Ever thought about where to site your mobile data connectivity service? I have to admit I’ve not spent much time on it myself. I’d probably come up with a topographical map of where I was providing the service and plan a series of base stations to give me optimum coverage – most bang for my buck. Nothing new really.
That’s why the chart on the right makes interesting reading. Provided by Ruckuswireless the graph shows the relative demand density for data usage in Mbps per 10m2 based on type of location. Most of the high demand locations are indoor. The high street, which is where most of us would think of putting in capacity ranks 8th.
In the wifi hotspot game first mover advantage is becoming critically important. Experience shows that landlords everywhere are initially happy to allow a network provider into their mall/stadium/building. Once in however they decide they don’t want the hassle of doing it again or don’t really like the infrastructure they are now stuck with but have to keep.
As a result there is a market for the first movers in reselling capacity or subletting space on their infrastructure. We are therefore seeing a land grab in places around the world where operators are snapping up as many sites as they can.
In London The Cloud is looking at 1 hotspot per 200 persons. Time Warner is putting 15,000 wifi access points in Los Angeles and PCCW have 10,000 hotspots in Hongkong where peak time traffic has 50% going over wifi instead of mobile networks. For PCCW in Hong Kong their resold wholesale wifi capacity is their single biggest revenue stream1.
Spectrum is the key resource in the mobile network game. It is what the operators paid billions of pounds (arguably too much too soon) each for during the 3G auctions. Users for the services weren’t there and nor were the handsets that would encourage bandwidth consumption.
It is a different game today. Don’t be surprised to see even greater sums of money paid for 4G spectrum. It would be commercial suicide for a mobile operator to not have any.
Spectrum when allocated is then divided into 20MHz bandwidth slots. 20MHz of spectrum allows for an 80Mbps data throughput using LTE. If you double this to a 40MHz slot you double the throughput. The higher the spectrum frequency you have therefore the more capacity your network can handle.
The downside is that the higher the spectrum frequency the lower the range and the harder it is to penetrate objects such as buildings. The lower frequencies are preferred for rural deployments – Vodafone in Germany used 800MHz for this. There isn’t a “right mix” of spectrum to own however. Vodafone operates in 30 markets and each market has different spectrum requirements.
The mobile networks are built up from thousands of base stations around the country, connected back to the operators’ core networks using a variety of backhauls. Once the media hits the core network the voice/data session is directed as appropriate.
The backhaul technology has developed over time from E1s/ATM to Ethernet (fibre) with wireless connections thrown in where necessary.
Base stations, known in the business as Macrocells, contain the transmission and battery backup equipment to support a variety of call and data handling capacities (typically up to 250 simultaneous users) dependent on location. This equipment has historically taken a lot of space – it would probably fill the average master bedroom at home, requires expert installation and, because there is a mast involved to hold antennae at some height, needs Local Authority planning permission.
Technology developments mean that this kit can now fit into a single wardrobe.
If you’re wondering what these seemingly random travel related posts are its because I’m in Dresden this week at the IWPC workshop on LTE small cell deployment strategies. Very interesting. These are long days though so you will probably have to wait until I get home for a report.
The video is of the funicular railway that took us up to the Luisenhof restaurant in Dresden. The view from up there is spectacular, or so I’m told. It was chucking it down when we were there so we couldn’t see much. We probably wouldn’t have noticed anyway – far too engrossed in the subject of LTE small cells.
The pic on the right is a sample of what the very excellent restaurant had to offer.
Continuing with the day’s theme of the O2 LTE (4G) trials I found myself back in the Devonshire Arms with Cliff Saran of Computer Weekly. I’ll leave most of the story to Cliff and his column but I herewith provide you with the video footage of 4 more iPlayer streams – we could have streamed more but screen size becomes an issue.
At the Piazza in Covent Garden I uploaded a 298MB video in eight minutes at 9Mbps uplink speed.
In the Devonshire Arms I videoed the process of setting up the iPlayer streams and then uploaded that video again to YouTube so that we could compare performance with the Covent Garden upload.
I have to be careful here because whilst I am a Samsung fan I have no desire to be labelled a fanboi in the manner of Apple afficionados. Samsung has announced a media event at Earls Court on Thursday 3rd May and the speculation is that this will be the Galaxy S3 launch. This might be exciting.
I use a Galaxy S2 which is as far as I am concerned still a great phone. There has to be a lot of new functionality for me to want to upgrade – certainly more than appears to have been the case with the various flavours of iPhone churned out over the last 12 months.
4G is like lightning, it’s an eye opener and seriously enhances the mobile data experience. This post talks about the truly exciting O2 4G trials in London and thinks about how the technology is going to change the mobile game.
Mobile data is already an important feature in the business communication landscape. As an ISP we see demand for it in the area of machine to machine, rapid site deployment, backup solutions for Disaster Recovery scenarios and of course straightforward internet browsing and email access from mobile devices.
The strategic importance of mobile data has even led Timico to invest in an Ethernet connection direct into the O2 network. We can now offer mobile MPLS solutions that sit within the same environment as existing fixed line MPLS networks – ideal for businesses that need security in both fixed and mobile networks.
Over the last year or two in the UK the focus in fixed line broadband has been on Fibre To The Cabinet, or in marketing jargon Fibre Broadband. With downlink speeds of “up to”40Mbps (to be upgraded to 80Mbps this coming April) the technology is revolutionising how people use their broadband connection. Add in the growth in high quality streaming video and gaming services and it is easy to see how the additional available bandwidth will be consumed.
Until very recently the mobile world, in the UK at least, has remained firmly in the domain of 3G – a technology that now seems relatively stone aged compared with Fibre Broadband. HSDPA makes the experience more bearable but it is still many Mega-bits apart from its fixed line counterpart.
The mobile companies are poised to change all this with LTE (Long Term Evolution) otherwise known as 4G. Trials are being conducted in a small number of locations in the UK. Timico is the first O2 Service Provider partner to be invited onto their London trials I am pleased to be able to report on my experiences.
This service is like lightning. It’s fast, speedy, call it what you like it’s a life changer. It’s been one of those projects that has been a pleasure to be involved in.
With only 25 masts around central London coverage is nowhere near what you would describe as ubiquitous but this is only a trial. When in a coverage area the speeds are great.
I started off in McDonalds at Kings Cross with a dongle fresh out of the box. After installation of the software, which was easy, the dongle performed an automatic firmware upgrade, also easy, using its own 4G connection.
At McDonalds I was getting over 13Mbps down and 540Kbps up which in my mind was a bit disappointing though I’m not sure it should have been. I have experimented with O2s 4G at their offices in Slough and seen much faster speeds both up and down than this. In fact this speed at McDonalds is faster than I get from my home ADSL2+ connection so I couldn’t grumble.
I knew I could do better than this. Roaming around town on the top deck of a number 25 bus I got 15.5Megs down and amazingly 25Megs up – near Wardour Street. The ping times for all these measurements were impressive.
In torrential rain I moved around on foot dipping into various places to check out the speeds and moving generally towards known good hotspots.
In the end I took shelter in a pub called the Devonshire Arms on Duke Street, just off Oxford Street. Sat in the window and sipping a cup of tea I hit the jackpot with 40Megs down and 23 Megs up. I did various tests including varying the browser – Chrome was much better than IE. I also did video calls with both Timico’s own VoIP service and Skype.
The screenshot on the right is of four iPlayer daytime TV streams. The things you have to do to get a blog post written!
The highest I have seen recorded is 97Megs in the O2 Arena itself. The 2,600 MHz LTE itself will go to 150Megs but the dongle tech doesn’t currently support this. We do have to remember this is very much a test rather than a production rollout so it isn’t going to be perfect but even considering this the experience has been great.
There were a few observations to be made out of this trial. The raw speed I saw with O2s 4G was terrific when in good coverage areas. The amount of data you can download in a very small amount of time is going to change the game. In upgrading the dongle firmware for example I used 50MB in around a minute. If you consider that until recently a typical “fair use” policy for an “unlimited” data package was 500MB then you can see that the model is going to have to change. The backhaul capacity that mobile operators are going to have to build in to their networks is going to have to see growth measured in orders of magnitude.
Spectrum allocation for 4G rollout is going to be very important. At 2,600MHz the bandwidth you can get is much higher than at 800MHz, say. However the in-building penetration at the higher speed is not as good so the overall network design represents an interesting (though not insurmountable I’m sure) challenge for engineers. This makes the forthcoming Ofcom spectrum auction important – there is a mix of spectra that is going to be optimum for commercial success.
As a side note it is going to be interesting to see how much the operators are prepared to pay for spectrum – they all think they overpaid for 3G but the demand has not been there for most of the time that 3G has been around. It is different this time and people are starting to get used to paying for the bandwidth they use.
From an end user perspective the ability to have genuinely fast internet access on your laptop, tablet or mobile phone is going to change their experience. Whilst WiFi is becoming more common, at least in pubs, coffee shops and other public places the need to authenticate is still a nuisance. Also not having to wait whilst a screen loads up on your mobile phone needs to become a human right!
It is certainly going to drive more business into the mobile environment. Timico, for example, gives all its salesforce an iPad so that they can demonstrate Timico applications and our customer portal on the fly at a customer’s premises. An iPad with 40Megs of bandwidth all of a sudden becomes a low cost endpoint for a telepresence HD conferencing system.
The gaming experience is going to be great1. Who knows what mobility combined with high speed internet will do for that industry, freed from the shackles of the lounge or the bedroom. City wide action games? Orienteering for the 21st century?
The use of mobile technology for backup purposes will also extend into many more areas of businesses. Typically 3G is used where only low bandwidth is required or where any bandwidth is better than no bandwidth. 4G becomes a viable solution for offices – even company HQs.
Of course with many more people on a production 4G network the average speeds available may well come down but LTE really is a game changer.
It’s nice to to be in a position of being able to play with these new toys but there is a very serious business side to this. As those of you who have met me recently will probably know I’ve been testing the technology for a few weeks now – Timico is the first O2 service Provider partner to be given access to their 4G network. It forms part of the long term mobile data strategy of our business and follows nicely on from the direct connection into the O2 network I referred to at the start of the post.
I should finish off with a big thank you to O2 for including me in the trials. It’s good to be able to work with such a progressive partner.
1 I’m not a gamer but one of my kids would spend his entire live tethered to the Xbox. I have heard the tinny VoIP it emits.
I am not at Mobile World Congress, Barcelona. I have had a number of emails asking for meetings at the exhibition. They obviously aren’t using the attendee list for their mailing.
It’s ok though because almost every tech journalist I know is there and there will be a lot of coverage. It’s even made BBC primetime with Rory Cellan Jones trying (and failing apparently) to broadcast a report using the 4G network at the venue.
At MWC this year there are over 1,400 exhibitors. It is surely impossible to visit all stands. One journo I know has a table at a café and has invited anyone with news to book a slot for coffee/lunch/beer. That way he won’t wear out his shoes traipsing around the 11 or so exhibition halls. The value in these shows is not normally at company stands but in the networking opportunities at bars and restaurants.
Also in my experience each event needs to put together a best 50 powerpoint slides of the show. That way you miss out all the sales gough and cut to the chase (and can spend more time “networking”).
These are expensive events to attend – both as exhibitors and attendees. Realistically it’s a thousand pounds minimum spend per person if you want to pop along taking airfare hotel and meals into account. If you are a large corporate and not spending your own money it is probably twice that.
If you are not a journalist the only sensible way to do it is by reading about it online. For example I have just read in the Guardian online that this year Nokia is launching PureView camera phone with 41 Megapixels.
Interesting how technology dynamics have changed. It used to be that bigger and bigger Microsoft software footprints would chew up any progress made under Moore’s Law by the PC manufacturers. Now the race has changed to mobile handsets and connectivity speeds.
My Samsung Galaxy has an 8Megapixel camera and takes 3Mbytes photos. The 41Megapixel camera should proportionally take over 10 Mbytes of memory per shot. Last summer I wrote that I would be taking photos with a 40Megapixel phone by 2016 and discussed how connectivity speeds needed to keep pace with smartphone technology for access to the cloud.
Nokia seems to have blown the 2016 forecast out of the water although note that there is no mention of the PureView on their website – CEOs need to have something exclusive to talk about at expensive shows I guess.
The fact that the BBC has been talking 4G is a sign that the technology race is about to step up a gear. Whilst broadband speeds have started to climb, for the majority of us in any case, the UK is behind the curve on mobile – we haven’t even sorted out who gets which spectrum yet. Faster mobile data connectivity and in particular more bandwidth to cope with the increased usage that that faster connectivity will bring is going to be critical.
“Mobile” is where the future battles for country competitiveness of a country is going to be fought. Mobile applications, mobile ecommerce, “mobile anything” will depend on good connectivity. For the last two or three years here in the UK we have been talking about the need to have faster fixed line broadband – to have the “best fibre broadband network in Europe by 2015”. The focus of the debate now needs to start shifting to mobile.
Everyone Everywhere (pun intended) will have heard of Ofcom’s decision to re-enter consultation over the LTE or 4G mobile spectrum allocation. Issued late on Friday afternoon the statement regarding the delay caused by reopening the consultation has already attracted comments re “hiding bad news over the weekend”.
There were 64 responses that included the A to W of stakeholders in the UK (nothing from X, Y or Z). The Association of Train Operating Companies was mainly concerned to ensure that good coverage at high, sustained download speeds is ensured along the whole of the GB mainline rail network. At the other end of the alphabet both the Welsh government and Wiltshire Council wanted better coverage in rural areas with the latter quoting a target figure of 99% of the population.
More pressure has been piled on Ofcom and the government by the publication of a report by the Open Digital Policy organisation suggesting that delays to the UK 4 G license auctions will cost the country dear. The delay to the auction has been caused by apparent threat of legal action by a number of carriers including O2.
ODP looked at the speed, capacity and coverage improvements next generation mobile broadband (known as 4G or LTE) is likely to bring, and estimated that over 37 million business hours per year could be saved from faster mobile data downloads if 4G mobile technology was to be deployed sooner than is currently planned.
Earlier this year I chaired a debate on mobile spectrum allocation at Portcullis House in Westminster. The issue of 4G spectrum allocation is a hot potato. The three largest mobile carriers O2, Vodafone and Everything Manyplaces, have existing voice bandwidth that they are being allowed to reuse for data. 3 does not so this delay will not only cost UK business but will likely have a deleterious effect on the number 4 operator (this is clearly a numbers game).