and is well in line with overall regional differences, explained by differences in economic, social, technology and telecom regulatory environments.
The disadvantage experienced by the citizens of Lagos is not surprising at all since the average of unconnected citizens in all the cities examined is just 37%. Also, most of the cities surpassing the average are located in the Middle East & Africa (MEA) and Asia Pacific (APAC) regions. On the other hand, the cities located in more developed regions, such as North America and Europe, and two APAC countries (Seoul and Tokyo) show considerable lower proportions of unconnected, and are below the general average.
Findings at the Regional Level
The analysis of broadband access at the regional level provides results which are consistent with those at the city level. Figure 4 and 5 show the region with the highest proportion of urban unconnected is MEA (Middle East and Africa) with 82% or 515 million unconnected citizens. That region is followed by APAC (Asia Pacific) with 68% or 1.2 billion urban unconnected citizens. This staggering number can be explained by the high proportion of urban population without broadband access in highly populated and countries, such as China and India.
Download the full report.
Last year was the first time that Wi-Fi carried more mobile traffic than cellular did, according to Cisco’s Visual Networking Index Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast (2015 to 2020), which cites Maravedis’ research. That trend is fundamentally changing the telecom market in a variety of ways.
For example, the more that mobile operators and their customers rely on Wi-Fi, the more important it is for 802.11 to provide good quality of service experience (QoS/QoE). (One way to define “good” is a connection that’s at least as fast, reliable and low latency as what cellular offers.) Otherwise, many customers will choose cellular, and mobile operators will pay the price in terms of having to buy additional base stations, backhaul and spectrum – if there’s even any spectrum available for them to buy. Hotspot owners and aggregators also will pay the price in terms of less revenue, both from end users and from their mobile operator partners.
To avoid those problems, the Wi-Fi industry has spent the past couple of years developing “carrier-grade” 802.11, which aims to provide a better user experience than traditional “best-effort” Wi-Fi. By the end of 2017, carrier-grade access points will start to outnumber best-effort ones, Maravedis predicts. By 2020, more than 90 percent of hotspots will be carrier grade.
The Business Case for LTE Coexistence
When it comes to Wi-Fi QoS/QoE, one looming wild card is LTE’s use of the same 5 GHz band that many hotspots inhabit. LTE Licensed Assisted Access (LTE-LAA) technology aggregates signals across licensed and unlicensed bands in order to deliver more bandwidth than the licensed spectrum alone could support.
Note that “support” doesn’t refer only to the maximum amount of bits that a slice of spectrum can handle. Support also can be viewed in financial terms. For example, a mobile operator might configure LTE-LAA so that the LTE “anchor” carrier is used for minimal traffic because that licensed spectrum is scarce and expensive. The bulk of the traffic then would go over the unlicensed carrier(s), thus reducing the operator’s cost of delivering service and in turn increasing its ability to achieve a profit.
Whatever the scenario, LTE-LAA also highlights why mobile operators – and their vendors – have a vested interest in finding ways to ensure that their traffic coexists peacefully alongside Wi-Fi. If LTE-LAA pollutes the unlicensed spectrum, then the interference will undermine Wi-Fi’s QoS/QoE, making offload less attractive to customers. That would shift more traffic back into licensed spectrum, which is already crowded in urban areas.
For example, Qualcomm and Verizon Wireless are among the companies developing “listen before talking” (LBT) technologies, which enable LTE-LAA devices and infrastructure to check to see if a nearby Wi-Fi application is already sending traffic on a particular frequency. If there is, LBT would look for another, clear frequency before transmitting.
Time and real-world deployments will show whether LBT is a viable way to enable coexistence. In urban and suburban areas, unlicensed spectrum is already crowded, so there will be times and places where LBT inevitably struggles to find clear frequencies. Many of those times and places also are when and where cellular spectrum is overloaded, such as city centers during the workday. The likely result is that there will be times and places where mobile operators and their customers would benefit the most of LTE-LAA offload, but LBT will be unable to broker it.
Offloading to Other Bands, Including New Ones
The good news is that other technologies are emerging to help shoehorn more traffic into unlicensed spectrum. Some of these technologies also complement one another to maximize their benefits. For example, self-optimizing Wi-Fi networks (SON) can identify when a dual-band Wi-Fi device could and should move to just one of those bands, thus freeing up the other band for other users. That alone would help reduce congestion, which could be further reduced if LBT devices also are active in that area.
Another example is WiGig, which uses unlicensed 60 GHz spectrum. If it achieves significant market share, that would mean less traffic clogging up the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands. The 802.11ah and 802.11ax standards could have similar effects by shifting some traffic into new bands between 900 MHz and 6 GHz.
Maravedis is the leading analyst firm covering Wi-Fi. If you need market research on Wi-Fi or would like to produce unique content as part of your content marketing strategy, contact us today.
Wi-Fi is a decades-old technology, but it remains as relevant as ever because it continues to evolve in ways that benefit vendors, service providers and their customers. The Wi-Fi Alliance’s 2015 annual report is a convenient opportunity to look back and forward at some of the latest ways, such as how the organization has developed new technologies and membership tiers to ensure Wi-Fi remains highly competitive in the Internet of Things (IoT) market. Read More.
Fifteen years ago, nearly every PowerPoint presentation about wireless had a slide predicting data traffic taking off like a hockey stick. What might have seemed overly optimistic then looks like an underestimation now.
That’s one takeaway from Cisco’s latest Visual Networking Index Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast (2015 to 2020), which cites Maravedis’ Wi-Fi research. According to Cisco:
- Monthly mobile data usage in 2015 hit 3.7 exabytes and is track to reach 30.6 exabytes by 2020. That means 2020 traffic will be 120 times greater than in 2010.
- Between 2015 and 2020, global mobile data traffic will grow twice as fast as fixed IP network loads.
- In 2015, 51 percent of mobile data traffic was offloaded to Wi-Fi. By 2020, Wi-Fi’s share will grow to 55 percent.
- In 2015, there were 64 million Wi-Fi hotspots worldwide, including 57 million home spots, based on Maravedis’ research. By 2020, they’ll hit 432 million, of which 423 million will be home spots.
Although consumer and business applications such as video are responsible for a lot of that traffic, Cisco expects Machine to Machine/Internet of Things (M2M/IoT) applications to account for a big chunk of growth:
- Nearly 8 percent of mobile connections in 2015 were IoT. By 2020, they’ll be 26.4 percent.
- In 2020, those devices will generate 6.7 percent of all mobile traffic versus 2.7 percent in 2015.
- One type of IoT device – wearables such as smart watches – will grow six-fold from nearly 97 million in 2015 to more than 600 million in 2020.
To maximize their share of the M2M/IoT market – and the revenue that comes with it – mobile operators will need to adopt a host of emerging low-power wide-area (LPWA) cellular technologies: LoRa, Random Phase Multiple Access (RPMA), Ultra Narrow Band (UNB), Extended Coverage GSM (EC-GSM), LTE Machine Type (LTE-M) and the LTE-based Narrow Band (NB) IoT.
These proprietary and standards-based LPWA technologies will help cellular meet IoT’s price and cost requirements, which are significantly lower than those of smartphones and tablets. Without them, cellular will lose IoT market share to Wi-Fi, partly because its chipsets are so inexpensive and partly because its indoor coverage often is superior to cellular’s.
The Wi-Fi community also isn’t resting on its laurels. For example, earlier this year, the Wi-Fi Alliance launched HaLow, formerly known as 802.11ah, which uses the 900 MHz band to provide better indoor coverage. Maravedis believes that HaLow is potentially a very disruptive technology, especially with the arrival of tri-band routers that support 2.4GHz, 5.8GHz and the 900 MHz used by 802.11ah. For instance, a residential tri-band router could take traffic to and from consumer-oriented IoT devices and the home’s smart utility meter backhaul and run it over that customer’s wired broadband service. That scenario completely cuts the mobile operator out of the picture. Similar scenarios could play out in the enterprise market, too, further cutting into mobile operator revenue from IoT.
Of course, many mobile operators already own wide-area Wi-Fi networks and/or partner with Wi-Fi aggregators such as Boingo. These initiatives help mobile operators both enable and leverage the offload trend that Cisco’s VNI quantifies. Today, as much as 70 percent of international travelers often rely on Wi-Fi instead of cellular, according to the WBA’s recent “Wi-Fi Roaming Business Case” report. As the Wi-Fi community makes it easier for travelers and other people to roam on Wi-Fi, it’s not hard to see why Cisco’s 2020 forecast of 55 percent offload could be on the mark.
The bottom line is that there are plenty of business opportunities as consumers and business users increasingly shift their voice, video and data from fixed networks to wireless ones. Those opportunities also will drive cellular and Wi-Fi to both compete and cooperate.
Will sell Alpine processors, from its Annapurna acquisition, under its own brand for WiFi routers and other equipment
Ever since it broke out of its retail model to make its own mobile devices, there has been speculation that Amazon would go a step further and create its own chips, achieving Apple-style control over its designs and costs. However, the failure of the Fire Phone seemed to put paid to such plans – until now, with the news that Amazon will indeed sell its own processors, but to third parties rather than its inhouse gadgets.
The company will go up against Broadcom and others with chips for WiFi routers, as well as media streaming devices, low power servers and other portable or home electronics equipment. Its products are the result of the acquisition, a year ago, of Israeli fabless chip provider Annapurna Labs, for a reported $350m. That firm already has some commercial products, with customers including Asustek and consumer WiFi vendor Netgear.
Annapurna’s Alpine chips are ARM-based and fall neatly within Amazon’s philosophy of packing performance into a low cost package in order to drive market share, even at low margins. The chips integrate up to four processor cores and multiple networking options – though not currently cellular. They also come with hardware development kits so that customers can modify them for specific products.
Becoming a merchant chip provider is an unusual step for Amazon, which more commonly buys hardware firms in order to use their inventions inhouse, as it did when it bought warehouse robotics specialist Kiva Systems. The purchase of Annapurna was widely assumed to be connected to Amazon’s own cloud data centers, and a move to improve its performance and economics by controlling its own processor architecture – an approach also taken by Google and other web giants.
Of course, that may still be part of the plan for the acquisition, and the current plan may be a tactical move to generate revenues from the investment in order to sweeten the pill for investors, some of which have been critical of the way that Amazon’s huge technology developments hit its profits.
Annapurna Labs was founded in 2011 by Avigdor Willenz, previously founder of chip design company Galileo Technologies, which was acquired in 2000 by Marvell for $2.7bn.