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In the past week, both India and China have set out their latest multibillion dollar plans to invest in mobile and broadband infrastructure, and Alcatel-Lucent has announced wide-ranging contracts totalling €1.1bn with China Mobile and China Unicom. All this may promise a pot of gold for the wireless infrastructure vendors in 2015 and beyond, but this will only partly relieve the pressures on them - the price wars, the slowdown in US and Japanese spending, the difficult transition to more software-driven networks. Ericsson was making that clear in an interview this week, outlining its plans to diversify its business well beyond telecoms providers, riding on the rise of the internet of things to move into a variety of vertical sectors.
Putting its eggs into a larger number of baskets will help protect Ericsson - which has a less diverse portfolio than arch-rival Huawei - from the ups and downs of network spending in its core mobile operator market. In the first stages of 4G, despite the boost from Verizon's and AT&T's huge LTE roll-outs, Ericsson saw its margins squeezed by the tendency, elsewhere, for operators to modernize their networks rather than go for all-out upgrades. No sooner had that pressure eased, in the later part of 2014, than the US deployments peaked and then tailed off, leading to what a research note this week,, by analysts at Jefferies, called the "awful spending trends experienced during the back half of 2014".
Late last year, Ericsson CEO Hans Vestberg said that Ericsson would diversify in five main areas - IP networks, cloud, OSS/BSS, TV and media, and 'industry and society'. This week Nadine Allen, who heads up the last of these categories in western and central Europe, told Telecoms.com that Ericsson sees a significant opportunity in helping non-telecoms industries to harness new trends in telecoms and IT, especially the IoT.
"The evolved use of ICT is becoming increasingly important to all industries as they address the opportunities and challenges that the networked society will bring," she said in the interview. "There is a growing need for ICT connectivity and services in market segments outside the traditional customer base of Ericsson, such as utilities, transport and public safety." Ericsson is focusing on smart cities and also on five primary vertical sectors in its IT and IoT activities. The five are automotive, energy/utilities, road and rail, safety and security, and shipping.
This strategy has seen Ericsson become increasingly aggressive in chasing deals to deploy or manage networks of 'things' and smart cities, whether these are via an MNO, or involve working directly with an industrial player or specialized operator.
In some cases, as already seen in the connected car market, where it has several direct deals with carmakers to manage mobile and IoT services, Ericsson may face conflicts of interest, competing for IoT management contracts with its own MNO clients. That will be one of the challenges for all participants in the IoT, as traditional boundaries and roles break down and companies find themselves competing one day and partnering the next.
Ericsson is gaining experience in this regard. It has been extending its borders far and wide, through acquisition and inhouse development, building white label services platforms for carriers; offering cloud-based management solutions for enterprises and the internet of things; pushing its networks and managed services into non-mobile markets such as TV.
But it is still heavily reliant on its core infrastructure and services businesses, and its traditional customers - and it will be helped by the huge projects starting up in countries like Mexico, China and India (which celebrated its massive Digital India program last week with news of over $60bn worth of carrier deployments).
China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) said this week that it would invest RMB435bn ($71bn) this year on improving the nation's fixed and wireless internet infrastructure as it chases lower tariffs and higher data rates. Faster, cheaper broadband will foster innovation and start-ups, said ministry spokesperson Zhang Feng.
And all three national mobile operators are engaged in large-scale LTE roll-outs as well as 3G expansion. This week, Alcatel-Lucent announced deals with China Mobile and China Unicom totalling more than €1.1bn, and spanning mobile and fixed 'ultra-broadband' access (FD-LTE, TD-LTE, GPON and EPON), IP routing and switching, optical transport networking, VoLTE, NFV cloud technologies, plus software-defined networking from ALU's Nuage subsidiary.
The deals come under the remit of the Broadband China initiative launched by the MIIT to get 100Mbps+ download speeds to all municipalities, cities and non-urban households by 2017, plus full urban and rural LTE coverage in the same timeframe.
It will critical for Ericsson to win a hefty slice of these kind of deals too, as the Chinese program gathers pace - diversification is under way, but it will be some years before wireless infrastructure, and related offerings, cease to be the Swedish giant's bread and butter.
BY CAROLINE GABRIEL
The ITU always brings a dose of sobriety to a new standards party. Amid the escalating claims about when 5G equipment will be available (now, according to some vendors) and when services will be deployed (2018, even 2017 in 'pre-standard' form), the ITU-R Working Party came up with predictable conclusions from its meeting in San Diego, California. The forthcoming standard will be called IMT-2020, reflecting a timeline for finalizing the specifications by the end of the decade.
The official name will do nothing to stop companies labelling every new piece of radio equipment '5G', but it does start to streamline efforts towards something officially and globally unified. Nevertheless, the ITU's frameworks are always out of step with the work of technical standards bodies and with the real market - and that may be even more the case with 5G, especially if that ends up building significantly on current innovations in areas like virtualization and small cells.
For instance, the ITU frameworks tend to be conservative in their timescales, but over-ambitious in their core requirements - meaning that real world standards-based kit appears earlier, but without hitting the ITU performance levels. The ITU's timeline is 2020, but like NTT Docomo in 3G and 4G, some Asian operators will deploy pre-standard 5G before the 2020 date, and do almost as much as the ITU to shape how the new networks perform in reality.
In terms of performance targets, IMT-Advanced (4G) was supposed to achieve at least 100Mbps downlink data rates to a mobile end user and 1Gbps to a stationary one. The candidate technologies were actually LTE-Advanced (Release 10 and above) and WiMAX 2, but the former is only now being rolled out, while real world 4G was based on lower-spec'd LTE (and, in the early days, original WiMAX).
In other words, the market, industry alliances, and technical standards bodies like the 3GPP, decide how far vendors and carriers push a new technology to its limits.
So does the ITU have a real role to play? The answer is yes - it does provide a framework which draws in spectrum allocation, operator requirements, regulatory policies and many other factors on a global basis, which helps avoid fragmentation and keep everyone on a single track which is defined without the same level of vendor politics as the technology standards (though of course the ITU has politics of its own).
Nevertheless, defining the framework for IMT-2020 technologies will be an unprecedented test of the ITU's processes and value to the industry. It is clear that '5G' will encompass a vastly larger range of spectrum bands, use cases, power levels and (probably) connectivity standards than the relatively single-minded standards of the past, which relied on a single air interface geared mainly to increasing bandwidth/data rate.
This time, as the ITU acknowledged in its statement of vision for 2020, there will a far more multi-faceted platform to consider. There will be connected 'things' of all kinds, virtualization, massively dense networks, ultra-low power applications, and many other considerations. The ITU's secretary-general, Houlin Zhao, said in his statement: "The buzz in the industry on future steps in mobile technology - 5G - has seen a sharp increase, with attention now focused on enabling a seamlessly connected society in the 2020 timeframe and beyond that brings together people along with things, data, applications, transport systems and cities in a smart networked communications environment."
The body gave few hints about the specific technology attributes it envisages for IMT-2020. Its next meeting, on July 21, will approve the recommendations of the San Diego event, and more detailed work will be presented at the October ITU-R Radiocommunication Assembly.
It will now work with the telecoms industry and other players to specify detailed technical requirements, and the criteria against which to evaluate candidate technologies, probably by year end. It promised to take into account the needs of a wide range of future scenarios and use cases.
Only then will would-be 5G standard technologies be able to compete to be accredited as official IMT-2020 systems. Not that acceptance by the ITU ensures commercial success - for IMT-Advanced, WiMAX2 was selected alongside LTE-Advanced, while IMT-2000 (3G) included the little-deployed TD-CDMA.
In the absence of many hard details as yet, there was plenty of speculation about how the ITU perceives 5G. The organization itself said it had defined overall goals, process and timelines and that "this process is now well underway within ITU, in close collaboration with governments and the global mobile industry".
Some delegates to the San Diego summit were more forthcoming - according to the Korea Times - citing the country's Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning, a contributor to the ITU-R process - the ITU believes 5G networks must have the capacity to transmit data at over 1000Mbps to over one million IoT devices within one square kilometer.
However, another report emanating from Korea, that the ITU will mandate baseline data speeds of 20Gbps for 5G, proved to be false. Indeed, the ITU itself told Inside5G that, "as of now, the peak data rate of IMT-2020 for enhanced mobile broadband is expected to reach 10Gbps. However, under certain conditions and scenarios, IMT-2020 would support up to 20Gbps peak data rate."
It will be no surprise that Korea and Japan are prominent in the ITU-R process, and are already engaged in one-upmanship about the importance of their contributions, as well as their plans to be the first in the world to deploy '5G' services, albeit it with pre-standard kit. Of course, 5G may well be a wireless generation that is shaped by China, whose vendors and operators are also engaged in advanced R&D and standards body participation, though making somewhat less public noise than their neighbors.
At the recent CommunicAsia 2015 conference, the only significant point of consensus, in a debate between four organizations contributing to the ITU-R deliberations, was that ultra-low latency, machine-to-machine communications would be the top priority for 5G, and this would be even more important to enabling future services and business models than increased speeds.
In other respects, there were clear disagreements between various 5G projects, and between Japan and Korea. As noted by TelecomAsia, representatives from the four groups agreed to disagree on the KPIs (key performance indicators) for 5G, during a panel debate at the show.
The ITU-R itself, the Korea 5G Forum, the Fifth Generation Mobile Communications Promotion Forum (5GMCPF), and the 5G World Alliance all had somewhat different approaches. Colin Langtry, leader of the 5G study group at ITU-R, was the least controversial, telling the conference that the main aim is to enable ultra-reliable communications and low latency, among other capabilities. He also said that "co-opetition" between different 5G groups would be positive for the end result.
Meanwhile, Youngnam Han from the Korea 5G Forum called for three new KPIs to be added to the ITU-R's framework. The Forum published three white papers in March, setting out KPIs and promising candidate technologies, as well as spectrum requirements and candidate bands. The KPIs tie into the eight core requirements set out by the ITU-R, which include peak data rates up to tens of Gbps, 1ms latency and mobile hand-off at 500 kilometers per hour. However, Han wants to add others which go beyond the ITU remit, including the handling of interruption time, and pinpointing a terminal's location to "within a few centimeters".
Hiroyuki Morikawa, a Japanese member of the 5GMCPF, was more focused on timelines and called for a schedule of milestones to be laid down. The two Asian powerhouses may have different priorities, but they are keen to lead the world in 5G roll-out, and especially to stay ahead of the US. "Korea and Japan are the leading countries" in 5G, partly because of their large concentration of device makers, Han said. He graciously said that the US and Europe were "welcome" to join the debate about 5G KPIs, with Langtry hastily saying that the western regions were already involved, but not leading the discussions.
Korea aims to launch pre-standard 5G in time for its Winter Olympics in 2018, though Han was vague about exactly what that would entail, only commenting that the network could be based on "anything that meets the eight KPIs laid down by the ITU-R". Japan hopes to conduct a proof of concept, at least, by the end of 2017 and will outline the details of that late this year. "Not surprisingly, the Japanese plan is very similar to the Korean plan - it's because we're neighbours," said Morikawa.
Another group, the 5G World Alliance, was heavily focused on IPv6 to enable the IoT - unsurprisingly since its chair, Latif Ladid, is also founder and chair of the IPv6 Forum. He told the conference that users would soon need millions of IP addresses, not one, and urged the mobile industry fully to embrace IPv6 this time around, something it had failed to do in 3G and even partially in 4G
by Caroline Gabriel, Research Director
There are some '5G' discussions and claims which are completely legitimate to have in 2015, especially if next generation networks really are to start appearing from 2020. Vendors, operators and research institutes need to identify the areas in which R&D dollars will be best spent, and it is vital for regulators and policy makers that there are some clear directions on how spectrum will be used in future networks.
There are others which are dramatically premature, particularly all the talk of the '5G air interface' in Barcelona at the recent Mobile World Congress, probably the aspect on which fewest parties are in agreement, and which really does have to wait for the 3GPP to kick off activities.
There are interesting projects in this area - for instance, Alcatel-Lucent and Intel are working on the Universal Filtered OFDM air interface, which had its origins in WiMAX, and could be one candidate for the next generation.
Separate air interfaces may be needed to support IoT nodes in lower frequency bands and high bandwidth applications in the 10-100GHz range. Since the official spectrum policies above 6GHz may not be decided until WRC-19, the industry faces the interesting challenge of "designing new air interfaces ahead of when spectrum is released", as Intel put it.
But there is not even consensus on whether a new air interface is needed at all. "I suspect that it will require a new air interface," said Alex Jinsung Choi, head of SK Telecom's corporate R&D center in South Korea, and Eduardo Esteves, VP of product management for Qualcomm, echoed this as both took part in a panel discussion at Mobile World Congress. But Tom Keathley, SVP of wireless network architecture and design at AT&T, told the same session: "I don't think we know at this stage whether a new air interface will be required. I think it will be a bit of time before we can answer that with certainty."
In general, despite all the marketing hype attached to so-called pre-5G demonstrations, Barcelona attendees were firmly focused on the short to medium term and the achievable. But that did not stop a large number of organizations using the event to launch their 5G manifestos, and seek to place themselves and their particular agendas in the driving seat.
Just ahead of the show, the European Commission fronted a paper which set out an inaugural 5G vision based around its previously announced '5G Public Private Partnership' (5GPPP). It stated the issues (the easy bit) and recited the usual mantras - data volumes of 10 terabytes per square kilometer; one million terminals per square kilometer; one-tenth of the energy consumption and one-fifth of the latency of current platforms; cutting network management to 20% of today's costs; data rates of 50Mbps to every user; location services to within a meter. Then it gave itself the familiar, but perhaps unachievable, deadline of five years to solve all that.
The EC received a lot of attention, but there were plenty of other alliances and proposals. Here is Rethink's selection of the ones which are likely to have a real impact on how '5G' pans out:
The IPv6 Forum has launched a new 5G World Alliance, with the lofty aim of achieving "seamless global network interoperability". President Latif Ladid said: "We are talking here about a 5G world where technologies such as an all-IPv6-based M2M, the mobile IoT, mobile cloud computing, SDN, NFV, fringe and tactile internet will converge over fixed and mobile networks to change lives and businesses everywhere." Ladid said the alliance was currently establishing board members and said it would work alongside the ETSI IPv6 ISG to share its findings.
Among the objectives that the 5GWA is looking to achieve are:
- Global harmonization and synergies of the telecom and internet worlds
- The creation of large-scale worldwide interoperable testbeds
- Promotion of end-user empowering applications and global solutions
- Promotion of interoperable implementation of converging and integrated standards
- Developing educational and '5G-ready' programs
- Resolving issues that could create barriers to 5G deployment
4G Americas has signed a memorandum of understanding with the 5GPPP, outlining the basis for cooperation and collaboration between the two organizations. The MoU specifically agrees to share information on basic system concepts for 5G frequencies to support the global regulatory process, and preparation of future global 5G standards by identification of common interest and consensus building.
The NGMN (Next Generation Mobile Networks) Alliance has published a white paper detailing end-to-end operator requirements for 5G, intended to guide the development of future technology platforms and standards. A global team of more than 100 experts contributed to the white paper by developing the consolidated operator requirements. These are summarized predictably enough - "the capabilities of the network need to be expanded to support much greater throughput, lower latency and higher connection density. To cope with a wide range of use cases and business models, 5G has to provide a high degree of flexibility and scalability by design. In addition, it should show foundational shifts in cost and energy efficiency. On the end user side, a key requirement for 5G will be that a consistent customer experience is achieved across time and service footprint. NGMN envisages a 5G ecosystem that is truly global, free of fragmentation and open for innovations."
Ericsson announced its new '5G for Sweden' research program, involving companies such as Scania and Volvo, as well as several academic and research partners from across the country.
Ericsson said it wanted to develop and roll in ICT solutions into products and services built upon emerging 5G standards. An example of this is work it is doing with Scania, which will examine future transport solutions.
Nokia and Ericsson will collaborate with Korea Telecom on 5G and IoT following the signing of new memorandums of understanding. The first sets up an IoT and LTE-M lab to develop business models aimed at convergence and the automotive industry. This will be on KT premises and will involve all three Nokia business units (Networks, Here and Labs). The second builds on an existing 5G cooperation with Ericsson.
Nokia and NTT Docomo carried out a joint demonstration in Barcelona, of technologies they say will be part of the '5G' networks the pair plan to showcase at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. They achieved above 2Gbps in the 70GHz band.
China Mobile, NTT Docomo and KT announced that they would conduct a three-way 5G technical collaboration in an attempt to accelerate commercial deployments and drive standardization efforts. They will explore new services and vertical markets enabled by 5G, jointly identify 5G key technologies and prove the validity of system concepts. The operators will also work with global organizations such as ITU, 3GPP, GSMA, NGMN and GTI to facilitate global harmonized spectrum planning and a unified global 5G standard, the companies said in a joint statement.
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by Caroline Gabriel, Research Director
So Mobile World Congress (MWC) is over for another year, amid the usual record-breaking statistics (from 93,000 visitors, up 45% on the first Barcelona event in 2006; to 7.55Gbps wireless transmission speeds demonstrated by SK Telecom and Samsung).
There were plenty of eye-catching devices, with the Galaxy S6 Edge undoubtedly the star of the show in terms of headline power, though otherwise the mobile gadget space is fragmenting rapidly. The days of a line-up of remarkably similar large-screened smartphones are over - those handsets are there, at ever cheaper price points, but they jostle for attention with virtual reality headsets, connected clothing, smart coffee makers and whisky bottles, and of course the connected cars (Fiat 500 seemed to be the most popular model on display). Indeed, wearables and associated IoT (internet of things) apps virtually colonized MWC's second venue (its previous home in the Fira complex at Plaza Espanya).
Other headlines were sparked by the companies which, back in 2006, when the 3GSM show relocated from Cannes and changed its name, scarcely figured. Google's MVNO plans, Facebook's extension of its internet.org initiative, PayPal's endorsement of NFC with its acquisition of Paydiant - these were the talking points, drowning out the traditional keynote addresses by the major mobile operators.
Traditionally, the CEOs of the established cellcos have used their conference platforms to lay down their demands to the industry (remember then-CEO of Vodafone, Arun Sarin, warning the LTE sector in 2007 to speed up its efforts or face the WiMAX threat; or trading insults with his Nokia counterpart over 3G delays in 2004). These days, it is the new breed of service providers which are setting the pace - Google's Sundar Pichai may have announced a fairly cautious MVNO plan, but his speech had far wider implications, including the call for full WiFi/cellular convergence, still a divisive theme at an event dominated by the entrenched interests of 3GPP platforms.
Those interests are particularly threatened in the IoT, which was a huge theme of the show this year. As the news that Freescale and NXP are to merge neatly demonstrated, this is a dangerous world for the traditional wireless operators and vendors. It throws up significant opportunities to extend their businesses into new, high growth markets, bringing companies like Freescale and NXP - which had been squeezed badly in the smartphone segment - back to Barcelona with new connected device platforms. But the margins on those chips are low and the IoT is already sparking consolidation, as this semiconductor mega-merger illustrates, with the old-school suppliers and operators needing to huddle together for warmth in a business of scale.
Of course, the carrier's network - wireless RAN, core and transport, and increasingly virtualized versions of those - remains the heart of the serious conversations and trading at MWC. With that in mind, we selected our key themes of 2015:
The shape of the new cell site:
After several years when the ever-shrinking base station was the central theme in RAN discussions, this year saw most of the major equipment vendors announcing major refreshes of their macro layers. Massive MIMO (or at least, 8x8 arrays), carrier aggregation across three bands and including TDD, Coordinated Multipoint and Cloud-RAN - these were the important features of the new macro. This was not 5G, but technologies that will be deployable this year or in 2016 - indeed, it seems more than likely that, however '5G' turns out, it will be focused on the dense capacity layer, while the macro coverage umbrella will remain 4G for decades to come.
Small cells were out in force too, and in a widening variety of form factors. Traditional homogeneous mini-base stations are part of a very variegated approach to the capacity layer. They may form clusters with their own controller (local or virtualized) to support an enterprise or a rural deployment. For the former, the big news was that Cisco will resell the Spidercloud Enterprise-RAN solution, despite its own 2013 acquisition of small cell pioneer Ubiquisys. For the latter, the Small Cell Forum kicked off its latest Release Program, devoted to easing deployment issues in rural and remote scenarios, from villages to oil rigs to temporary situations such as disaster relief. Quortus, with its virtualized packet core, was one of the first to update its portfolio to target this important area, while Parallel Wireless was showing off its rural solution, implemented by EE in the UK.
The classic small cell is expanding its reach, seeking to provide greater value than basic coverage and capacity. Ip.access, another of the founders of this industry, has gone as far as to position its Presence Cell purely as the enabler of big data and e-commerce services - and not necessarily connected to the main network at all. Its approach has convinced Vodafone, which announced that it would deploy the retail-oriented platform.
Then there were small cells which did not follow the traditional architecture. Stripped-down antenna/radio units for Centralized-RAN; separate antennas optimized to work with urban small base stations, from companies like Kathrein and CommScope; a converged WiFi/cellular unit from Alcatel-Lucent; hosts of carrier WiFi access points and management platforms as well as lower-power DAS solutions. This is a segment where all options are open, and in which operators will pick and choose the solutions which suit their individual spectrum, business model and capacity requirements.
The virtualization of the RAN is a more distant prospect, for most operators, than the lower risk decision to run a packet core or even a CPE as software on off-the-shelf hardware. However, some pioneers were demonstrating their vRANs, notably Telefonica and China Mobile, and Intel was locked in combat with the ARM ecosystem over the market for high performance processors, optimized for C-RAN servers and accelerators, as the industry chases a general purpose chip with the horsepower to run high end network processes as well as customized silicon.
Not everything can be converted to software of course, though even the physical elements like antennas and radios will be increasingly software-defined and programmable. Pushing that trend to its extreme was Cambridge Consultants, which has developed the IP for the first all-digital radio transmitter, Pizzicato. Unlike conventional software defined radio, it has no analog components, which allows many radios to work together without interference. In the first trial, Cambridge Consultants created 14 simultaneous cellular base station signals at low power, and with the radios "squashed together in a way that analog doesn't tolerate". Such solutions can be programmed to generate manhy combinations of signals at any frequency in an adaptive way. The Pizzicato transmitter consists of an integrated circuit outputting a single stream of bits, and an antenna.
Of course 5G was a massive talking point, though outside the conference halls and the big vendors' glossy demonstrations, there was less hype than expected about the next generation of wireless, with most operators more focused on technology they could deploy in the next 1-2 years, and eager to wait for key decisions at the World Radio Conference in November, and at the 3GPP and other standards bodies, before getting too excited about 5G. Many alliances were formed and roadmaps laid down, but the most tangible aspect of the discussion was the use of millimeter wave spectrum, in which there were many demonstrations for access and backhaul. The high frequency bands are almost certain to play a key role in next generation wireless, and like many supposed elements of 5G, they will start to have a real impact far earlier, as seen in technologies like 60GHz WiGig and some small cell backhaul solutions, notably InterDigital's Peraso baseband system-on-chip for this market.
There was considerable excitement about LTE-LAA (Licensed Assisted Access), which uses 5GHz spectrum for supplemental downlink to a licensed-band 4G network. Although it will not be standardized until next year, supporters like T-Mobile and Qualcomm showed off their plans, along with a companion technology which aggregates a 5GHz WiFi carrier to LTE. Cellular players were trying to dampen down talk of colonizing licence-exempt spectrum, and stressing that LTE and WiFi could coexist peacefully, both in technical terms and in carriers' business models. However, while LAA is clearly a small cell play, given the high frequencies and low power limits involved, some were arguing that the industry would do better to focus on getting 3.5GHz standardized as a specific small cell band, avoiding WiFi showdowns and the quality challenges of unlicensed spectrum.
As noted above, the IoT was an important theme, but given the nature of the event, there was a particular focus on LTE solutions to support IoT applications, and the question of whether these will prove viable as alternatives to WiFi or specialized long range networks such as Sigfox or LoRa. Huawei was demonstrating its contributions to future LTE-M standards, while the LTE-only baseband specialists, such as Sequans and Altair, have a major opportunity to push 4G-only solutions into a mass market. While the 3GPP works on LTE Category 0 as the underpinning of LTE-M, for now the vendors have resurrected Cat-1, whose low data rates made it a Cinderella specification in the broadband world, but whose ultra-low power consumption now makes it a candidate for the cellular IoT. Sequans, Ericsson and Verizon announced that they had run tests on a commercial LTE network, delivering 10Mbps data rates at very low cost and power, and with peaceful coexistence with higher-powered LTE devices.
The new operators:
Facebook and Google both tried to paint pictures in which they had ongoing close alliances with cellular operators, but they managed to visualize a world in which the MNO's role was severely constrained. They are driving new approaches to the network - full WiFi/cellular convergence; harnessing of LTE-Broadcast for social media as well as content; dynamic spectrum allocation on-demand to hundreds of providers; low cost delivery to the 'next billion' world inhabitants. All of these examples see the web giants becoming less over-the-top and actually shaping the network of the future, with the cellcos just providing part of the plumbing, however important that part. The vision will be supported by virtualization and the ability for cloud platforms to support a new generation of network as a service concepts, spanning WiFi, LTE and other connections, and eventually assigning capacity dynamically to large numbers of MVNOs. That is the end game for platforms like XCellAir, which has been spun out of InterDigital. Such services could be run by traditional operators, as AT&T's Domain 2.0 roadmap clearly envisages, but they could equally be controlled by web or IT majors.
The new operating systems:
It isn't all going Google's way though. Android dominated a show in which Apple plays not part (except in everyone's conversations), but the search giant is struggling to control and unify the user experience as large device and service providers create their own user interfaces and developer platforms. Amazon AppStore broke the 400,000 apps mark, for instance, boasting of "huge progress" with its alternative to Google Play. And as smartphones morph into many new types of connected device, many of them driven from the cloud, there may be the chance for different operating systems to break the Android/iOS duopoly. There was considerable interest in the mobile implementations of Windows 10 from Microsoft, while start-up options like Jolla's Sailfish and Mozilla's Firefox Mobile were looking, for the first time, like credible platforms with operator support, not just bright open source ideas.
By the Maravedis-Rethink RAN research team
Mobile operators know that, if they are to have more than a ‘dumb pipe’ role in the internet of things, they will need to cooperate, using their combined weight to influence standards and support global systems.
This is sparking a number of alliances and cooperation deals focused on applications such as smart grid, industrial internet and smart home, and also one of the most immediate IoT markets, the connected car. In this area, Deutsche Telekom and China Mobile have formed a joint venture focused on China's exploding automotive sector.
The 50:50 JV, called Connected Car, will see the German telco contribute its existing automotive telematics platform, and China Mobile will provide the LTE network to support the services, plus integration and the resources of its widespread channel organization.
"Connected Car is a strategic initiative within Deutsche Telekom, while China is of strategic importance for our Connected Car business. The partnership with China Mobile is therefore strategically of utmost importance to Deutsche Telekom," said Deutsche Telekom board member Reinhard Clemens, in a statement.
The venture will create a cloud-based platform based on DT’s technology and deploy network and hardware elements where these are needed on top of China Mobile’s existing infrastructure. The JV will also develop content services, and integrate and operate the systems.
The scale of the market is important for Deutsche Telekom to extend its reach beyond its own territories. There were 137m cars on the road in China at the end of 2013, up from 24m a decade ago, and DT claims the number of connected cars will reach 68m in 2018. The venture will work with the automotive sector to deploy services in new vehicles but also to retrofit existing ones. It will become operational at the beginning of 2015.
One of the most aggressive mobile operators in the connected car world is AT&T, which says it added 500,000 connected cars to its network in the third quarter of this year, bringing its total to two million in the US. This growth shows why AT&T is so involved in the sector, as its traditional SIM-only business added 400,000 subscriptions in the same quarter. Connected cars and their lucrative data plans will likely be one of the main expansion targets of cellcos over the next few years.
At a recent CTIA panel, AT&T’s chief executive of its mobile and business group, Ralph de la Vega, said the connected car would change the entire wireless industry, and added that research suggested there would be 10m connected US cars within the next few years.
AT&T wants to ensure that all occupants of a car are able to use data on the go, whether it’s the driver using GPS navigation, making hands-free calls or listening to podcasts, or perhaps putting Netflix on to silence the kids in the back. AT&T sees the potential revenue from this data, and wants to get in on the action ahead of the competition – in both new cars and on older models.
The other major benefit that arises from the connected car is the telematics and usage data that can be sent to the car’s manufacturer for analysis, allowing a car to more easily communicate to its driver that it needs maintenance or that their driving style is shortening its service life. This data can also be leveraged by insurance providers, but other more general data (such as time of use or road condition) could be passed or sold on to municipalities charged with maintaining the road surface. A number of apps already use the telematics data to provide car-tracking and fuel consumption information to consumers.
On the network side of things, if AT&T builds out its 4G network coverage to include densely travelled locations (read highways) it can guarantee that streaming connections won’t be lost during cell tower handoffs or through gaps in the coverage. Similarly, a 4G network provides better bandwidth than the 3G handsets and tablets in the car might be able to get – especially if a tablet or laptop lacks a cellular radio entirely. Similarly, when the car is parked up, perhaps on an idyllic fishing vacation in the countryside, you can keep the kids happy with a solid internet connection – bringing the comfort of high speed internet to the great outdoors.
Many more connected car projects will emerge from AT&T’s Drive Studio, located in Atlanta, where the company tests and develops its technologies and products. This lists a number of partner companies and sponsors, including Ericsson, Qualcomm LG, QuickPlay Media, Red Bend Software, VoiceBox, Synchronoss, Accenture, Amdocs and Jasper Wireless.
MetraTech purchase expands its BSS/OSS to verticals and IoT, while deals in Australia and Chile include satellite and transport
First, Ericsson announced the acquisition of MetraTech, a US-based provider of billing, commerce and settlement systems based around metadata. Nothing new there, it seemed, since the larger company has been filling out its billing and OSS/BSS portfolio for years. But this was different, because the deal is not focused on carriers, mobile or even wireline, but on areas where there is greater growth in network platforms - vertical markets, especially utilities; and a broader set of providers targeting smart cities, cloud services and the internet of things (IoT).
No price was disclosed for the acquisition but it includes all MetraTech's 140 staff and contractors. As well as expanding Ericsson's US business, which has been its keystone since it acquired the remnants of Nortel, the purchase signals the firm's intention to move aggressively towards providers of IoT and XaaS (everything as a service) offerings.
The company said it would have an enhanced ability to support "customers, partners and suppliers in multiple industries and accelerate the creation and delivery of new value added services. Customers can create fluid, personalized, multi-party agreements to meet unique business needs," said the statement.
"For a range of industries, thriving in the Networked Society means having the ability to quickly support new revenue models and shift strategies as fast as customer and partner needs evolve," said Per Borgklint, SVP and head of business unit support solutions. "MetraTech's metadata-based billing solutions strengthen our extensive OSS and BSS portfolio and billing capabilities across a range of sectors, helping us extend our leadership as we support a world with increasingly more connections."
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, Ericsson has signed the latest in a string of managed services deals. These are vital to its revenue strategy, but this contract, with Australia's NBN (National Broadband Network) organization, is focused mainly on fixed wireless and satellite rather than the mobile systems with which the Swedish vendor is so familiar.
The deal, worth as much as Aus$300m, is to deliver and support services across regional and rural Australia, extending some existing fixed wireless agreements until 2018 and operating third party ground systems for the Long Term Satellite Solution (LTSS), as well as customer service activation. The NBN non-cellular services are planned to cover one million households which are not well covered by wireline or LTE broadband.
Ericsson will help the government-owned NBN (created to implement the state national fixed broadband plan) to meet expected peak installation rates of up to 15,000 households per month in rural Australia in 2016, and it will also manage the migration of 42,000 users of the current, interim satellite system to the LTSS. NBN is charged with bringing fixed broadband to every household, and it says up to 7% of the population will not be accessible with its wireline roll-out. It hired Ericsson in 2011 to build and manage its fixed LTE network.
The contract indicates how next generation networks, especially those targeting rural or emerging markets, will increasingly pull together a variety of available technologies and spectrum bands, including cellular, wireline, WiFi, satellite and fixed wireless - and these will all need to be managed and, in many cases, integrated, an opportunity for managed service providers.
Greg Adcock, NBN's COO, said: "This agreement will enable greater efficiencies and consistency of network management across both our fixed and satellite ground networks."
Another important area of expansion for Ericsson is the smart city, and its latest contract is with Chilean telco Entel. The two companies have signed an agreement wtih the government transport agency, Subtrans, to develop tools to optimize the management of public transportation, initially in capital Santiago.
In a joint pilot, Ericsson will provide a tool allowing Subtrans to monitor the movement of Entel users in the Transantiago bus and metro system. This data will be used by Subtrans to manage the system's resources in a more efficient way, and to identify areas where improvements are needed to the system.
Google's Nest unit, Samsung and ARM head up latest IoT-focused standards group, with focus on 802.15.4 wireless home networks
The Thread Group initially contains Nest, the smart home gadgets maker owned by Google, and Samsung, along with ARM, Freescale, Silicon Labs, Yale Security and ceiling fan maker, Big Ass Fans. Samsung and Google both have devices as their entry point to the smart home, and from there the broader IoT, but have ambitions to influence the whole stack, using 'open' vehicles to try squeeze mutual arch-rival Apple back behind its garden walls.
In contrast to some other recent IoT groupings - such as the AllSeen Alliance, based on Qualcomm's AllJoyn technology, and the Open Interconnect Consortium, led by Intel - Thread aims to standardize the physical network which could then support any of those higher layer standards.
Thread is initially heavily focused on 6LoWPAN, because it is already used by Nest, and because it supports IPv6, important to ensure the IoT is future-proofed against running out of address space. 6LoWPAN is effectively a version of IP for the embedded space, providing a compression format for IPv6 that is optimized for low power, low bandwidth wireless links.
But the new body also hopes to lure the larger base of ZigBee developers, claiming many ZigBee devices could be upgraded to support Thread with just a software update. Attracting a home-focused ZigBee company like GreenPeak would be a valuable endorsement in the first major target market, the smart house.
Thread will add software to the 802.15.4/IPv6 foundation, for functions such as routing, set-up, security and device wake-up, to standardize these capabilities and reduce power. The Thread group will provide testing and certification for its specifications, emulating WiFi and Bluetooth rather than the more splintered ZigBee. Some Nest products already use an early form of Thread, rather than vanilla 6LoWPAN, pointing to the heavy influence of Google's subsidiary on the shape of these specs, though there is also likely to be considerable input from ARM via its Sensinode acquisition. The Finnish software firm was a significant contributor to 6LoWPAN and other low power M2M standards.
To win sufficient critical mass to become a de facto standard, Thread will need to prove superiority over Bluetooth Smart. The new group's backers argue it will do this because 802.15.4 supports true mesh - a useful architecture for home networks and not currently enabled by Bluetooth - and the new Thread additions will promise stronger encryption and IPv6, and even lower power consumption.
The appeal for ZigBee stalwarts - which include Samsung, the only major handset maker to propose implementing the protocol in mainstream smartphones - is that the industry weight of Google might give their standard a boost in the home market, where it has had far less impact than in the industrial world.
"Existing wireless networking approaches were introduced long before the IoT gained ground. The Thread protocol takes existing technologies and combines the best parts of each to provide a better way to connect products in the home," said Vint Cerf, VP and chief internet evangelist for Google and advisor to the Thread Group.
Four chip giants found Open Interconnect Consortium for device discovery, in apparent stab at Qualcomm's AllSeen
Intel, Samsung, Broadcom, Atmel and Intel's subsidiary Wind River are the founder members of the Open Interconnect Consortium (OIC), the latest in a long line of efforts to standardize the way devices discover one another, and communicate, in the world of billions of connected gadgets. Not only does the new consortium include several of Qualcomm's most important competitors, but it is likely to step on some of the territory of the AllSeen Alliance, which supports the AllJoyn discovery technology, devised by the San Diego chip giant.
The OIC is short on details of its approach so far, though it will publish its code later this quarter, but its announcements suggest it will be a rival to AllJoyn in using the weight of its big-name backers to establish a de facto standard. It says it will devise, and contribute to open source, a peer-to-peer protocol which handles device discovery and authentication. However, Intel says the key difference from AllJoyn is that the OIC code will be created collaboratively, rather than forming a supporters' club around an existing technology from a single firm.
This will certainly not be the last body formed to help the big chip vendors - all of them in urgent need of a leadership role in at least some aspects of IoT standards - to position themselves as standards setters. As seen in other technology markets, the array of would-be standards will gradually consolidate as the real market makers - such as the large-scale consumer and industrial devices vendors - make their choices.
In this way, the OIC has scored one big point, by netting Samsung, although the Korean firm's semiconductor division does not necessarily influence the alliances made by its consumer products activities. It will be positive to see some of those market makers taking some decisions, or risk the chip giants tearing IoT platforms into fragments with their politicking, before the segment has even gained scale.
To meet mobile data demands in the second half of the decade, operators look to build two layers, with different base station types
By Caroline Gabriel
There is little room left for architectural debates in the wireless industry - in 2014, the answer is clear. The capacity requirements for wireless networks will be so great that there will be no room for either/or. Operators will be deploying combinations of many approaches on their cell sites, and in addition, making other, more fundamental shifts. Software will become as great a contributor to network capacity as additional hardware, via optimization and smart provisioning tools, while virtualization will be an important way to add density when hardware is reaching its limits.
Mobile data usage will rise by an estimated 12.5 times between 2013 and 2019, from a level Cisco calculated at 1.5 exabytes in 2013. These daunting capacity, coverage and data rate challenges mean traditional approaches will no longer suffice, and over 90% of operators have at least one brand new architecture in their five-year plan, while over one-third plan to use all the key new methods being studied in a new report from Maravedis-Rethink - small cell HetNet, virtualized RAN, new-wave distributed antenna and SuperMIMO - by 2019, somewhere in their systems. The report, Towards the hyper-dense network - the shape of the HetNet 2013-2019, surveyed about 150 mobile operators and found that capex in the period will not be driven primarily by conventional equipment, though the rise in volume roll-outs of LTE worldwide will be an important factor. Instead, there will be a significant shift in operator budgets towards new HetNet platforms, driven by advanced software, virtualization and new access points.
Overall, the operators' response to the capacity challenge is to adopt two layers (at least) of cells, macro for coverage and true mobility, and small cell for capacity and indoor services. A third layer may evolve at the end of the decade for the internet of things (IoT). The two layers underpin a typical three-stage 4G deployment, which most operators plan to follow - 1) coverage first, macro layer-only; 2) quick-fix capacity, often via WiFi or opportunistic small cells; 3) greater virtualization in parallel with a move to hyper-density.
In both the main layers, three architectures can be used, and will often be mixed and matched or even integrated, and run in unlicensed as well as licensed spectrum.
The three architectures are:
- Homogeneous - self-contained macro or small cell base stations, with the baseband, antenna and radio in the same box or located at close quarters.
- Distributed radio or virtualized RAN - where multiple radio/antenna units share a virtualized pool of baseband processing, which may be located on a nearby base station hotel or in the cloud. This evolves to Cloud-RAN.
- Distributed antenna or DAS - where a baseband/RF unit feeds a number of antenna nodes distributed around a building or neighbourhood. Traditionally a large venue solution, smaller and more open approaches are being developed to target small cells.
The next wave of macro innovation is focused on virtualization, and antennas, with technologies such as massive MIMO and Active Antenna System (AAS). In addition, the macro layer will be boosted by the introduction of some key features of LTE-Advanced, such as carrier aggregation, eICIC and CoMP, which will make new dense architectures easier to roll out. These add up to a new wave often called 'Super Macro'.
The number of LTE or multimode macro base stations deployed will peak in 2015, about a year later than we had previously envisaged - continued growth will be driven by the rising interest in macro-first enhancements as well as emerging market roll-outs, which will usually focus on coverage first. After 2015, there will be a decline in the number of macro sites built out for LTE, and over the whole period, there will be a compound annual decline of 4% for base stations, though only 1.8% for macro sites overall because of the shift to software upgrades and virtualization.
Traditional homogeneous macro stations will be a tiny fraction of the market by 2019, while remote radio heads will feature in 25% of deployments still, just ahead of C-RAN. The other architecture to have a significant impact by then will be SuperMacro.
Although there will be a steady shift towards SingleRAN strategies (replacing legacy kit with new, flexible, multimode base stations), rather than overlays, there will be limited addition of brand new sites in the macro layer. Upgrading or overlaying existing sites will be the dominant approach to LTE build-out. All this activity will create an installed base of macro sites that will still top 5m in 2019, with the largest bases in Asia-Pacific and Europe, though there will also have been extensive decommissioning of sites because of new architectures, a shift of attention to the small cell under-layer, and RAN sharing.
Meanwhile, large-scale deployments of public access small cells are still in their infancy, but there is already talk of 'hyper-dense' networks to cope with hotspots of intense data usage. In total, the number of public access small cell sites - sites deployed in a separate layer (distinct spectrum from the macro layer and closer to the ground), and less than 200 meters in radius - will reach an installed base total of over 15m by 2019. These sites will be equipped with a variety of technologies including metrocells, WiFi, DAS and virtualized small cells. This is no longer a market which is only about one technology - self-contained metrocells - but about a combination of options to create data density where required. We have reduced our forecast for metrocells somewhat, but see increased addressable market for complementary technologies, driven by new types of operators including 'WiFi-first' players.
One of the significant shifts in the pattern of deployment, which we noted in our 2013 reports, has been intensifying operator focus on indoor deployment, often at the expense of outdoor. Outdoor dense roll-outs, especially of metrocells, have been pushed back by at least two years on average, while indoor build-out plans have remained unchanged or even been accelerated. The tipping point will be in 2016, when for the first time outdoor cells will be more than one-third of total deployments.
In regional terms, the small cells space is dominated by Asia-Pacific throughout the decade and this is one reason for the steadily increasing importance of TDD spectrum, as several Asian players, notably China Mobile, are TDD-led. However, most MNOs will deploy unpaired spectrum as a capacity option from year three or four of their LTE program - and it will often be focused on small cells, for which the short range of the primary TDD bands, 2.3GHz, 2.5/2.6GHz and 3.5GHz are well targeted.
The report models four alternative scenarios with different balances between the four equipment types, based on the range of possibilities which operators are outlining for their future roll-outs, and a series of variables including product delays/accelerations, emergence of standards, and cost patterns.
Event expected to refocus on its developer roots with programs to expand Android's reach further into wearables and across platforms
The next release of Android is likely to make an appearance, following a firm I/O tradition, and no doubt named after a sweet starting with the letter 'L' (to follow the current KitKat, or 4.4, iteration). It is actually more important whether it is called Android 4.5 or 5.0, since Google is under pressure to deliver a major upgrade this time, as Apple achieved with iOS. For both companies, it will be essential to reshape their smartphone-focused platforms to support completely different experiences - embedded and wearable devices, video-intensive user interfaces, new intuitive search mechanisms powered by deep learning, and so on.
These technologies are starting to take shape in the labs and even in some high profile gadgets like the Nest thermostats, but they need a rich unifying base of apps and web services, something Google will try to encourage with Android Wear, Glassworks and other efforts to extend its software in all directions. Its developer community, and those which have previously been loyal to iOS or Windows, will be looking for some clear and inspiring directions this week.
Some more fundamental changes programmers want include replacing the ageing Dalvik compiler and making 'Android RunTime' (ART) the default in order to help software run more efficiently and prolong battery life. And there may also be an update to OpenGL ES, the 3D programming interface for Android. Efficient graphics languages are vital to modern platforms, to support gaming and other multimedia apps, and adapt mobile platforms for TV, so many will be looking for a new Android to introduce a convincing response to Microsoft's DirectX 12 and Apple's Metal.
There will almost certainly be comprehensive support for 64-bit processors and the ARMv8 architecture this time, pushing Android towards higher end products. This will rob Intel of a headstart it has made in 64-bit Android, but make such capabilities more available and standardized.
The other important tactic for mobile and web players is to expand their platforms into new devices and user bases, notably the internet of things (IoT). Apple was surprisingly low key about its HomeKit and HealthKit services for embedded devices when it launched them earlier this month. Google is likely to be far more flamboyant about its response, Google Fit, which is expected to make its debut at its annual developer conference, I/O, next week.
The search giant has already showed its hand in the smart home with its expensive acquisition of the Nest connected devices firm, but of course its real interest is in the data such gadgets generate, and the services it can layer on top of those. It is expected to add to its home platform at I/O, but also to move into health and fitness monitoring.
According to report, this service will collect data from a wide range of fitness-related trackers, monitors and applications, including smart watches. The platform will aggregate biometric and performance data and feed it into analytics software, and Google is likely to surround its system with a range of wearables manufacturers (and perhaps even buy one, given its recent love affair with making devices).
On that front, Google Fit is likely to integrate closely with devices which are announced or planned for the existing wearables platform, Android Wear. One of the reported products, the Moto 360 smart watch, is still Google's own, at least until Motorola is sold to Lenovo, while LG is expected to be preparing a G Watch, with inbuilt pedometer and touch sensor.
Apple will not be sitting still either. Its history says that it succeeds best when it has platforms and devices in tandem, as with the iPod and iTunes a decade ago. It is widely expected to release the long expected iWatch in the fourth quarter and to tie it closely to HealthKit and to health monitoring applications.
As well as Fit, there will be wearables action in extensions to Android Wear as well as new gadgets from partners, and many are expecting the full release of the Wear software developers' kit (SDK).
Other predictions for the I/O keynote on Wednesday? Yet another attempt to succeed in TV, renaming the disastrous Google TV experiment as Android TV, though sources are divided on whether there will be an actual box, perhaps Nexus-branded, or an open platform. And extensions to the in-car offering, with support and announcements from Google's partners in the Open Automotive Alliance, the equivalent of Android's Open Handset Alliance.
Some pundits think there may be preview handsets based on the Project Ara modular concept, but it's probably too early for real devices, and Google has already outlined the developer aspects in detail. There may be Google devices on the Nexus front though, probably with details of the much-rumored Android Silver program, a new generation of smartphones sporting the 'pure' Google Android experience and co-developed with partners such as LG. Showcasing that user experience, and convincing the faithful that it remains ahead of the game, will be essential to stop developers' (and the media's) eyes straying disloyally towards alternative Android-based platforms like Amazon's new Fire Phone or Samsung's recently enhanced UI.
As the Android Police blog reports, another interesting development which could make its debut this week is Quantum Paper, which one one level is the latest in a series of Google attempts to unify the Android experience, this time with a set of tools and guidelines spanning all kinds of consumer devices.
However, some reports indicate it will go further and that the search giant will seek to assert its influence over the whole mobile world just as the next wave of user experiences - based around HMTL5 and cloud services - is evolving. "Quantum Paper is a hugely ambitious project, looking to unify and codify paradigms for visual, motion, and interaction design across all platforms, including web, Android and iOS," wrote Android Police.
Of course, if it emerges, Paper will hit the same problems as every other attempt to impose uniformity on a mobile world which is by its nature diverse. Makers of products will continue to want to differentiate themselves and promote their brand; developers will chafe at any limits on their freedom to innovate; consumers are always looking for choice and the next big thing. That will remain true in wearables as in handsets - though in the real internet 'things, embedded workaday items for the smart home or factory, there may be a greater logic to having a harmonized platform and interface. It is just not clear that Google and Android will be the optimal choice.