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Wireless Infrastructure Newsletter

As Wi-Fi’s Popularity Grows, So Do Its Challenges May 10 2016

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.

LTE provides new hope for ailing state telcos April 11 2016

In the early years of 3G, there was a significant time lag between deployments in developed mobile markets, and those in most emerging economies. Indeed, some of those still have sparse 3G availability outside major city centers and, in some cases, will move straight to 4G for further capacity and coverage enhancements.

In 4G, the pattern has been very different. Some of the very first commercial roll-outs were in unexpected markets (Uzbekistan was the first country to have two competing commercial LTE networks). And deployments have been going on in parallel in all kinds of economies, especially as some emerging markets have looked to LTE to improve overall broadband availability where wired infrastructure is lacking.

These trends are starting to inject new life into some of the world’s more sleepy state-owned telcos, which suddenly have new tools with which to meet their broadband obligations and a chance to improve their cost bases and competitiveness.

In Nigeria, the national telco was defunct, but has risen from the ashes with a new brand, NTel, and plans to offer LTE services in major markets from this weekend. After years of delay, the government completed the privatization of incumbent telco Nitel, and its mobile arm Mtel, last year. It has been acquired by a consortium called Natcom, which paid $252.5m and made its final payment this month, freeing the newly named NTel to start commercial operations.

Having been out of action for so long, NTel enters a market which is already crowded, but claims its newly minted 4G network will give it an advantage over rivals like the local subsidiaries of MTN and Bharti Airtel. MTN is the market leader with a 42% share, followed by Globacom, Airtel and Etisalat. The country also has 2.1m CDMA customers, and there are also several smaller LTE providers such as Smile and Swift.

NTel will offer its 4G services first in the largest two cities, Lagos and Abuja. CEO Kamar Abass says the firm now has deals with channel partners and all the required regulatory approvals from the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), including permission to offer VoLTE. So far, the company has deployed 200 kilometers of fiber in the cities of Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt, and about 600 mobile base stations in Lagos and Abuja running in the 900 MHz and 1.8 GHz bands and supporting LTE-Advanced with MIMO. A further 200 mobile sites are planned for this year.

Meanwhile, India’s troubled state telco BSNL is also preparing to launch 4G and hoping this will revive its fortunes and make it more competitive against private sector rivals like Bharti Airtel, Vodafone and Idea Cellular. It has conducted a soft launch of LTE services in Chandigarh and is now looking to roll out 4G in 14 of India’s 22 operating circles this year, though it has not given a firm timing. BSNL has rights in all the circles except the major metro areas of Delhi and Mumbai, which are the preserve of the second state telco, MTNL.

Initially, BSNL will deploy LTE base stations on its existing GSM towers to save on passive infrastructure costs, but it will no doubt be looking for partnerships in that area, since its 2G sites are unlikely to be adequate to enable good coverage for 4G – BSNL’s spectrum is in the 2.5 GHz TDD band, whose relatively high frequency means that a large number of cell sites are needed for universal coverage.

BSNL is currently deciding whether to pay for its new base stations upfront from the capex budget or to adopt a revenue sharing model with its vendors. In the latter approach, it would supply its passive infrastructure and spectrum, while a vendor or franchisee would provide the base stations. BSNL would own and bill the customers and would share the revenues with its partner.

MWC: Vendors compete to be the most ‘5G-ready March 07 2016

In the first instalment of Wireless Watch’s Mobile World Congress special edition, we looked at a selection of operator trials of pre-5G networks and services. Now we turn our attention to the vendors’ roadmaps, and the most interesting insights they provided in Barcelona, into developments which may well find their way into future standard or de facto technologies.

Nokia was the most aggressive of the big names in claiming to be 5G-ready – although it was a heavily overused term throughout the show. The Finnish vendor went a step further and said operators would be able to offer ‘5G’ services as early as 2017 using its new AirScale RAN platform (clearly angling for those operators which are promising ever-earlier ‘5G’ services, mainly around major sporting events in Russia and Korea, but which will, of necessity, have to use pre-standard or heavily customized kit).

AirScale will accelerate the transition to 5G when it comes by providing a smooth migration path from current LTE, Nokia promised, rehashing one of the most popular messages which vendors relay when a new generation of technology is looming. Somehow, when that upgrade becomes necessary, it’s never as automatic, low cost and software-based as the roadmaps suggest – virtualized flexible cores and software-defined radios will help, but there is still the question of the antennas, for instance. But Nokia, like its rivals, needs to persuade operators to keep investing in 4G now, rather than wait for 5G over the horizon.

CTO Hossein Moiin said the AirScale demo was “the industry’s first demonstration of how 5G will work in practice, going beyond previous experimental systems”, making 5G “no longer a distant vision” – ambitious stuff, considering the work on standards has only just begun. But some crucial elements of 5G are already accepted, Nokia argues, and these are the focus of AirScale – in particular, ultra-low latency, and a system designed with machines as well as humans in mind.

AirScale’s claim to be a vision of the future rests on its cloud-based architecture and open interfaces, which allow it to support all the radio technologies simultaneously in one base station; and to use any architecture topology with huge levels of scalability, all defined in software from the cloud. It also claims to use 60% less energy than Nokia’s current platforms. The server end of its Cloud-RAN solution uses Nokia’s AirFrame IT hardware, launched at MWC 2015, and Mobile Edge Computing is implemented on those same servers in order to harness information from the radio effectively and support low latency services.

Baseband units can be chained to support massive capacity and IoT connectivity, and a step-by-step road to virtualization is supported by Nokia’s NetAct and CloudBand offerings, which can work with legacy RANs and C-RAN at once. As well as the multiband AirScale base station, the vendor added AirScale WiFi (access points plus a WiFi controller, also running on AirFrame), and a common software layer which runs across small cells, macrocells and WiFi.

CEO Rajeev Suri said: “I believe that 5G not only must happen faster than expected – it will happen faster than expected”, which was why vendors could not wait for standards to be finalized before launching 5G products – a line also taken by ZTE with its Pre5G portfolio, though not by Huawei, which prefers the term 4.5G for its most advanced network offerings, and argues that these will meet operators’ needs for years to come, certainly until fully standardized 5G can be launched.

“5G is different. 5G must happen fast because important use cases demand it. If we know that 5G can help save lives, improve our environment and make our lives better, we need to move faster,” Suri said.

ZTE Pre5G:

ZTE has unveiled the latest developments in its Pre5G range, the Ultra Dense Network (UDN), claiming this can provide a highly functional bridge to emerging 5G platforms. The UDN works with existing networking models but aims to enhance the user experience with a combination of techniques including interference management, suppression and mobility enhancement.

The system adopts system frequency multiplexing to address interference caused by

overlapping cells in dense networks. According to ZTE, this technique can boost downlink rates by 10 times in areas of cell overlap and will be an important component of 5G.

The equipment also uses other expected 5G technologies, but on current network infrastrucfture and sites – like Nokia, holding out the hope of a smooth migration down the road. These include massive MIMO and Multi-User Shared Access (MUSA), which ZTE has been testing for over a year. Early in 2015, it announced the first commercial base station to implement its pre5G architecture, particularly massive MIMO and MUSA, and this has completed field tests with a number of global operators, including China Mobile and Softbank.

Zhang Jianguo, wireless general manager at ZTE, said Massive MIMO “will be in commercial use in China and in other countries later this year”.

Qualcomm and Ericsson:

Qualcomm and Ericsson have announced their latest collaboration, and will work together on early trials and verification of key 5G technology components, to support the technical work required for 3GPP standardization in Release 15. The companies also said they would drive interoperability in alignment with 3GPP to enable rapid adoption of new 5G standards.

“As we did in both 3G and 4G, we are excited about collaborating with leading operators and industry stakeholders such as Ericsson in the development of a unified, more capable 5G platform” said Matt Grob, Qualcomm’s CTO. “Now that the vision and interest for 5G are well established, it is time to focus on the technical and engineering work required to support operator trials and commercial network launches.”


Intel was determined to put paid to any perception that it might be an outsider in the 5G race. Not only was it focusing heavily on virtualization and Cloud-RAN – changes to the mobile network where it has the most obvious opportunity to enter the inner circle – but it was talking up partnerships with Ericsson, Nokia, LG, Cisco and Verizon to develop technologies for the IoT, smart cities, driverless vehicles and augmented reality – all important drivers of 5G development.

“5G represents a significant shift for these networks and we think it’s essential to get ready ahead of the curve,” said Aicha Evans, general manager of the Intel communication and services group. “Rather than just being about a personal computing platform, it’s about everything that computing can connect and how it connects.”

Among the specific announcements were IoT-oriented connectivity solutions like the

Atom x3-M7272 wireless communication platform for “automotive applications capable of powering advanced security features”; and the XMM 7120M LTE modem, optimized for machine-to-machine applications.

Intel also announced a new collaboration with Cisco and its strategic partner Ericsson,  to develop a 5G router. This will be submitted to the Verizon 5G Technology Forum, of which all there vendors are members, and will aim to improve speed, latency and IoT scalability for business and residential customers.


NEC has developed a prototype of a compact, A4-sized massive-element Active Antenna System (AAS) for 5G small cells operating in the lower SHF (super high frequency) bands, from 3 GHz to 6 GHz.

As well as its small form factor, the combined antenna/RF solution boasts fully digitized antenna beam control and MIMO pre-coding to improve the precision of beamforming and increase. The vendor said that, used in conjunction with NEC’s spatial multiplexing technologies, the AAS can achieve more than 10 times greater per-cell throughput than conventional LTE base stations.  It is now working on trials of the AAS with NTT Docomo.

“5G communications achieve higher speeds and increased capacity through the utilization of high frequency bands which are capable of securing wider bandwidth. On the other hand, high frequency bands face the issue of heavy propagation loss in communications. As a solution to this issue, NEC has focused on beamforming technologies which improve communication distances and reduce interference,” said Nozomu Watanabe, general manager of the firm’s mobile RAN division.

NEC also issued three white papers related to 5G – ‘Optimum Network Architecture for Full-scale IoT’; ‘NFV C-RAN for efficient RAN resource allocation’; and ‘Massive MIMO for High-capacity Mobile Access’. These are the three areas which the company believes will be most central to 5G’s architecture and business case.

For the IoT, it considers coordination between Mobile Edge Computing and the cloud as well as full context awareness when allocating resources. The C-RAN paper outlines NEC’s approach to this architecture, including its proprietatry inter-cell interference mitigation techniques and its fronthaul design, and describes a migration to 5G based on “virtualization of cells”. And the third paper shows how Massive MIMO can be applied to small cells, using technologies like NEC’s new AAS.

NEC is also working with MediaTek to develop 5G air interface and chipsets.

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MWC 2016: The big themes in Barcelona February 29 2016

These were the biggest themes this year in Barcelona – no big surprises on the topic list, though there were plenty of unexpected twists within each area, many of them concerned with unexpected new alliances (Qualcomm joining the rebranded Open Interconnect Consortium; Facebook luring Deutsche Telekom and SK Telecom into its Telecom Infra Project). In Wireless Watch’s two special MWC editions, published today and on Friday, we distil the essence of each of these big topics from a mass of announcements, debates and hype.

Inevitably at the center of serious discussions and marketing hype, though lent a touch of reality by the start of the first meeting of the ITU’s IMT-2020 working party, which will specify frameworks and assess candidate technologies and spectrum, around the world in Beijing. In addition to R&D wizardry, there was much discussion of real world use cases, many of them in vertical and Internet of Things markets; and endless permutations of operators, vendors and academic bodies announcing 5G alliances.

Small cells and densification:
Small cells have been on the ‘best of MWC’ list for years now, but in 2016 they are no longer in their own ghetto, but underpinning many of the year’s big architectural themes. Operators are starting to densify their 4G networks in the bid for massive capacity, and small cells are intrinsically connected to several of this year’s bid ideas, including LTE-Unlicensed and true HetNets. A significant uptick in adoption is being driven by the enterprise need for excellent mobile coverage indoors, and will be further increased by the additional of virtualization and multi-operator platforms to the small cell mix.

Virtualization and Mobile Edge Computing:
Rather like 5G, these key architectures made the shift from interesting R&D activities to concrete element of operators’ plans, in most cases a couple of years ahead of 5G, as well as being a key future enabler of the next generation of services. The European stakeholders may be concerned about dwindling influence over core modem standards, but ETSI is asserting huge influence in these higher level frameworks, via its NFV, Mobile Edge Computing and new MANO (management and orchestration) efforts, all of them creating a common platform for the most important new approaches to mobile networking.

Facebook and Google:
The two web giants had a very high profile in Barcelona, and while some of their activities mirror one another – like last year, there was plenty of talk of drones and balloons – they are certainly not forgetting that they are engaged in a bitter head-to-head, to drive the next generation of the web experience, which will be predominantly wireless. Epitomizing this fight was Google’s endorsement of RCS (Rich Communications Services), the GSMA’s ailing attempt to defend operators’ voice and messaging businesses against over-the-top alternatives like Facebook’s WhatsApp and Messenger; and Facebook’s Telecoms Infra Project (TIP), which seeks to bring open source and hyperscale technologies into the telecoms networks, not just the data center, to shake up operator economics.

Unlicensed spectrum:
While there was plenty of analysis of the decisions of November’s World Radio Conference about 4G and potential 5G spectrum, there was also a heavy emphasis on integrating unlicensed frequencies into the carriers’ mix, as well as adopting new, flexible licensing schemes such as dynamic spectrum access. The expansion of the Qualcomm-led MuLTEFire Alliance and the imminent trials of LTE-Unlicensed set the scene, and the US’s 3.5 GHz scheme was also under the spotlight.

Internet of Things:
Since the many manifestations of the IoT are the biggest hope, for most of the mobile industry, that revenues and profits can continue to grow in future, it was unsurprising that MWC was a show about connected objects, not smartphones (despite the high profile launch of the Samsung Galaxy S7 and the LG G5). There was a real attempt to relate IoT technologies to real business models, and an improved presence for the vertical industries which will work with – or compete with – the MNOs to drive the new services. Connected and driverless cars grabbed center stage as usual, but there were many other aspects to the IoT-fest, from smart factories and Industry 4.0 frameworks; to an unexpected rapprochement between Intel and Qualcomm in the relaunched Open Connectivity Foundation. And in the home of the GSMA community, there was a starring role for the upcoming 3GPP standards for low power wide area networks (LPWANs) – NB-IoT and LTE Category-M – as they embarked on the quest to fend off unlicensed spectrum challengers.

MWC: Operators vye for 5G glory, but Huawei focuses on 4.5G February 19 2016

In last week’s edition, we looked at how the major OEMs will need to tread a careful balance, at this year’s Mobile World Congress, between being ahead of the pack on the 5G roadmap, and injecting plenty of life into that nearer term source of revenues, LTE-Advanced – in particular, the last full 3GPP 4G releases, 13 and 14, known as LTE-Advanced Pro.

Huawei has been calling these ‘4.5G’ for some time, and for once this is not just a marketing slogan but a real summary of how the Chinese vendor – and much of the industry – sees LTE-A Pro. A stepping stone to 5G, yes, but one which will continue to evolve in parallel with the new generation, and with significant overlap. Operators will not tolerate a complete step upgrade again, and even if new air interface technologies are introduced alongside the current OFDM-based ones (especially for the IoT), they will look to virtualization and software-defined networking to enable them to evolve their platforms gradually, in line with real customer need, and to support multiple technologies at once.

All of which makes 4.5G quite a meaningful label, for once. Huawei, the last of the big OEMs to preview its major MWC announcements, said it believed more than 60 commercial 4.5G networks would be deployed this year, ushering in a “golden five-year period” for Releases 13 and 14. “4.5G is the natural evolution of 4G and necessary transition to the 5G,” said Ryan Ding, president of products and solutions. “It can effectively protect operators’ investments and enable them to provide faster services and better user experience on the basis of existing infrastructures.”

Huawei’s definition of 4.5G, which it unveiled over a year ago, includes gigabit download speeds – which are supported in Qualcomm’s latest modem, the X16 – and sub-10ms latency. In particular, the new releases will make LTE – initially designed almost exclusively for faster mobile broadband – more suited to the Internet of Things, with new specifications like Category-M and NB-IoT, and the ability to support up to 100,000 connections per cell (the latter another of Huawei’s 4.5G criteria).

Huawei said it had already demonstrated or tested 4.5G technology with more than 20 operators in nine countries (Canada, China, Germany, Hong Kong, Kuwait, Norway, Singapore, Turkey and the UAE.). It added that operators in China, Hong Kong and Singapore had all achieved gigabit transmissions using pre-standard Huawei 4.5G kit. In addition, it added that Korea and the UK had started building LTE integrated trunked radio networks, and MNOs in Korea and China had launched commercial trials of NB-IoT.

By 2020, Huawei predicts the average mobile customer will be using about 5GB of data per month and there will be around 3bn “connected things” on cellular networks. “The answer to this vision now is 4.5G,” it says.

It also said it was engaged in 5G trials with some operators, but refused to follow Ericsson in putting a number on it this (the Swedish firm claims “nearly 20”). “We will have to wait for five years or even longer for 5G,” said William Xu, Huawei’s chief marketing strategy officer. “That is why Huawei has proposed 4.5G.”

Among the actual products to support 4.5G, Huawei unveiled a new family called GigaRadio. The first members are a blade remote radio unit (RRU) and an active antenna unit. The former is 20% smaller and 50% faster than other products targeting the same space, Huawei claimed, and can support gigabit speeds.

The OEM was not only reiterating its 4.5G mantra at its pre-announcements, even though its label is coming into line with the wider LTE platform with the appearance of LTE-A Pro on the horizon. It also set out a five-point plan to address the future needs of telecoms operators undergoing the transformation to digital. The five are Big Video or video everywhere; Big IT; Big Operations, mainly focused on agility; Big Architecture, or elastic networks; and Big Pipe for ubiquitous connectivity.
The big message was clear – for digital transformation, telcos need to rethink their platforms from end to end, and only very few vendors can address every link in the chain (Huawei, Nokia and Ericsson/Cisco). And as many observers pointed out, there was a clear overlap between Huawei’s five initiatives and the key areas Ericsson identified as growth drivers in 2014. The Swedish firm saw those growth areas – video and media, cloud platforms, IP, OSS/BSS and ‘industry and society’ – growing their revenues by 20% to total $5.3bn in 2015.

To achieve similar results from its new five-point plan, Huawei said it would invest $1bn over five years in a “developer enablement program” to expand the ecosystem around its framework, and says it already has 600 partners in its 10 open labs in China, Europe and other regions.

Meanwhile, other vendors were far less coy about overusing the ‘5G’ term than Huawei. The head of Samsung’s Network business unit, Youngky Kim, previewed the Korean firm’s own MWC infrastructure plans, including what it said were key enablers of 5G such as “multilink connectivity technology, centralized radio, IoT and mmWave radio access solutions”. Kim said: “5G technology will offer us a new level of experience, which is immersive, tactile and ubiquitous. Thanks to seamless mobility, higher throughput and low latency of 5G technology, new services like hologram calls, virtual reality broadcasting of live football games and self-driving cars will enrich our lives.”

In Barcelona, Samsung promises to “make 5G technology a reality” with a demonstration of millimeter wave radios, transmitting eight UHD 4K videos at once with latency below 1ms.

On the LTE-A Pro side, it will also launch solutions to support LTE in 5 GHz spectrum (LTE-U and LTE-LAA), plus MP-TCP (multipath transfer control protocol), Distributed-RAN Inter-site Carrier Aggregation and Samsung Smart Multi-Link. It names MP-TCP as one of its “key priorities”. The technology allows aggregation of two or more separate networks running different RATs, such as WiFi, 3G, 4G, 5G and LPWA. It does not just connect to them simultaneously, as in dual or multi-connectivity, but merges the data streams from each network at the IP layer, to make aggregation simpler and faster. The technology has already been commercialized in Korea.

Meanwhile, Smart Multi-Link is based on Samsung’s Unified Core architecture. This is designed to support backward and forward compatibility by supporting cellular networks from 2G to 5G, plus non-3GPP technologies, using NFV and SDN approaches to enable multiple distributed RANs to behave as a single pool of capacity around a single core.

Also on the virtualization front, it has upgraded its Cloud-RAN platform to version 2.0+, integrating new SON (self-optimizing network) and scheduler elements. Among the improvements are the ability for base stations to detect interference at the cell edge and control radio transmission power in real time, to boost data throughput by an average of 40-50%.

For the IoT, Samsung will show off a range of offerings including an IoT-optimized core, a specialized standalone base station for IoT, gateways, and support for the LPWA technology LoRa. It will also be offering a package of equipment, sensors and services for public safety IoT applications, claiming to be preparing “beyond standards” implementations to address mission critical use cases, as well as supporting Cat-0, Cat-1, Cat-M and NB-IoT.

The operators will be vying for 5G glory as enthusiastically as the vendors. Vodafone, AT&T, NTT Docomo, Telefonica and SK Telecom are among those which will demonstrate pre-5G technologies or announce major trials. Vodafone, has announced an extended set of partnerships – with Huawei, Nokia, Ericsson, Intel and Qualcomm – to research 5G technologies and prepare its networks for the transition, whatever that may involve in the real world.

Pre-standard operator trials are important because they help to define real requirements and shape the platforms in the direction of concrete business cases rather than technical wizardry. Vodafone aims to work with its partners to “define industry standards, establish technical guidelines and prepare product roadmaps”. It will evaluate the emerging 5G technologies to decide which it believes should be part of the standards; test hardware and software in its group Innovation Labs in the UK; conduct trials in global markets; and prioritize the benefits of 5G that can be brought to market by 2020.

CTO Johan Wibergh said: “The telecoms industry is still establishing what technology will deliver the benefits we expect from 5G, so it is important to establish dedicated research programmes with these leading global companies.”

Vodafone also chairs the NGMN (Next Generation Mobile Networks) 5G Requirements and Architecture group.

Over the pond, AT&T is working with Ericsson and Intel to launch a trial 5G network in Austin, Texas, in order to test emerging concepts like millimeter wave radios and virtualized RAN. Lab tests will take place in the second quarter of this year, and outdoor trials in the second half. By the end of this year, AT&T says it will provide real world connectivity to certain locations in Austin, using its selected ‘5G’ technologies, though these will initially be for fixed access only.

John Donovan, chief strategy officer and group president of technology and operations, said: “New experiences like virtual reality, self-driving cars, robotics, smart cities and more are about to test networks like never before. These technologies will be immersive, pervasive and responsive to customers. 5G will help make them a reality. 5G will reach its full potential because we will build it on a software-centric architecture that can adapt quickly to new demands and give customers more control of their network services. Our approach is simple – deliver a unified experience built with 5G, SDN, big data, security and open source software.”

Ericsson will also be showing off its 5G partnerships with Korea Telecom and NTT Docomo at MWC, demonstrating radio prototypes which support Multiuser MIMO, and beam tracking in millimeter wave bands, to boost throughput beyond 25Gbps.

Seizo Onoe, Docomo’s CTO, said in a statement: “Both companies are already conducting joint outdoor trials to understand how 5G will really perform in the field. This will enable us to plan for the new and enhanced services that we will be able to offer with 5G. We will be in a good position to highlight our commercial 5G capabilities in 2020.”

Triband aggregation pushes TD-LTE limits December 14 2015

Three-carrier aggregation, TDD and 256QAM – a mounting number of trials points to a dream team for 4G

As operators push for ever-greater 4G speeds, carrier aggregation is becoming more essential, and more complicated. Combining three, four or even five bands will push LTE to new limits, and the trials are piling up. The latest results come from SK Telecom in Korea and Nokia Networks, which showed peak download speeds of 428Mbps using triband TD-LTE carrier aggregation (CA), together with 256QAM modulation.

This demonstration is a vital proof point for the TD-LTE community, said the partners, which worked with Qualcomm Snapdragon on the device modem side. Unpaired TDD spectrum is often more plentiful and affordable than FDD bands, and may provide opportunities for new or disruptive entrants. The Chinese carriers, and some others such as Sprint and Softbank, will make heavy use of FDD/TDD combinations to drive up their capacity and improve their economics.

The test used Nokia’s Flexi Multiradio 10 base station with software to aggregate three 20 MHz carriers in Band 41 spectrum (2496-2690 MHz). Load balancing capabilities were important to optimize spectrum efficiency and user experience across the carriers. The next step will be to establish a TD-LTE testbed and conduct wider trials of specific services and applications.

Tests like these are, then, important to prove the capabilities of TD-LTE to deliver the highest performance. This was the first example of TD-LTE 3xCA with 256QAM, and “lays the foundation for the introduction of TD-LTE in Korea”, according to SK Telecom. The head of its network technology R&D center, Jin-hyo Park, said: “We have showcased our readiness to prepare for the introduction of TD-LTE in Korea – which will provide an altogether unmatched service experience to our users across the country.”

Nokia added in a statement: “The trial verifies the clear benefits of 3xCA combined with 256QAM-capable devices that can boost the peak throughput from 110Mbps to 428Mbps. Nokia’s SingleRAN Advanced platform provides a strong foundation for SK Telecom to build the most advanced TD-LTE network capable of effectively addressing the demand for bandwidth-intensive services.”

Recently, Telstra of Australia became the first operator to boast a successful trial of five-carrier aggregation, working with Ericsson to get close to 1Gbps. The firms aggregated 100 MHz of Telstra’s spectrum holdings across five separate 4G channels integrated on the carrier’s LTE network.

Its group managing director for networks, Mike Wright, wrote in a blog post that end-to-end tests achieved download speeds of over 950Mbps using a specialized field test application, as well as speeds of around 843Mbps over the internet to

Telstra’s commercial LTE-A network currently delivers 600Mbps peak speeds, using triband CA, in selected areas. It is also working with Ericsson on pre-5G RAN and core network projects.

And Singapore’s StarHub has been showing off some of the gains that are available from combining FDD and TDD spectrum, together with VoLTE for voice. It recently achieved the first TDD-FDD VoLTE handover using its 4G HetNet, which includes a dense roll-out of outdoor small cells, in the island state’s busy Marina Bay.

Its supplier Nokia said the deployment uses LTE-Advanced carrier aggregation technology to improve data rates, and small cells at strategic locations to handle peak-hour data demand. It also provided load balancing and project management capabilities for the trial.

“With HetNet and through our close collaboration with Nokia Networks, we are proud to deliver the world’s fastest, future-ready 4G network that can address the ever-growing data traffic demands of our customers without compromising on the quality of service, paving the way for Singapore to build the world’s first Smart Nation,” StarHub CTO Mock Pak Lum commented.

In Greece, Ericsson has worked with Cosmote on Europe’s first trial of 3xCA with 256QAM, this time with FDD spectrum. The companies demonstrated download speeds of 500Mbps in a live LTE network in November using Ericsson base stations and Networks Software 16A. The Swedish vendor said its 256QAM downlink encoding technology provides up to 33% higher downlink throughput in good radio conditions, boosting spectral efficiency.

Ericsson also recently demonstrated three-carrier aggregation and 256QAM with China Mobile in Beijing, once again using its RBS 6000 base stations in a live LTE network. This reached downlink peaks of 426Mbps in TDD mode.

Multiple cell site strategies needed to support fragmenting architectures November 02 2015

As operators start to prepare their networks for significant increases in capacity demand and densification, they need more of everything – spectrum, equipment and of course sites. One of the most important considerations, as MNOs consider radical changes in network architecture, is how that will affect their cell sites. According to whether they place most emphasis on enhancing macrocells with techniques like Massive MIMO; on dense small cell networks; on distributed antenna systems (DAS); or on Cloud-RAN, they will have very different site requirements, some of them easier to achieve than others.

The new architectures will make it necessary for operators to work with new partners, such as local authorities and utilities, as well as deciding whether to invest in locations themselves or rely on ‘as-a-service’ approaches. And the changes will, of course, also have profound implications for tower operators, at a time when many MNOs are moving away from owning their own sites, and the independent tower provider is on the rise.

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BRIC market slowdowns hit Ericsson Q3 October 26 2015

Slowing of Chinese 4G orders, continuing US softness, and economic situation in Brazil and Russia, lead to fall in quarterly sales

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The Chinese market has a disproportionate effect on vendors' financial cycles, and it is an unpredictable beast. Ericsson, whose 11% second quarter revenue growth was largely due to Chinese 4G contracts, saw the opposite effect in the third quarter, which saw a decline in sales on a constant currency basis.

Revenues actually rose by 3% year-on-year to SEK59.2bn but without favourable currency movements, they would have been down by 9%.

The company blamed a slowdown in Chinese 4G, as well as economic weakness in two other critical BRIC markets, Brazil and Russia - which puts a lot of pressure on the fourth one, India, to deliver some big deals as the major carriers move towards LTE.

"In markets where there has been pressure on currencies, purchasing power has come down and we've seen that in Brazil and Russia," CEO Hans Vestberg told the earnings press conference, though he insisted the Chinese slowdown was temporary. "There is still tremendous demand for 4G in China and we've never seen such a quick roll-out. It's just that customers slowed down the pace in the third quarter."

There is no such optimism about Ericsson's biggest market, north America, which accounts for about 25% of its sales but has slowed significantly since 4G roll-outs at AT&T and Verizon peaked. This factor has been hitting Ericsson all year and it has yet to see improvements. North American sales rose by just 2% on a reported basis to SEK14.4bn ($1.7bn), with the OSS/BSS and TV platforms being rare highlights in the region. However, in an interview, Vestberg tried to be upbeat, saying: "It's not falling. It's on the level that we've seen in other quarters."

Despite these pressures, Ericsson's Q3 net income was up 19% year-on-year to SEK3.1bn ($370m), though there are concerns that too many of the profit improvements are coming from the firm's major reorganization program, which looks to reduce annual operating costs by SEK9bn ($1.06bn), rather than organic business growth. Staff numbers fell by almost 1,000 in the quarter, to 116,240 people.

Gross margin was down by 1.3 percentage points to 33.9%. In revenue terms, the worst performer was the core Networks unit, with sales down 4% even with the positive currency changes, to SEK28.8bn. Global Services is almost as big as Networks now, and its sales were up 11% to SEK27.1bn, while the third division, Support Solutions, was up 8% to SEK3.3bn.

Ericsson, like its rivals, is relying on building up new revenues in areas of growth, and claimed to have seen 10% sales increase from these sectors, though it does not break them out. Its target growth businesses are OSS/BSS, media, IP, cloud, and what it calls 'industry and society', which includes smart cities and the internet of things.

More than Half of Operators Plan to Deploy Carrier-grade Wi-Fi October 12 2015

Wireless Broadband Alliance Research Shows More than Half of Operators Plan to Deploy Carrier-grade Wi-Fi

Internet of Things, Smart Cities and Converged Services Driving Demand for Next Generation Wi-Fi San Jose and Singapore – 12th October 2015 – The Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA), the industry association focused on driving next generation Wi-Fi and its role in Public Wi-Fi services, Internet of Things (IoT), Big Data, Converged Services, Smart Cities and 5G, today published its annual report on the state of the Wi-Fi ecosystem, compiled by global research company Maravedis-Rethink. The report reveals that 57% of Operators have firm timelines in place for the deployment of Carrier-Grade network architecture. In addition the research showed that by 2020 80% of respondents plan to have deployments in the areas if IoT/M2M, and more than half already have plans for Converged Services and Smart Cities.

This year’s survey also highlighted that, as confidence grows in Carrier-grade Wi-Fi, the shift away from Best Effort networks will continue to gather speed. At current growth the report estimates that Carrier-grade hotspots will outnumber best effort in the installed base by the end of 2017, and by 2020 only a small legacy base of best effort hotspots will remain – less than 10% of the total – with all new deployments being Carrier-grade or better. Such findings indicate how rapidly the Wi-Fi services landscape is changing, driven by the new business imperatives which are the baseline for further innovation and deployments.

“Increased Operator confidence in Carrier grade Wi-Fi technology has led to a surge in the growth of deployments over the past 12 months and set a trend that will to continue. Within 5 years there will be as much as a 70% rise in the number of Carrier-grade public Wi-Fi hotspots deployed, vastly outnumbering current best effort,” said Shrikant Shenwai, CEO of the WBA. “These shifts mean that the themes of the WBA’s Vision 2020 are equally applicable to all the ecosystem’s stakeholders; Accelerating development of relevant technologies to keep pace with the rapidly changing landscape, Diversifying in time with the changing face of the Wi-Fi ecosystem, and Increasing investment in development, testing and deployments to continue the push towards Wi-Fi ubiquity, unlicensed wireless, IoT, 5G and beyond.”
“This year’s survey has demonstrated a growing momentum within the ecosystem away from talking about the benefits of Carrier-grade to actually realising its potential in high-growth areas such as IoT and Smart Cities via deployment. Next Generation Hotspot and Passpoint technology have been fundamental enablers in the transition to Carrier-grade Wi-Fi and as investment increases so the potential returns will grow as new revenue streams develop.” said Caroline Gabriel, Research Director, Maravedis-Rethink.

The report also discovered the growing use of Wi-Fi as a strategic platform by an increasing variety of service providers including pure-plays, aggregators, MNOs, MSOs and vertical market operators. In 2015, almost one-quarter of the business value of Wi-Fi relates to reduced costs and overall ARPU improvement, but by 2019 these companies expect to be harnessing Wi-Fi, often in combination with their own networks, to generate incremental revenues directly. The biggest opportunities are seen in smart cities, Wi-Fi First and multiplay bundles including everywhere access to content and applications.

The survey carried out during Q3 2015, had a total of 212 respondents: 38% of those being operators. Other significant respondent groups were Wi-Fi equipment and device vendors, with 28% and consultants/integrators, 17%. The majority of responses came from North America (40%) and Europe (26%), followed by Asia-Pacific (16%).

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About Wireless Broadband Alliance
Founded in 2003, the mission of the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) is to champion the development of the converged wireless broadband ecosystem through seamless, secure and interoperable unlicensed wireless broadband services for delivering outstanding user experience. Building on our heritage of NGH and carrier Wi-Fi, WBA will continue to drive and support the adoption of Next Gen Wi-Fi and other unlicensed wireless services across the entire public Wi-Fi ecosystem, including IoT, Big Data, Converged Services, Smart Cities, 5G, etc Today, membership includes major fixed operators such as BT, Comcast and Time Warner Cable; seven of the top 10 mobile operator groups (by revenue) and leading technology companies such as Cisco, Microsoft, Huawei Technologies, Google and Intel. WBA member operators collectively serve more than 2 billion subscribers and operate more than 25 million hotspots globally. The WBA Board includes AT&T, Boingo Wireless, BT, China Telecom, Cisco Systems, Comcast, iPass, KT Corporation, Liberty Global, NTT DOCOMO, Orange and Ruckus Wireless.
About Maravedis-Rethink
Maravedis-Rethink is a premier wireless infrastructure analyst firm focusing on broadband wireless infrastructure as well as industry spectrum regulations and operator trends. Since 2002, Maravedis and Rethink Research have provided clients worldwide with strategic insight to help them achieve key business objectives. Its services include disruptive reports, webinars and online databases, analyst support and briefings as well as custom consulting engagements.

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Ed Howson
Temono for Wireless Broadband Alliance

Carriers will harness 3G spectrum to reach gigabit LTE October 05 2015

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Almost every week brings another development, by a vendor or operator, to increase the capabilities of LTE, and increasingly those innovations will find their way onto the 5G roadmap too. The UK's EE took its LTE technology to the Gigabit Europe show, not an event that would, until recently, have been associated with wireless networks.

At LightReading's Gigabit Europe show, EE discussed plans to pilot gigabit LTE services before moving towards 5G from 2020. That would mean a sixfold increase in speed compared to EE's current peak of 150Mbps, which itself required carrier aggregation (of 20 MHz carriers in the 1.8 GHz and 2.6 GHz bands) to achieve. The operator has already trialled triband aggregation to get to peak speeds of 400Mbps and is likely to commercialize that technology in certain areas next year.

Paul Ceely, EE's head of network strategy, told the attendees: "We think 4G can get you to 1Gbps and are looking to run a pilot of that," though he did not give timescales - though it would clearly be a pre-5G effort, so presumably in the 2016-2019 period. Ceely said gigabit peak download rates would require a combination of carrier aggregation across as many as five carriers, and MIMO smart antenna arrays. The carrier has been heavily focused on 'Super Macro' developments, aimed at enhancing the coverage and capacity of its macro LTE-Advanced network in existing spectrum before moving on to densification with small cells. This contrasts with some MNOs, like SKT in Korea, which are pursuing densification first.

The high speed LTE network could compete with fixed broadband providers, or provide an adjunct to their services, in underserved rural areas, or among users who want to get set-up very quickly or move around frequently (this largely youthful user base is currently targeted by the Relish service from UK Broadband, which runs on TD-LTE in 3.5 GHz). The latter scenario is more likely given that EE will, regulators permitting, be part of fixed-line incumbent BT next year.

The gigabit network would need to involve EE's 3G spectrum in 2.1 GHz as well as its existing 4G frequencies (refarmed 2G spectrum in 1.8 GHz plus 2.6 GHz and 800 MHz), and future options could include 700 MHz and 2.3 GHz when those come up for auction. The 3G bands are increasingly being used for LTE around the world, and deployments in the main one, 2.1 GHz, have almost doubled in the past year, according to the GSA (Global mobile Suppliers Association).

In the early years of LTE, deployments mainly tapped newly auctioned spectrum or 2G bands, and some operators have already turned off 2G services altogether, like Korea Telecom, or have a firm timeline to do so, like AT&T. But some carriers are also looking at options to defocus on 3G, especially in countries where 3G deployment came late or did not extend very far, notably China, India and some African nations. Here, there is a logic to racing straight to 4G for mobile broadband, and even in strong 3G countries, many carriers are halting further expansion and starting to use excess 2.1 GHz spectrum for LTE-A.

Although W-CDMA/HSPA 3G standards will dominate this band for years to come, the GSA said regulators are helping operators to take a flexible approach in 2.1 GHz by allowing technology neutrality.

In total, 36% of LTE devices work on the 2.1 GHz band, compared to 28% in 2014, says the GSA, and there are 1,185 devices available from 142 vendors. The Association found that 15 operators in 11 countries have launched LTE on the 2.1GHz band, double the year-ago figure. Alan Hadden, VP of Research at GSA, said: "The number of LTE2100 compatible devices more than doubled over the past year (118% higher). Band 1 is the third most supported band for LTE devices, following 1800 MHz (Band 3) and 2.6 GHz (Band 7)."

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