EE is doing a good job at building up market expectation. Today the mobile network operator launched its pricing plans, available from the end of this month.
Consumers can have unlimited calls and texts with 500MB of data for £36. Remembering that I used 60MB of data in one minute on the O2 LTE trials I suspect that not many people will stay on this plan. The options are:
I assume that this comes with a phone though it isn’t clear. Their site suggests you can get the Nokia Lumia 920, 820, Samsung Galaxy S3 LTE and Note 2 LTE, HTC One XL and the iPhone5 plus a few other also rans (sorry).
If you use up your data allowance you won’t be able to access the internet until you buy a data add-on (ok). It isn’t entirely clear but it looks like the cost of a data add on is £6 for 500MB or £15 for 2GB so it makes sense to get your plan right in the first place.
I note there is a roaming package for £5 a month though this doesn’t seem to apply to data which in my mind is what I am most likely to use when roaming – checking restaurants, bars, local attractions (library locations etc).
The speeds are quoted at 8 – 12Mps on average.
It also looks as if they will not be blocking VoIP
Just spoke with an Orange customer service representative. They sent me an email asking if I’d like to sign up for an iPhone5. Here’s the rub. Nobody has a date for availability of LTE yet. Moreover Orange and TMobile won’t be offering it. You will have to go to a brand new company known as EE to get the service.
I’m thinking this is likely to be the beginning of the end for the Orange and TMobile brands. In time all services will be 4G and according to this logic existing Orange and TMobile customers will have mostly migrated to EE. Quite clever.
The Orange person was unable to give me a date for when EE would be up and running or when one would be able to sign up for 4G though anyone buying an iphone5 from them now could be migrated in due course.
The iPhone5 est arrive. This year has seen a long list of major events come and go. Now it’s the turn of the iPhone5. Ordinarily this would do nothing for me. From what I can see the spec, in the main, is no better than the Samsung GalaxyS3. I’m not a zombie fanboi, activated by keywords in Apple marketing material, programmed to obey unquestioningly, asking only how much money to profer on the altar of the fruit.
The one feature that the iPhone5 has that makes me think about getting it is support for 1,800MHz. This is a massive coup for EE (eh?). We don’t have a real list of LTE alternative handsets yet. All the main manufacturers are on the list. I don’t want two S3s (my current phone is an S3 on O2) and I don’t see a compelling enough reason to go Lumia.
My attitude to Lumia might change when Windows8 is properly launched but for the moment it aint. So it looks like iPhone5 then.
I’m not totally convinced. Do I really want to toss my principles aside for the sake of using a LTE service that won’t work in my home town using a handset that won’t roam on any other network?
I was back in my London pied a terre garret last week – the Kings Cross Traveloge (header photo is view from my room lifted from their promotional literature). I was heading out to dinner for the evening but hooked up to the O2 LTE trial service to finish off some stuff.
I was getting 15Mbps down which was good. Seeing as I was going to be out all evening I decided to run a usage test based on 5 video streams. I loaded 3 iPlayer and 2 ITV streams (for a bit of variety – no other reason though I’d consider myself more of a BBC man than ITV – it’s Blue Peter versus Magpie for those of a certain age) and watched the usage grow.
The screenshot below is at the beginning. I’d been online for 39 mins and in that time downloaded 135MB.
Ever wondered how they go about deciding where to put a new cellular base station? It’s a fairly complicated process. It’s also very much site specific, awkward locations, landlords, etc. but as an average the following table is a fair reflection of the effort (source Accelera Mobile Broadband with some O2 validation).
New site verification
On site visit: site details verification
On site visit: RF survey
New site RF plan
Neighbours, frequency, preamble/scrambling code plan
Interference analyses on surrounding sites
Implementation on new node(s)
Field measurements and verification
7.5 man days
Now just imagine the urban 4G/LTE scenario we have been discussing, where there are ten times as many small cells as in the existing macrocell model. Research org ABI has forecast that there will be 5 million small cells by 2015.
That’s a lot of site surveys using the traditional model. A lot of man days. The only sensible answer is to deploy Self Organising Network. SONs seem to have some way to go before they are mature enough for full scale deployment but there is time, in the UK at least.
A SON has, in theory all the features you might expect from the name. Cells should self-configure, regularly self-optimize parameters and algorithmic behaviour in response to observed changes in network performance and atmospheric conditions. Self-healing mechanisms can be triggered to temporarily compensate for a detected equipment outage whilst waiting for a permanent fix. Nirvana really – plug and play. As we have already found out in the lamp post story plug and play is probably some time away but it will come.
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.
In an idle moment last night whilst simultaneously watching the snooker and browsing Twitter I asked the important question of our time. Does anyone have a favourite agricultural equipment? This was totally random but it was amazing how many people responded – all blokes.
Rob immediately came back and said “David Brown tractor” as his dad used to build them. That’s cool especially as it turns out David Brown used to own Aston Martin (hence DB5) and Lagonda. I wonder how many gears that tractor has.
I thought plough had a certain earthiness to it. Note the video at the bottom of this post was taken in October 2010 just outside Lincoln (England) at the World Ploughing Championships. Check it out and note the O2 LTE upload medium.
Did you know1 that LTE was launched in the USA in December 2010 where a most aggressive competition between operators has been taking place, led by Verizon? In the USA LTE has high penetration across all devices, comes at no premium over 3G data services and LTE users typically use around 50% more data than 3G users.
LTE was also launched in Germany in December 2010 but has had a slow adoption rate with the initial focus being on fixed/mobile substitution. This I understand is in part due to regulations ensuring that owners of LTE bandwidth have to service “the final third” as part of their licensing arrangements. There isn’t much of a choice of devices on LTE in Germany.
South Korea was relatively late to the game here. They launched in July 2011 but had nationwide coverage by mid 2012 and has the highest penetration rate, focussed mainly on selling to consumers. LTE has brought innovative new services to the South Koreans eg richer high quality interactive maps.
Norralorrapeople know this. Brings the scheduling of 4G in the UK into perspective doesn’t it?
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.
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.
How do you cram a debate on the future of mobile services, data roaming and spectrum into an hour and a half? At last night’s Digital Economy All Party Political Group at Portcullis House in Westminster we made a pretty good job of it with a panel consisting of Hugh Davies, Director of Corporate Affairs for mobile network 3,Brian Williamson of Plum Consulting, Ruy Pinto of Inmarsat and Raj Sivalingham of Intellect.
This debate was hot on the heels of last week’s successful back bench motion by Rory Stewart, MP (Penrith and Cumbria) which called upon Ofcom to specify 98% mobile broadband coverage in the 4G auction in 2012.
3 stated that this is doable with existing base station infrastructure provided they received suitable low frequency spectrum allocation in the auction. O2 and Vodafone have already been reallocated spectrum out of their existing 900 and 1800MHz 3G licenses.