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Wireless Infrastructure Newsletter

FON model taking wireless world by storm May 27 2014

Telstra and KT are the latest carriers to sign partnerships with homespot pioneer, as its coverage goes global

By Caroline Gabriel 

FON, the pioneer of the WiFi homespot model, is fending off all its imitators, stitching together a huge global network via a growing list of carrier partners. The latest are in the Asia-Pacific region, where it has new agreements with KT in Korea and Telstra in Australia.

Despite the importance of WiFi offload to mobile carriers, in many areas it is fixed line operators which are deploying unlicensed technology to greatest effect. One of the turning points has been the emergence of the homespot, a WiFi home router which has two SSIDs, one left open for passers-by to use for broadband access (consumers who agree to this get an incentive such as lower rates or free content). The homespots are a very low cost way for broadband providers to create clouds of coverage and capacity, especially in residential areas where the hotspot model might not make sense.

They are being used disruptively by some of the most threatening (to the cellco) providers, such as Comcast in the US - leader of the huge CableWiFi hotspot alliance - Free in France, and many wireline providers like BT in the UK. Some of the homespot enthusiasts, like Deutsche Telekom, Telstra and Free itself, have mobile arms too, but recognize that they can bolster their fixed broadband propositions, and move more cheaply to quad play, if they bet heavily on WiFi.

Last week, Google was reported to be expanding on the model with dual-SSID routers to be installed in US small businesses, creating a potentially huge WiFi network managed from the cloud, using Ruckus Wireless's newly announced platform.

But while others build on its example, FON continues to progress. Its KT alliance includes as global WiFi roaming deal, giving FON members free access to the Korean incumbent's entire hotspot network. In return, selected KT subscribers can access FON's 13m-strong global installed base when they are travelling abroad. Smartphones and other devices will connect seamlessly to selected access points in both firms' networks.

Meanwhile Telstra - always in the vanguard of new network models - has announced plans to build a national WiFi network, at a cost of over AU$100m ($92.6m). While it will build about 8,000 urban hotspots between 2015 and 2018, it will boost that figure to over two million access points via FON's homespots.

This will create a massive community of WiFi locations offering 2Mbps download speeds on the public side, while having no impact on the user's own broadband speeds. Fixed line Telstra subscribers will have free access to the network though downloads will count towards the quotas included in their home line contracts.

Telstra has experimented with public WiFi before, but closed its network in 2007 because of low uptake. But, like other operators, it has seen demand and technology move on, leading to a more viable redefinition of 'muni WiFi'. The company said its original network used 802.11b, but now it will use 802.11ac for its own hotspots. It will spend AU$50m on those plus core infrastructure, and a further AU$50m on partnering with other hotspot owners.

As reported by ZDNet Australia, CEO David Thodey insisted there was no conflict with the cellular network (though WiFi does reduce overload on 3G/4G, and therefore the amount of capex required to help it keep up with demand). "The cellular network is great if you're on the move, but if you're sitting down watching a few movies, it's a different type of access," he said. "We still think the cellular mobile network will have a great future. We just want people to have a great connected experience."

Chinese cellcos to get FDD LTE spectrum this month? May 14 2014

If Unicom and Telecom get FDD licences this month, China Mobile's 4G headstart would be severely reduced

By Caroline Gabriel 

China Mobile appeared to have played a blinder when it succeeded in getting the government to assign TD-LTE spectrum to all three Chinese cellcos, before the more common FDD frequencies. But the headstart it secured may be far shorter than it had hoped, with the government reported to be ready to award FD-LTE licences this month.

The awards of TDD licences first gave Mobile, which already had huge TD-LTE trial networks in place, a major lead over its two rivals, which had hoped to build out 4G in paired FDD spectrum, as they did in 3G. Those operators, China Unicom and China Telecom, were faced with the choice of adopting a hybrid TDD/FDD strategy, or falling behind in the 4G race by waiting for FD-LTE licences.

However, if they do secure paired spectrum at an early stage - rather than having to wait anything between six and 18 months, as previously rumored - they will be able to major on their preferred technology and keep TD-LTE as a secondary resource, perhaps for small cells or enterprise networks. Reports from Xinhuanet say that the Ministry of Industry and IT (MIIT) is set to issue FDD licences to Telecom and Unicom on May 17, although initially these will be just for 20 cities.

Both carriers have run trials in both types of spectrum. It is unclear whether China Mobile will also gain FDD frequencies, or will remain TDD-only, as it was, reluctantly, in 3G, where it was saddled with the homegrown TD-SCDMA technology while its competitors were allocated the more mainstream W-CDMA and CDMA2000 platforms.

While Mobile's support is boosting the global device and roaming ecosystem for TD-LTE, the economics of FD-LTE still look better for now. And the business case for 4G should improve further for Unicom and Telecom, if they agree an infrastructure sharing deal, which is currently the topic of preliminary negotiations between all three cellcos. Although such an agreement would reduce capex and opex costs for all the operators, the smaller ones are expected to benefit most, since Mobile would lose some of its first mover advantage in LTE roll-out if the access network - not just passive infrastructure like towers - is included in the deal, an outcome the government supports.

Unicom's preferred 4G strategy is said to be hybrid, leasing TD-LTE infrastructure from Mobile while building its own FD-LTE. It is already investing in dual-mode devices. It is clear that the previously stagnant Chinese mobile market is set for major shake-up. The MIIT is acting far more quickly in allocating 4G spectrum than it did during the painfully protracted 3G process. Network sharing could give Unicom and Telecom a better basis to narrow Mobile's lead, especially in rural areas. The first MVNOs are starting to offer services, with retail giant Alibaba among the 20 or so which will go live this year.

And the MIIT has also just deregulated retail telecoms prices so that the three major carriers can set their own prices without the need for government approval. That will enable them to respond more flexibly to market changes and to compete more aggressively.

Consumers hope it will lead to lower rates, pointing to the huge difference in China Mobile's prices on the mainland and in the more competitive Hong Kong market (about $9 gets a user 1,700 minutes, 10,000 texts and unlimited data in Hong Kong; but only 350 minutes, 10Mbytes of data and no texts in the rest of China).

Qualcomm set to pounce on WiGig pioneer Wilocity May 13 2014

Reported $300m acquisition would help the US firm stay at the cutting edge in devices, and also get closer to Cisco in small cells

By Caroline Gabriel

Ever-higher frequency bands are a key theme in boosting mobile performance, and as it seeks to remain the pace-setter in device and small cell evolution, Qualcomm is taking a keen interest in WiGig, which promises to add multi-gigabit speeds in unlicensed 60GHz spectrum. The US chip firm is reported to be on the point of buying Israeli 60GHz processor pioneer Wilocity for about $300m, a deal which could give it a headstart in multimode, ultra-high speed devices, and even closer ties to Cisco in enterprise small cells.

Israeli media reports broke the news that Qualcomm was supposedly close to completing a deal to buy Wilocity, which was founded in 2007 by former engineers from Intel's Centrino WiFi group and was the first company to deliver commercial silicon supporting preliminary drafts of the 802.11ad standard, branded as WiGig. This extension to the 802.11 family of specifications is WiFi-compatible and achieves multi-gigabit speeds (up to 7Gbps in theory) by harnessing the high capacity of the 60GHz licence-exempt band.

The short-range technology has initially appeared mainly in peripheral connectivity applications like Wireless USB but its main potential is seen in home video networks, enterprise or even hotspot systems, and multimedia mobile devices. Its limitations in range mean it will often appear in triband combinations alongside 2.4GHz/5GHz 802.11ac radios, or will be targeted at short-distance applications such as smartphone/TV data transfer.

Qualcomm cast off its long-standing hostility to unlicensed wireless technologies when it acquired Airgo and then Atheros, the two firms which contributed most to the 802.11n generation of fast WiFi. Now it could take a similarly powerful position - in terms of standards influence and IPR - in 802.11ad. But this is not one of the acquisitions where Qualcomm mainly gains expertise and patents - Wilocity has actual commercial silicon, which could help its putative new owner be first-to-market with mainstream 11ad/WiFi/cellular combinations for devices or small cells.

Wilocity shipped its first commercial silicon in December 2012, and says it has shipped more than a million chipsets to PC manufacturers, with Dell the most high profile customer. In February, the start-up announced its first smartphone product, the Wil6300 chipset , which delivers speeds of up to 4.6Gbps at low power (200mW-300mW).

Wilocity has so far raised about $105m from venture capital funds such as Benchmark, Sequoia and Tallwood, as well as an impressive range of strategic investors, including Qualcomm itself and Marvell. Perhaps most interestingly, in November it announced that Cisco had taken a minority stake of undisclosed size, and that it was collaborating with the networking leader on proof-of-concept trials for small cells that integrated 3G/LTE with 11ad, particularly for enterprise applications such as video communications.

At the time, Cisco's Bob Friday, CTO of the enterprise networking group, stated: "11ad and LTE will start to merge next year". Cisco is investing heavily in small cells via its acquisitions of Ubiquisys and Intucell, and its Wi-Fi activities. The mutual interest in Wilocity is another signal of its increasingly strategic cooperation with Qualcomm in this area. It will be using Qualcomm's small cell silicon and an expanded order from Cisco would be a good reason for the San Diego firm to sharpen its focus on integrated cellular/WiFi cell platforms, especially for the enterprise.

Tal Tamir, Wilocity's co-founder and CEO, sees triband products enabling hotspots of very localized capacity within broader enterprise networks, perhaps to serve meeting rooms; to improve wireless coverage and speed in public areas such as stadiums; and to offload data from wireline or cellular networks for specialized, localized functions such as medical imaging.

Initially a competitive effort to very high speed efforts within the main 802.11 groups, the 60GHz technology gradually came closer to the WLAN mainstream as the 802.11ad specifications matured, and its organization was finally merged with the Wi-Fi Alliance, which kicked off a certification program in September (though still retaining some separation by keeping the distinct WiGig name and logo).

Now it is widely seen as complementary to the other new high speed standard, 802.11ac, which runs in conventional 5GHz Wi-Fi spectrum and can achieve speeds of over 300Mbps using MIMO and wide bands (and theoretically get up to 1Gbps).

As well as Qualcomm, other key members of the WiGig Alliance include Nokia, Samsung and Nvidia.

Docomo signs six vendors for '5G' program May 08 2014

Japanese cellco aims to deploy next generation networks in 2020, even though it is unclear what they will look like

By Caroline Gabriel 

'5G' is succeeding in being overhyped before anyone even knows what it is, and before 4G has been widely deployed. Whether this points to shortening technology cycles or marketing desperation, most so-called 5G projects have been attempts by individual players to promote their favorite technologies as candidates for next generation standards. However, when Japanese carrier NTT Docomo talks next generation, there is usually more reason to listen, given the company's track record in driving and shaping new technologies.

Docomo was so far ahead in 3G that - ill-advisedly perhaps - it launched its own pre-standard version, FOMA. It was also in the vanguard of R&D for 4G, feeding into LTE standards and testing gigabit systems way back in early 2011. It works closely with selected vendors to steer them in its preferred directions and tap into their combined R&D resources, an approach now matched by China Mobile. And it is doing the same for '5G', working on experimental trials with six partners.

These partners include Docomo's long term Japanese allies, NEC and Fujitsu, which are well versed in supporting the cellco's R&D directions and, even in commercial scenarios, customizing equipment to ensure the operator can be early to market. The others are the major LTE OEMs - Ericsson, Alcatel-Lucent, Nokia and Samsung - but notably excluding Huawei and ZTE. That may reflect some of the same concerns about Chinese suppliers that the US has cited - officially on the grounds of national security, but perhaps really because of commercial fear - or a revival of the old competitiveness between Chinese and Japanese technology programs.

The basic aim of Docomo's project is to get peak speeds to 10Gbps and above with very high availability and very low latency. The carrier wants the resulting systems to be commercially deployable in 2020.

The six partners will carry out experiments in parallel, with Docomo as the coordinating force. The particular focus is to test and confirm the potential for access networks running in high frequency spectrum, above 6GHz, but potentially up in millimeter wave ranges of 70GHz or 80GHz. This could theoretically support very dense, high capacity networks of very small cells.

In January, Docomo signed a memorandum of understanding with Nokia to explore the potential of the 70GHz band, with plans for an experimental 5G proof of concept system. This is being implemented using National Instrument's (NI) baseband modules which currently make up the system for rapid prototyping of 5G air interfaces.

Ericsson said it would focus on the 15GHz band in its Docomo cooperation, as well as HetNet and antenna advances. And NEC's particular activity will be to verify enhanced time-domain beamforming technologies, supporting very large numbers of antennas for small cells. This could improve Multiuser MIMO approaches to accelerating speeds, reducing interference and boosting capacity.


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