Ofcom consults on white space device operation

Ofcom has today published a consultation on a framework for the operation of white space devices in the UK. 

The consultation includes proposed regulatory requirements and technical specifications for white space devices. 

For more details of the opportunities and – often hidden – threats associated with white space devices, see our recent report on the subject.

Simon Saunders appointed as independent advisor to edge-based mobile core company Quortus

 

Our director of technology, Simon Saunders, has been appointed as an independent advisor to UK-based technology company Quortus.

Quortus provides software solutions for mobile cores across 2G, 3G and 4G. Distinctively, their solutions are designed to run at the edge of the network. For example, it is possible to run an entire mobile core on a 3G femtocell: a complete 3G network in a box the size of a paperback book. This opens up a wide range of applications for mobile networks in remote areas and in special locations such as enterprises. Their approach represents a highly logical extension of  the small cell concept from pushing radio processing to the edge to including the entire core functionality.

Simon joins the technical advisory board of Quortus to assist with technical and strategic issues. The appointment builds on Simon’s previous activities as founding chairman of the Small Cell Forum (formerly Femto Forum).

Quortus’ website and press release provide further details.

Norwegian 2.1 GHz Spectrum Auction Over in Minutes

The Norwegian second auction of 2.1 GHz spectrum concluded in a single round yesterday, with all nine blocks selling at the reserve price of 5 million Norwegian kroner, resulting in all three winners having the same spectrum in this band – approximately 2 x 20 MHz. The winners were:

  • TeliaSonera
  • Telenor
  • Mobile Norway
There were actually five registered bidders in the auction, but two of them withdrew before the start of the auction, one just 24 minutes beforehand.
Full details are available on the NPT website.

Ofcom unveils plans to avoid mobile ‘capacity crunch’ – draws on Real Wireless analysis

Ofcom has announced its plans for use of the 600 MHz spectrum and 700 MHz spectrum. These follow its previous strategic considerations of this band, which was supported by our extensive study on mobile capacity issues. In particular Ofcom has examined the needs for extra capacity under a medium demand growth scenario which we created  and is illustrated below. The extra spectrum capacity is beneficial even given techniques such as LTE-Advanced, small cells and offload to Wi-Fi and femtocells.

In summary, the Statement indicates that:

  • The 700 MHz band may be needed to meet future mobile capacity demand. Although it will not be available until around 2018, there is strong momentum behind international harmonisation of this band for LTE.
  • The 600 MHz band may be needed to preserve digital TV capacity. This band was previously cleared as a result of the switchover from analogue to digital TV, but there is no harmonisation of this band for mobile applications. 
  • However in the interim the 600 MHz band may be available for white space devcie applications. We have supported Ofcom’s work on this by conducting a short audit of the technical analysis conducted by the  BBC to determine the available white space bandwidth. We also previously issued a comprehensive report on the prospects and challenges for white space devices.
For further details see:

ComReg Announces Results of Ireland Multi-band Spectrum Auction

ComReg, the communications regulator for Ireland, has announced the outcomes from its auction of 800 MHz, 900 MHz and 1800 MHz spectrum. In summary:

  • 800 MHz was licensed in three lots of 2 x 10 MHz to Meteor Mobile, Telefonica and Vodafone
  • 900 MHz was licensed in blocks of 2 x 5 MHz (Hutchison 3G) and 2 x 10 MHz (Meteor, Telefonica and Vodafone)
  • 1800 MHz was licensed as 2 x 20 MHz (Hutchison 3G), 2 x 15 MHz (Meteor Mobile), 2 x 15 MHz (Telefonica) and 2 x 25 MHz (Vodafone)
  • The total of fees raised was  €855 million
The licences come with conditions such as achieving 70% population coverage within 3 years and the need to have less than 35 minutes of network outage per 6 month period. The licences are fully tradeable and liberalised (i.e. technology neutral)

NTT DoCoMo announces first LTE and 3G femtocell

While outdoor small cell products supporting both technologies have previously been announced, this is the first intended for small locations such as offices, shops and homes. It delivers up to 112.5 Mbps (DL) / 37.5 Mbps (UL) in LTE mode alongside a 14 Mbps W-CDMA mode. It will be launched commercially from December.

Ofcom finalises 4G auction rules

Ofcom today published its final rules for the 4G spectrum auction in the UK. Key points:

  • The combined total of reserve prices is £1.3 billion
  • Provisional application date is 11th December
  • Bidding begins in January
  • The outcome depends on the bidding process, but bidders should know what they have won and its cost in February/March
  • Ofcom expects resulting services to be launched in May/June
  • Press release
  • Full statement

4G’s here … the last word in mobile network capacity?

The UK’s first 4G service has just gone live with others set to follow next spring, but some people are asking whether anyone really needs faster 4G speeds yet.

In addition, the amount of spectrum that can be used for mobile services is more than doubling with the 4G spectrum auctions that have or will soon take place in Europe. So the future’s bright … our mobile and wireless networks should have the capacity to meet the future demands of consumers and businesses for using our smart phones and wireless broadband services?

However, the amount of data we consume through our mobile devices has been growing frenetically and many expect that growth to continue, particularly as smart phones and tablets become more widespread.

The chart below shows a series of market forecasts that vary widely but all show rapid growth – the Mid forecast shows roughly a 100 times increase in demand for mobile data over the next 10 years. NOTE – it’s plotted on a logarithmic scale which gives a compressed view of how fast demand for data is predicted to increase. Going up one notch on the vertical axis represents an ten-fold increase in demand (not a doubling). So is there perhaps a question to answer despite the imminent arrival of 4G and so much new spectrum. And what could we do if there were a risk of a mobile network capacity crunch in the future?

 

Source: Real Wireless

Does or can government help industry meet soaring demand?

One reason to consider this now is because, if we do need to bring more spectrum on stream in the future, the process is cumbersome to say the least – potentially years of international negotiations and heaps of technical work. In order to get more spectrum in 10 years’ time, we might need to set the wheels in motion quite soon.

The key things to consider are:

  • how fast demand for mobile data may grow in the future, taking into account that some of the demand might be carried over Wi-Fi or indoor small cells (i.e. a mini femtocell or picocell base station inside a home or office)
  • what spectrum may be available for mobile in the future – it also makes a difference whether other countries are considering doing the same thing
  • potential future developments in technologies which could improve mobile network capacity.

My associates, Real Wireless, experts in mobile technologies mapped out the potential future technology enhancements that could increase the capacity of mobile networks in a study for Ofcom. Generally we can identify quite a few techniques now which could be introduced over the next 10 years (despite the uncertainty inherent in technology forecasts):

  • deploying more infrastructure – either outdoor small cells (micro / picocells) or full scale base stations (macrocells)
  • improvements to 4G technologies e.g. LTE Advanced should enable mobile networks to use spectrum more efficiently and flexibly and increase the top speeds mobile networks can deliver
  • techniques to use mobile frequencies more efficiently – e.g. increased sectorisation and use of multiple antenna technologies (MIMO)
  • distributed processing and sharing of traffic loads across multiple cell-sites – e.g. Coordinated multi-point and Cloud RAN.

Real Wireless worked out a number of plausible combinations of these techniques and looked at how much additional spectrum Ofcom is currently predicted to make available for mobile use over the next 20 years – up to 350MHz (which compares well to the 200MHz of 4G spectrum currently being released in Europe). This enabled them to make a good forecast (using information on real geographic areas) of how mobile network capacity is likely to increase in the future.

This allowed mobile data demand to be matched against mobile network capacity (once the fluctuations of mobile data demand during the day were taken into account to get a measure of the peak demand).

Spectrum currently earmarked for mobile could be exhausted in just over a decade

The result is that that there may well be a network capacity crunch, in as little as 10 to 12 years’ time in some areas, even given the likely technological improvements and increased spectrum we currently expect to come on stream.

By capacity crunch we mean that the mobile operators will have exhausted all the techniques for increasing capacity we can currently forecast, and the only way to increase capacity would be a significant expansion in base station sites. This would not only be costly, but physical and planning limitation could mean that a major expansion was unlikely to be feasible, particularly in urban areas.

The result was derived by evaluating the costs of the alternatives for increasing mobile network capacity, i.e. using more of the spectrum available for mobile vs.  new technologies vs. deploying more base stations. The most cost effective way to increase capacity to meet demand was calculated on a rolling 2-3 year basis. The result is shown in the graph below.

 

Source: Real Wireless

What could be done to provide more capacity?

The option that is most in the control of governments and regulators is to try to allocate more spectrum for mobile. It’s likely that any suitable candidates are already being used for something else, hence there would be a cost to society in switching over such spectrum to mobile.

The 700MHz band is one possibility. Although currently used for terrestrial TV broadcasting, moves are afoot in Europe and in other regions to consider possible future mobile use. The 700MHz band is attractive because it may gain broad international support. This would make it more likely that leading handsets would work on it. Also, its physical characteristics mean that it can provide more reliable coverage, and hence capacity, compared to the majority of existing mobile spectrum.

700MHz could alleviate the potential capacity crunch

Our research shows that mobile operators could save substantial sums of money by deploying 700MHz spectrum at the key point in the future, instead of deploying more base stations. Consumers should benefit as well through lower prices and more consistent service quality.

However the timing of when 700MHz is available is important, particularly the closer we are to the worst case scenario of when mobile broadband demand is high and the government cannot release as much spectrum for mobile as it currently expects over the next 10 years.

If 700MHz spectrum were available in 2020, the benefits for mobile operators (and consumers) would be much greater than if it were only available when current 700MHz licences expire in 2026.

If 700MHz is not available until 2026, mobile operators would have to start deploying new base station sites when the capacity crunch hit in 2022 to 2024. Deploying new sites would lock the operators into a certain course of action (to exploit the new sites to the full). The potential cost savings from using 700MHz would be much lower than if 700MHz had been available before the new sites were deployed. In other words, there is a risk that the industry could get locked into the wrong technology path.

Conclusions

Despite the exciting changes that 4G is likely to make to our smartphone and tablet experiences, regulators and mobile operators have to keep an eye on the future needs of the mobile networks. Our technological inventiveness may not be enough to avoid a capacity crunch 10 years down the line, hence the mobile sector is likely to need even more spectrum, preferably harmonised on a European or wider basis.

The 700MHz spectrum is potentially a good prospect, but the cost savings it could bring need to be offset against the costs of clearing out the existing broadcasting users.

 

Full details of the work, including an illustrative video, download of the full report and a link to Ofcom’s use of analysis in their UHF strategy consultation are available at:

http://www.realwireless.biz/mobile-capacity-in-the-uk-major-study-published/