By Caroline Gabriel, Research Director, Maravedis-Rethink
The latest R&D project in 60GHz spectrum comes from Samsung, which can transfer a 1Gbyte movie in three seconds. However, as the speed wars heat up in WiFi, all these data rates are going to need backhaul support, an issue Broadcom and others are seeking to address through new Ethernet standards.
The race to break speed records in WiFi is almost as intense as it is in cellular, and Samsung is a prominent name in both. The Korean firm has been demonstrating ‘5G’ prototypes hitting gigabit speeds, but WiFi can support even higher data rates, and the company says it has achieved up to tenfold increase on current speeds.
In both WiFi and cellular R&D, the key to blistering speeds is usually the combination of techniques such as advanced MIMO, with high frequency spectrum. Samsung says it has developed a version of WiGig (the WiFi-like standard for the 60GHz band) which boosts the current maximum theoretical data rate for a consumer device fivefold – and in terms of real world average speeds, the gap is 10 times.
The prototype system enables a 1Gbyte movie to be transferred in under three seconds and uncompressed high definition video to be streamed in real time. Like other next generation WiFi efforts, Samsung says its technology removes the gap between theoretical and actual speeds, and of course it will hope that its breakthrough will give it an influential position in emerging standards, as well as differentiation for its own future products.
“Samsung has successfully overcome the barriers to the commercialization” of the 60GHz WiFi technology, claimed Kim Chang Yong, head of a Samsung R&D center, in a statement. “New and innovative changes await Samsung’s next generation devices, while new possibilities have been opened up for the future development of WiFi technology.”
Amid rising competition in its heartland smartphone business, Samsung is investing in R&D in many areas which could extend its business model, including software and media platforms, enterprise platforms and cutting edge infrastructure for ‘5G’, which is expected to include technologies derived both from LTE and WiFi. The first products to be targeted with 60GHz WiFi are likely to be audiovisual home and mobile media devices, telecoms infrastructure and medical systems, said Samsung.
Samsung’s rivals are all working on enhancing WiFi for higher speed and better quality of experience in future. For instance, Huawei recently demonstrated 10Gbps connections in conventional 5GHz spectrum.
However, the faster WiFi gets, the more challenging its backhaul issues will be. With that in mind, Broadcom, HP and Cisco are drumming up interest in dramatically speeding up gigabit Ethernet, to keep up with the pace of change in WiFi.
The two giants claim there is a growing need for standard physical layers running at 2.5Gbps and 5Gbps, to fit between the current Gigabit Ethernet standard and the high end 10Gbps platform. The standard would cover ranges of 100 meters over Cat E twisted pair cabling, so that changes to cable infrastructure would not be required as they would for 10Gbps and above.
The main reason is the rapid increase in the speed of WiFi. Enterprise and hotspot WLANs are adopting the latest 802.11ac iteration, and its gigabit speeds are threatening to drown the access points’ wired Ethernet backhaul links.
The two companies are proposing the formation of a study group within the IEEE 802 effort, focused on a Next Generation Enterprise Access Base-T PHY. This will get its first hearing at the IEEE 802 plenary in San Antonio, Texas on November 3-6. The initiators of the would-be study group are Yong Kim, senior technical director at Broadcom, and David Law of Hewlett-Packard, chair of the 802.3 working group, and Cisco has also lent its support.
They say in their invitation: “This is a call for interest to initiate a Study Group to explore the need for one or more new Ethernet speed(s) between 1Gbps and 10Gbps over balanced twisted pair cabling. We believe there is a market need, driven by IEEE 802.11ac wireless access points, to support higher than 1Gbps Ethernet rates at a 100m reach. Higher performance end devices like desktop and laptop PCs, as well as other enterprise applications for Ethernet, will also benefit from the new data rates provided by this work.”
John D'Ambrosia, a Dell fellow and veteran of Ethernet standards efforts, told EETimes there was significant interest and the study group was likely to be approved. "I wouldn't be surprised to see a dual-rate effort come out of this," he commented.
There is also work going on far higher up the Ethernet performance scale, in the area which feeds into Carrier Ethernet and mobile backhaul platforms. A de facto standards alliance was formed in July to look at 25G and 50G Ethernet, but the IEEE quickly responded with its own study group, focused on the same data rates, a few days later. These different efforts highlight the diversity of applications for Ethernet these days, requiring a faster development cycle and a wider variety of speeds. "People have removed the barriers of traditional 10x Ethernet upgrades,” said d’Ambrosia.
Meanwhile, Ethernet PHY specialist Aquantia is getting in early, and in time-honoured fashion seeking to create a technology in advance of an IEEE standards effort, which could then form the basis for that standard. Its new AQrate range supports 2.5G and 5G rates over 100m of Cat E twisted pair cable. The 28nm parts are based on Aquantia's existing 10G Ethernet PHY, which is in production and work in conjunction with FPGAs and IP from Xilinx.
Finnish firm's second infrastructure acquisition with Microsoft cash focuses on indoor small cell and DAS deployments
Nokia expects to close its SAC Wireless deal in the third quarter, though the price was not disclosed. By strengthening its hand in the indoor market it hopes to improve its position in the US, where it has fared poorly in the first wave of major LTE deals, compared to Ericsson and Alcatel-Lucent.
However, as north American operators start to complete their initial, coverage-oriented LTE build-outs, their second investment phase will focus heavily on adding capacity, often via a small cell layer, and on improving indoor coverage. By acquiring SAC, Nokia gains an immediate entry point, since the firm claims all the major US cellcos as customers for its services. These include the design, installation and maintenance of DAS (distributed antenna system) networks for enterprises, venues and government bodies, though it will also extend Nokia's small cells proposition.
Indoor coverage is a critical business issue, as the increase in mobile data usage inside buildings is faster than that outdoors, and mobile-first patterns mean enterprises need fully reliable voice coverage too. Those challenges have led all the big OEMs to expand their indoor offerings, both in terms of products and services - as seen in Ericsson's twin announcements of its Radio Dot distributed radio system, and an 'as a service' proposition for indoor deployments.
In many ways, the services element - particularly site acquisition and backhaul provisioning - is a greater source of competitive advantage than the cells and antennas themselves. SAC, for instance, claims to bring Nokia particular expertise in site development; and in 'self-perform' implementations of indoor and outdoor small cells and DAS.
Some expected Nokia to use its cash windfall, from the sale of its devices division to Microsoft, to make a huge purchase, such as Alcatel-Lucent. So far, it has stuck to buying smaller companies which fill gaps in its core platform, rather than extending its portfolio significantly - in line with last year's restructuring to become a firm entirely focused on mobile broadband. Recently, Nokia also acquired Mesaplexx to strengthen its small cell technology.
Ricky Corker, EVP north America for Nokia, said in a statement: "With SAC Wireless' capabilities complementing our own inhouse expertise, we are well positioned to bring enhanced quality and increased end-to-end delivery efficiency to our customers. No other infrastructure provider is offering this level of proven services."
RealWireless argues that 'meadowcells' can halve the cost per person of deploying rural mobile broadband
Small cells make it commercially viable to bring broadband mobile coverage to ultra-rural communities, according to Simon Saunders, CTO at consultancy RealWireless (and former chair of the Small Cell Forum). They are not always the right solution - macrocells remain better for covering scattered populations, and it is important to reduce their cost and power too.
But for small villages, community small cells, which Saunder dubbed 'meadowcells', can reduce the daunting cost, for the operator, of covering large numbers of remote, small communities.
"Big cells would work well if people are spread uniformly, but if we use small cells in villages we can do some good things," Saunders said. "It's very much understanding what the shape of the need is and having a suite of solutions."
For meadowcells to become a mainstream option, there will be deployment challenges such as finding backhaul options (including satellite). Operators also need to prioritize rural coverage better, which will sometimes be government-driven, but would also be encouraged by a better business case.
And, of course, that means the cost of the cells needs to come down further - to 10% or less of macrocell cost, the benchmark for many carriers to green-light volume roll-outs, whether urban or rural. RealWireless calculations indicate that the cost of providing coverage to 500m people in remote areas can be made commercially viable by repurposing the metrocells designed for urban areas, and halve the cost per person at this scale, compared with macrocell approaches.
Further advances, particularly in backhaul and its spectrum, will improve the economics further. "Combined with a new generation of satellite technology and associated spectrum for backhaul, costs can be reduced to around one-tenth of the traditional cell cost. Our estimates suggest that such technology could then economically improve mobile service to one billion people worldwide," said Saunders.
The consultancy also announced its 'RealWireless - Wireless for Good' initiative to help support expansion of coverage in remote and rural areas in any part of the world. This will provide funding and pro bono consulting for projects in this area, and the first beneficiary was revealed to be Télécoms Sans Frontières.
Its Nest subsidiary pays $555m for Dropcam, filling out IoT stack, while Alpental brings 60GHz network expertise
The Dropcam deal, made under Nest's own auspices rather than directly by Google, is worth $555m. The firm's cameras can be checked from a mobile device anywhere in the world, and add a home security element to Nest's core gadgets, smart thermostats and smoke alarms.
"We care very deeply about helping people stay connected to their home, especially when they're not in their home," said Nest co-founder Matt Rogers. He said his company had been looking for a camera maker for months before the Google acquisition and approached five-year old Dropcam a month ago. The latter's CEO Greg Duffy wrote on a blog post: "Nest and Dropcam are kindred spirits. Both were born out of frustration with outdated, complicated products that do the opposite of making life better."
Behind the gushing words, there is the hand of Google, steadily building a complete smart home stack. It is very questionable whether the company really needs to own these gadgets - an approach more like Apple's HomeKit, building a broad platform around partners' products, would seem more in keeping with Google's open, software-driven philosophy and more suited to the diverse and unpredictable patterns of the IoT.
The fact that Nest is being kept so separate from the main Google structure perhaps indicates that Google, whose experiment with owning a mainstream handset maker failed, knows it has to be careful of alienating partners by making its own hardware - even as it fails to resist the charms of the integrated hardware/software model. So ironically enough, Apple is creating smart home and smart health platforms without, as yet, its own devices (though iWatches are on their way at last, supposedly), while Google is aiming for the full stack.
Meanwhile, Google's second purchase - actually made in May, but just revealed - is very different. Seattle-based Alpental is led by two founders and former Clearwire engineers, CEO Pete Gelbman and Mike Hart. They have developed a system which they say lowers the cost level of 60GHz technology with a self-organizing, ultra-low power implementation. Gelbman describes it as a "hyper scalable millimeter wave networking solution for dense urban next-gen 5G & WiFi - at the form factor and cost of an iPod".
Overhype or not, these are words to hit many of Google's hot buttons. The company has spent a decade investing in wireless technologies which could help fulfil its aims of extending low cost internet access to the whole world, and making it easier for those with access to increase their usage - all in the interests of boosting Google's advertising and services revenues.
The company raised $850,000 in 2012 and delivered working prototypes and demonstrations at Mobile World Congress in February this year.
Poised for enterprise big time, vendors adopt differentiated approaches, while Forum provides a unifying force
In many ways, the growing pains of a new kind of venue - greater noise challenges, fewer bars and soft seats - mirrored those of an industry which has been engaged in a battle for the mass scale which is essential to its economics. Small cells, whether for the home, enterprise or public networks, need to be cheap, which means they need standard interfaces, to encourage multivendor deployments and price competition; and they need to be shipped in large numbers. Getting the products to the required volumes and price levels to make the basic business case is the first priority (for that large majority of operators with neither the deep pockets nor the critically urgent capacity needs of a few frontrunners like Softbank).
That goal is in sight in the residential space, but the enterprise and urban segments are far more challenging. All kinds of factors point to an uptick in early 2015 - arrival of LTE/WiFi/multimode cells; multi-operator support; the relentless march of data usage, which will start to exhaust macro layer LTE upgrades in some areas, especially indoors. But in these sectors, it is not about an inexorable downward curve in price and footprint, but rather achieving a perfect balance - between cost/volume and added value functionality. On one hand, operators talk about $500 base stations and full automation of large-scale networks of cells; on the other, the same operators call for 'macro equivalency' in functionality terms, and the ability to layer new revenue-generating features, to improve on the basic business case of improved coverage and capacity.
These are tough challenges for the vendors, which are also still grappling with some of the persistent barriers to mass deployment, such as low cost backhaul and site acquisition. But, at least, as the operators' requirements diversify, there are opportunities for individual companies to focus on a particular carrier or enterprise driver, and to innovate and diversify their own offerings. This is shifting some of the focus away from cost alone - though reduced operating costs are probably the most critical enabler of a next wave of roll-out - and towards added value and new business cases.
Key trends, then, included diversification. While many residential small cells will be white-labelled products from Taiwan and Korea, or embedded into home gateways, in the enterprise and urban segments, the Summit saw chip designers, hardware makers and the software ecosystem engaging in new levels of differentiation and diversity. On the processor front, for instance, while Qualcomm was carving out the 'neighborhood area network' as its special target, Cavium was showing off heavy-duty platforms with commonality right up to the cloud server. And among the cells themselves, two veterans of the original femtocell wave were targeting the enterprise from distinctive angles, ip.access with its retail-focused presenceCell and Airvana with its LTE OneCell 'mini Cloud-RAN' system.
Such moves should increase the choices for different types of operators, though of course, this must not come at the cost of fragmentation. Here, the Small Cell Forum is important to drive common platforms and interfaces - as it did successfully with the Iuh interface for residential femtocells, now included in 3GPP standards. The show saw the Forum setting out the latest, rural and remote, iteration of its Release Program, which has a valuable role in bringing together the industry's thinking on deployment practicalities and business models. And importantly, it was also looking ahead to virtualization and promising to play its part in driving unified approaches to the small cell/Cloud-RAN crossover, at a time when most operators say they will not act on either technology at any scale until they are confident they will not end up in a technology island.
Qualcomm has what it calls the first 28nm part for small cells for small businesses and neighbourhoods
It calls it the FSM90xx SoC and it extends the LTE only part the FSM99X that came out last year, and should allow OEMs to build devices that can support virtually any LTE band, including carrier aggregation bands when paired with Qualcomm's RFICs, as well as 3G, and the latest WiFi, with 802.11ac, with MU-MIMO (multi-user MIMO) and could even use wireless to self-backhaul.
Other backhaul options are built in such as Ethernet connection or residential broadband gateways or SMB WiFi routers. The chip is designed to be controlled by Qualcomm's UltraSON software, which can turn up or turn down the power on any transmission to prevent interference with other small cells, allowing them to be installed in hyper-dense configurations.
Qualcomm showed it off at the small cell conference in London yesterday, and says they would be equally at home in the devices which target the enterprise, but also mobile operator small cell deployments or cable MSO WiFi Access points. It also says this is the first chip of its type in 28nm, and as such it is less power hungry, has more of the bill of materials built into it and the ensuing devices should therefore be a lot cheaper.
The chip uses the Qualcomm Internet Processor (IPQ), which features a powerful packet processing engine that scales to handle a variety of networking functions, including WiFi and LTE. Hardware accelerators have been built into the chipset to speed up processing for both radio technologies, and this is where the bill of materials savings are to be found.
Our feeling is that many small cell initiatives have snagged on device pricing and ease of installation when compared to WiFi, and it will only be when this chip is in a number of devices and the prices are known that we will be able to guess as how successful small cells will be in warding off the WiFi only challenge brought about by offload possibilities.
Qualcomm said that this solution will support 802.11n/ac, in MU-MIMO configurations, allowing WiFi router capabilities or operation without wired backhaul. This same SoC also supports up to 3GPP release 10 multi-cell HSDPA. Qualcomm has not suggested dates for when devices will emerge with this chip in, early next year would be our guess.
Back in March Qualcomm took part in a demonstration of what it calimed was the densest network ever constructed in a working environment, equating to 1,000 cells per square kilometer. It was put together for Sprint's TDD technology, working with Airspan around the Nascar racing circuit.
Qualcomm acquired small cell access/backhaul chip firm DesignArt Networks in 2012 and developed the UltraSon software in-house.
Telefonica O2 in talks with potential partners, including Liberty, in bid to get approval of E-Plus takeover
A similar approach may finally resolve the long-running review process for Telefonica's bid to merge its O2 Germany subsidiary with KPN's E-Plus. The Spanish firm wants to buy E-Plus to give it the necessary bulk to compete with T-Mobile and Vodafone Germany, but this would reduce the number of players in a major market, which has often been a significant roadblock for competition authorities.
In April, Telefonica offered those regulators the carrot of an offer to furnish a new mobile player with spectrum. The outcome would reportedly be a new provider to replace E-Plus in fourth place, though O2's original proposal was merely to provide this new entrant with a relatively small amount of 2.6GHz spectrum (less valuable than the 800MHz frequencies, which E-Plus failed to win at auction, one reason for its need to find a merger partner).
However, the suggested approach would still lumber the new entrant with the cost of building the networks, and it would face the same problems of limited scale that have hit E-Plus. This means Telefonica has shifted its attention to the possibility of increased MVNO access, more in line with the Irish deal. According to Bloomberg sources, the firm is negotiating with possible candidates for either network ownership, or expanded MVNO activities. These include the three largest existing MVNOs in a market which already boasts a wide range of virtual providers - Freenet, Drillisch and United Internet.
Perhaps most interestingly, Telefonica is also said to be talking to KabelBW, a unit of Liberty Global. Liberty, the pan-European cable provider, is engaged in a battle with Vodafone to amass fixed, mobile and WiFi assets to create quad play bundles and offset saturating growth in Europe. Liberty's UPC may also be in line for an MVNO or network deal in Ireland after Hutchison 3 buys O2 Ireland.
Under Telefonica's plan, partners would have the option of securing higher capacity and better pricing than traditional MVNO deals offer, using so-called mobile bitstream access, and that would give them the scale to make it worthwhile to invest in infrastructure including backhaul.
But Ralph Dommermuth, United Internet's CEO, said in a recent interview that he would not rule out becoming a network operator, but that it would not be feasible for a smaller provider to roll out national coverage, which would require about 20,000 cell sites. His company, whose wireless service goes under the 1&1 brand, is said to be demanding that O2 pledges sufficient availability of fast network capacity to 1&1 customers after its takeover of E-Plus. United Internet has a roaming agreement with E-Plus which includes LTE.
In Ireland, the conditions for approval mean that Hutchison 3 will facilitate the entry of two new MVNOs, with one of them having the option to transform into a full network operator by subsequently purchasing spectrum from the merged entity. H3G has committed to selling up to 30% of the merged company's network capacity to two MVNOs in Ireland at fixed payments. The capacity is measured in terms of bandwidth and the MVNO entrants will obtain a dedicated pipe for voice and data traffic.
However, Vodafone says it is considering a legal challenge to the deal and has called on national regulator ComReg to take action to ensure a level playing field despite the EC green light. It said it may mount lawsuits in Ireland and Europe, and said ComReg must "ensure that all operators receive an efficient allocation of spectrum that will sustain dynamic competition in Ireland".
It also accused the EC of "favoring operators who do not invest in infrastructure over those that do", though 3 Ireland responded, saying it plans to invest about €300m ($408m) in constructing an LTE network in Ireland in the next three years, in a move that would take its total investment in the country to €2bn.
CEO Robert Finnegan said the combined company "will have the scale and financial strength necessary to compete more aggressively against the number one in the market" - the motivation which is driving the current wave of consolidation in the European market. The value of active or completed intra-European telecoms deals has jumped to $40.4bn in the past 12 months from $1.6bn the year-earlier period, according to Bloomberg.
By Luis Reyes Figueroa, Spectrum Analyst, Maravedis-Rethink
Managing the surge of mobile data demand, particularly in dense urban areas, continues to cause headaches to carriers. The nature of cellular networks means the only way forward is the densification of the network. As the number of cells multiplies, the probability of having easy access to fiber when building each new site decreases. Well-proven microwave technology has conveniently solved such challenges in the past, but the typical 15 to 23 GHz bands have begun to saturate. On the other hand, mobile operators wonder whether it is the time to make use of Metrocells to overcome the situation.
The question of Metrocells will increasingly raise the issue of what backhaul spectrum to use to connect these cells, while both vendors and regulators are increasingly looking at the accelerated spectrum shortage. This potential crunch presents mobile service providers with the urgent necessity of choosing among alternatives, of which the 10.5 GHz, 26 GHz and 28 GHz bands are the most interesting immediate options. These already show considerable occupancy, especially in Europe. In addition, there are technical regulations for their usage in many countries, as opposed to millimeter bands (30-3000 GHz) which are little used. They are the most active bands in most markets, according to Maravedis-Rethink’s Backhaul Regulatory Database, encompassing 64 countries and 7 frequency bands with information provided directly by regulators.
Currently, 10.5 GHz band is mainly or mostly used for broadcasting and radio communications in 26 countries. However, some of those 26 countries are either already using it for backhaul, or planning to use it for backhaul, mainly on a Point to Point (PtP) basis. Even though PtMP links are allowed in 26 countries, they are actually used in only two, as shown in Graphs 1 and 2.
The 26 GHz and 28 GHzbands are also being used widely for PtP, and to a lesser extent for PtMP, to backhaul mobile services. The 26 GHz accounts for most of the active links above the rest of the bands in the countries analyzed, distributed among 25 countries for PtP and 5 for PtMP. Similarly, 28 GHz is being used for PtP and PtMP in 13 and 2 countries, respectively. This reflects intensive use of both bands in European countries.
The most important advantage to using these three bands – 10.5, 26 and 28 GHz -- is their lesser susceptibility to attenuation due to rain effects, compared to higher (millimeter) bands. However, there is a drawback, particularly in 10.5 GHz, where a mainstreaming regulatory approach for usage is placed on Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) for Internet access in 15 countries from different regions. In addition, if demand trends in 26 GHz and 28 GHz continue upward, both bands will saturate soon, as is already happening in some European countries such as Belgium, Germany, Greece and Spain.
Regulation lagging behind technology…
Growth in allocations in the three bands mentioned is already a problem, and the lack of regulatory frameworks in higher millimeter bands must be considered as an additional challenge. This is important if we consider regulators as responsible for fostering development in the backhaul market. As mentioned above, technical regulations for the higher millimeter bands rarely exist in the countries analyzed. In the best scenario, preliminary dispositions for channel arrangements and power transmission limits are published. There are just a few exceptions in emerging markets, such as Argentina, which already has regulations for 42 GHz band, or Colombia, and Qatar, having regulated V Band (57-64 GHz). Others, the majority, are far behind with no regulation at all in any of the millimeter bands.
A third issue would be whether unlicensed bands could alter growth in backhaul spectrum usage, and alleviate costs to carriers. This is a hot topic in the industry, especially for vendors interested in developing solutions for unlicensed spectrum. However, there are 6 countries proposing unlicensed bands in our analysis. Of these, only Sweden, Poland and Czech Republic actually use them for fixed links to backhaul mobile services.
As observed, choosing spectrum to backhaul mobile data yields dissimilar frameworks and levels of use in countries analyzed. Certainly, there is a clear increasing demand, and trends suggest most allocations will be done in Europe due to its faster development in this field compared to other regions. However, there is no easy way to estimate how quickly that demand will grow. In my view, we can expect more spectrum assigned, mostly for PtP links in the traditional 26 GHz and 28 GHz. However, as new licenses come to occupy these bands, other choices will be needed to satisfy increasing demand.
In this sense, it would be good to expand the backhaul market to other latitudes, particularly PtMP. Even though these links are allowed in many countries, they are actually used – although intensively in some cases – just in a few of them, as can be observed in Graph 2. Both carriers and vendors would need to approach this situation with the idea that there is room for more PtMP licenses to be allocated, and even more in higher spectrum bands. From the seven bands analyzed, 42 GHz seems to be an attractive alternative as it could be used for Point to Multipoint, and some vendors are pushing hard with regulators to get it available to backhaul Small Cells. In the end, this could be a suitable solution for the question of Metrocells.
Fore more information on the Backhaul Regulatory Database, please download the brochure.
Maravedis-Rethink is a premier wireless infrastructure analyst firm. We help customers with reliable, unbiased and timely market analysis in the wireless infrastructure industry. We focus on broadband wireless infrastructure (including LTE, carrier WiFi, small cells, core network and wireless backhaul) as well as industry spectrum regulations and operator trends.