Real Wireless visit Critical Communications World 2013 in Paris

Real Wireless was in attendance at the 15th annual Critical Communications World conference on its opening day in Paris yesterday. This is the first time Real Wireless has attended this event which attracts over 120 exhibitors from across the world showcasing the latest critical communications products, networks and services.

The show was hosted at the Parc Exposition in Villepinte Paris Nord and runs over three days this week. Each day there is a theme relating to critical communications and Wednesday saw Critical Communications for Transport Users. This featured talks from vendors and integrators discussing the latest applications and case studies for use in the worlds transport systems. In addition, the show featured TETRA World Congress in which members in this community discuss different topics such as in-building public safety coverage, future of critical communications and personal security communications.

Exhibitors were differentiating themselves with highly interactive applications from control room dispatcher suites through to fully integrated TETRA networks which incorporated the VoIP, location based services and new data services. Also on show is a lot of hardware including antennas, handsets, tablet-like data terminals and cars packed with critical communications features.

LTE featured prominently at the event too with some vendors introducing LTE into their critical communications suite of products with some vendors supporting 700 MHz band and others, mainly European vendors, supporting the 400 MHz currently. Discussions with other delegates and visitors suggested that LTE still needs to find a place in global critical communications due to the disparity of spectrum availability within different global regions, with Europe high on the agenda. However, this has not deterred vendors from utilising the technology itself either in a region that can support a suitable frequency band or in the case of one large vendor in very remote areas where no frequency assignments are made which was deployed for M2M services.

The event show cased a lot of innovation with smaller players demonstrating some very interesting solutions and not just in private mobile and TETRA bands but making use of public cellular and Wi-Fi. This indicates a recognition that critical communications, or services that can support critical communications can find many different methods of delivering what is needed to end users. Overall the critical communications industry continuously strives to enhance the end user experience and address the growing demands of end users across all sectors from emergency response to transport and utilities.

Real Wireless will continue to play its role in supporting the critical communications sector by way of building relationships across the ecosystem and identifying the opportunities that will help the industry grow and move forward within a highly competitive and innovative sector.

The hidden secrets of the UK’s 4G Auction

The UK’s 4G auction was completed in February and Ofcom published detailed information on the bids made in the auction soon after. I thought it would be interesting to sift through this information in order to bring out the story of what happened in the auction and see if there were any indications of the mobile operators’ wider strategy.

So I put my deerstalker on and went through the data looking for clues. I was lucky with the auction design which let operators switch between a number of different types of spectrum ‘lot’. I’ll explain below how each time an operator jumped between different lot types, they left vital clues behind to unravel the secrets of the auction. However, this is still a work of deduction (though not detective fiction I hasten to add) and although the conclusions might not stand up in a court of law, I hope they make interesting reading.

A brief description of the auction design (skip if you’re already familiar)

Ofcom issued hundreds of pages of documentation about the auction, but I thought it would be useful to condense it into a few points. Ofcom auctioned two basic types of spectrum:

  • low frequency spectrum in the 800MHz band, better for penetrating walls and providing good quality reception inside buildings (important because a lot of mobile broadband use takes place in the home or office) but a substantially lower amount of spectrum – 2x30MHz – on offer.
  • higher frequency spectrum in the 800MHz band, less good at providing good quality reception inside buildings, but the larger amounts on offer – 2x70MHz  and 1x50MHz – means faster download speeds can be provided than with 800MHz.

The 800MHz band was split into two categories. One category had a coverage obligation – to cover 98% of the population by the end of 2017. The other category was free of any coverage obligation. The 2.6GHz band was split into 4 categories including paired spectrum and unpaired spectrum.

In the auction, participants bid for combinations of spectrum “lots” in the different categories and specified how much in each they wanted. Most of the bidders had caps on how much they could buy in total and in specific bands. This was done to ensure that market would be competitive after the auction.

Bidders could switch between lots of different types, at a fixed rate that stayed the same during the auction.  For example, the one 800MHz lot with the coverage obligation had twice as much spectrum (2x10MHz) as the four 800MHz lots without the obligation (2x5MHz each) and bidders were able to switch from the former to the latter at a rate of 2:1.

At the beginning of the auction, bidders specified how much spectrum they would initially bid on at the reserve price, and this set their eligibility – how much spectrum they could bid on in the next round. Bidders could reduce the amount of spectrum they bid for as the auction progressed (thus reducing their eligibility as the auction progressed). However, bidders were not allowed to increase they amount of spectrum bid on, i.e. bid more than their eligibility.

There were a number of phases to the auction and I focus on the primary bid rounds and the supplementary bids round, which are the most important for determining the winners and giving clues as to their wider strategies.

In the primary rounds, prices increased round by round (and demand fell in response) until the total demand for the spectrum equalled the amount available – there were 52 primary rounds. The supplementary bids round is a single round that follows the primary bid rounds. It gives bidders greater flexibility to express how much they are willing to pay for spectrum, consistent with how they bid in the primary bid rounds.

The overall progression of prices and demand in the auction

Before looking into the detail, I’ve put together some charts to give an overview of how the bidding ran in the primary rounds. The first chart shows how the prices changed round by round for 800MHz and 2.6GHz and the second chart shows the total number of lots demanded in each category.

Evolution of lot prices in the primary rounds

Evolution of total demand for lots in selected classes in the primary rounds

 

The competition for 800MHz spectrum

In round 16, Everything Everywhere, the UK’s largest operator, becomes the first operator to reduce its demand for the more valuable and strategically significant 800MHz. It then stops bidding entirely on 800MHz spectrum in round 24.

At this stage in the auction EE risks missing out on 800MHz spectrum if the price were to keep rising substantially. However it may be a smart move if it brings the bidding on 800MHz to an end more quickly (and more significantly at a lower price). EE will be able to modify how much it bids in the supplementary bids round, though its room for manoeuvre will be limited. . Moreover, EE has a substantial amount of 1800MHz spectrum, which it is already using to offer 4G services, and it may see this as a good back up if 800MHz becomes too expensive.

H3G is the second major operator to drop out of bidding for 800MHz in round 30. H3G knows it is very likely to win at least one block of 800MHz spectrum, because of Ofcom’s competition rules which limit the amount of 800MHz spectrum that O2 and Vodafone could win to 2x10MHz and because it is better placed than EE which dropped out of the bidding for 800MHz earlier.

The final burst of activity in the two 800MHz categories determines which out of O2 and Vodafone is likely to get the spectrum with the coverage obligation.

Interestingly, before the auction started, O2 argued that the price per MHz in the two 800MHz categories should be the same, whereas Vodafone argued that there should be a discount on the price of the lot with the coverage obligation. If the value of 800MHz spectrum were similar for Vodafone and O2 we should expect O2 to be willing to pay more for the lot with the coverage obligation than Vodafone.

As I said before, bidders could switch between 800MHz lots with and without the coverage obligation at a rate of 2:1. Now, if the extra cost due to the coverage obligation were minimal (e.g. if an operator would have met the coverage targets with or without the obligation) the coverage obligation would be worth twice as much as the lot without – reflecting difference in spectrum between the two lots.

However, the ratio of the starting (reserve) prices is significantly lower at 1.11 because Ofcom was cautious about the cost of the coverage obligation when setting the starting point.

So, excess demand is much greater for the coverage obligation lot early on in the primary rounds because it is relatively cheap compared to the other 800MHz lot. This causes the relative price of the coverage obligation lot to rise and it reaches 2 in round 40. At this point, Vodafone switches to the lot without the obligation and supply equals demand in both 800MHz categories as a result.

The case of the 2.6GHz lots

The bidding on 2.6GHz spectrum is seemingly straightforward, but there’s a twist at the end which any writer of detective fiction would be proud of (OK perhaps I’m exaggerating a little here). Up to round 27, the available 2.6GHz spectrum is more than three times oversubscribed and there is little change in the bids of the major operators. Then, Vodafone cuts its bid for paired 2.6GHz spectrum in half to 2x20MHz, and marginally increases its bid for unpaired spectrum (to 45MHz).

H3G makes a similar move to Vodafone, in round 30, reducing its bid on paired 2.6GHz spectrum by more than half to 2x20MHz and increasing its bid for unpaired spectrum marginally. H3G also drops out of the bidding for 800MHz at this point, suggesting that prices could be nearing its underlying values or that H3G may be close to a budget limit –H3G had bid just under £1.5 billion, though it bid nearly £1.7 billion in the supplementary bids round.

In the next round, 31, it’s O2’s turn to reduce significantly the amount of 2.6GHz spectrum it bid for (both paired and unpaired). This still leaves substantial excess demand for the 2x70MHz of paired 2.6GHz spectrum available – H3G, Niche (BT), O2 and Vodafone are each bidding for 2x20MHz and EE for 2x40MHz.

Similarly there’s also substantial excess demand for the 45MHz of unpaired 2.6GHz spectrum – H3G, Hong Kong Telekom, Niche (BT) and Vodafone each bidding for 45MHz and O2 for 15MHz.

Things move steadily on until EE makes a dramatic grab for the unpaired 2.6GHz spectrum (and stops bidding on the paired spectrum) in round 38. EE is the only one left bidding for the unpaired 2.6GHz spectrum at the end of the primary bid rounds and Vodafone, O2 and Niche are the only bidders remaining for the paired 2.6GHz spectrum.

But, just one more thing, as Columbo might say. I’ve forgotten the supplementary bids stage. The final twist is that the positions at the end of the primary bid rounds are overturned in the supplementary bids round. So the final result is that Niche and Vodafone win the unpaired 2.6GHz spectrum instead of EE, while Vodafone Niche and EE win the paired 2.6GHz spectrum.

Conclusions

Ofcom should be satisfied with how the auction ran. Bidders did respond as economic theory predicts to changes in the relative prices of the different lots in the auction and it showed the importance of having a supplementary round to extract more information about what bidders were willing to pay. There is no clear evidence to suggest that bidders were trying to ‘game’ the auction, i.e. put in spurious bids to trick their competitors (although there are some bids that are more difficult to explain in the two minor categories I haven’t talked about).

The competition proposals did probably affect behaviour in the bidding for 800MHz, although there was still a reasonable amount of bidding activity and the overall amount of money raised, when corrected for population, was similar to other European 800MHz auctions.

Aligning Small Cell Incentives, London 19 Sept

Aligning Small Cell IncentivesEvent: Aligning Small Cell Incentives
Date: 19 September 2013 
Venue: London 
What: We have suggested this event and are working with Cambridge Wireless to create a full programme.  

The need for small cells is now well established, giving an opportunity for mobile operators to deliver ever-increasing levels of capacity while improving user experience, despite limited spectrum and technology gains.  However, getting the best from small cells requires the alignment of the incentives for small cells amongst several parties with distinct and potentially conflicting needs.

The event will bring together experts from every element of the small cell value chain to share their experiences of recent high-profile deployments and ‘war stories’ concerning the lessons they have learnt on how to get the best from small cells.

“Small Cells – Big Impact” – University of Oxford Forum Discussion

Our Director of Technology, Simon Saunders, joined a University of Oxford Forum discussion to respond to some frequently – and not so frequently – asked questions regarding small cells.

The transcript follows for your interest (this has been gently edited to align the threads of the discussion. The original is at http://linkd.in/11S10VW)

 ForumOxford Free Friday chat – 10 May – Dr Simon Saunders joins us to discuss ‘Small Cells – Big Impact’ at 15:00 (UK) – 16:00 (CEST)

Join our eighth Free Friday chat group, featuring Dr Simon Saunders, Director – Technology, Real Wireless (http://www.realwireless.biz/).

Topic for discussion on Friday 10 May 2013 – ‘Small Cells – Big Impact’.

Subjects for this week:

- What are small cells?
– Classification of small cells (pico, metro etc)
– Why do mobile networks need small cells?
– Implications for small cells and LTE
– What are the technical innovations which have allowed small cells to emerge now?
– What is the state of the market?
– Prospects and challenges for the future?
– What does Cisco’s acquisition of Ubiquisys tell us about the state of the small cell market?
– What about inter-vendor interoperability?
– Small cells versus Wi-Fi?
– Backhaul?

About Dr Simon Saunders:

Simon is an independent specialist in the technology of wireless communications, with a technical and commercial background derived from senior appointments in both industry (including Philips and Motorola) and academia (University of Surrey). As co-founder of Real Wireless, he is responsible for overall technical capability and direction.

He is an author of over 150 articles, books and book chapters. He has acted as a consultant to companies including BAA, BBC, O2, Ofcom, BT, ntl, Mitsubishi and British Land and was CTO of Red-M and CEO of Cellular Design Services Ltd.

Simon speaks and chairs a wide range of international conferences and training courses and has invented over 15 patented wireless technologies. Particular expertise includes in-building wireless systems, radiowave propagation prediction, smart antenna design and mobile system analysis.

He has served on technical advisory boards of several companies, was Visiting Professor to the University of Surrey, member of the industrial advisory board at University College London and was founding chairman of Small Cell Forum (formerly Femto Forum), which he chaired from 2007-12.

He is currently a member of the Ofcom Spectrum Advisory Board and advisor to Quortus and Adjunct Professor at Trinity College Dublin.

It is our pleasure to have Simon with us on 10 May 2013.

Follow us on Twitter @ForumOxford – https://twitter.com/ForumOxford

Follow Real Wireless on Twitter @real_wireless – https://twitter.com/real_wireless

realwireless.biz realwireless.biz

 

Peter Holland • Ok – Good afternoon/evening or morning (as appropriate for your time zone) to everyone from the University of Oxford!

Welcome to ForumOxford’s FreeFriday chat on 10 May.

To those who are following the discussion, please feel free to post any questions during the discussion (refresh your screen regularly to see the latest comments)

Let’s begin. Ajit and Simon – over to you……

Ajit Jaokar • hi simon great to see you .. sorry linkedin was putting comments for review .. welcome!

Ajit Jaokar • ok lets start – first qs – Can you explain the basic ideas and motivation behind small cells

Simon Saunders • Thanks Ajit – great to be with you on one of my favourite wireless topics

Simon Saunders • For sure…small cells are something of a chameleon technology – all things to all people…

 

 

Simon Saunders • For some they are the best way to address a future ‘capacity crunch’ to meet the rising tide of mobile demand

Simon Saunders • …for others they are the best way to get great coverage to places macrocells cannot [economically] reach

Simon Saunders • For others still they are a tool for competition, to deliver enhanced quality of experience and a wider range of personalised services to their customers compared with their peers

Simon Saunders • There’s often confusion about what we do mean by small cells however. The short answer is – every base station in a mobile network which is not a macrocell.

Simon Saunders • Certainly including femtocells, picocells, and microcells in both their urban (metrocell) and rural (“meadowcell”?!) guises.

Ajit Jaokar • “every base station in a mobile network which is not a macrocell.” thats a good definition .. :)

Ajit Jaokar • so whats the difference between femtocells, picocells, microcells and metrocells? are these being used interchangably?

Simon Saunders • The terms aren’t interchangeable, but likewise they don’t have hard boundaries. Femtocells = typically home and small office/SoHo. Picocells = Enterprise, retal etc (mainly indoors), Metrocells = busy cities, outdoors, “Meadowcells” = rural outdoor application of metrocells.

Ajit Jaokar • medowcells! first I heard that!

Simon Saunders • And for some they also include access points in unlicenced/licence exempt spectrum – i.e. mainly Wi-Fi. For other still they include every tech which puts the antennas close to the users, i.e. Distributed Antennas Systems and Cloud/Centralised-Ran solutions. But not everyone agrees with that!

Ajit Jaokar • Re “Distributed Antennas Systems and Cloud/Centralised-Ran solutions. But not everyone agrees with that!” – why not? ie where is the disagreement in the industry wrt it?

Simon Saunders • The disagreement on DAS and C-RAN is really about where each solution fits best, and on where the processing intelligence sits.

Simon Saunders • The original concept of small cells is to make use of cheap silicon processing at the edge, and keep the high-rate processing off the backhaul.

Simon Saunders • C-RAN allows the same radio benefits – antennas close to users – but centralises the processing. This allows each antenna unit to be closely coordinated with all the others, enabling exciting processing opportunities such as CoMP, but puts a big load on the backhaul.

Ajit Jaokar • @simon – thanks re c-ran concept

Simon Saunders • A word on DAS: a great workhorse, and currently the solution of choice for the biggest public venues and the largest enterprises.

Ajit Jaokar • thanks Simon. yes thats a good distinction. so next question – “What does Cisco’s acquisition of Ubiquisys tell us about the state of the small cell market?”

Simon Saunders • Cisco’s acquisition of Ubiquisys is a great validation of several things:
– the value of small cells
– the opportunity for small cells in the Enterprise
– the role of the UK in wireless innovation and tech innovation generally.
Ubi were definitely one of the key pioneers in the field – but many others deserve honourable mention too!

Ajit Jaokar • so whats the benefit ffor cisco? enterprise?

Simon Saunders • I look forward to the day when enterprise IT system integrators are as skilled at designing and implementing 3G/4G systems as they are today at implementing enterprise LAN/Wi-Fi: and are as accepted at that jon by mobile operators as their current SIs in the DAS space.

Ajit Jaokar • ok next qs – do small cells and wifi complement each other? (or whats your view)

Simon Saunders • Great question – and the industry has changed on this point (small cells and Wi-Fi) over time.
2005-7: Some think femtocells could be the mobile competitive response to Wi-Fi…

Simon Saunders • 2007-2009: Femtocells and Wi-Fi complement each other: different characteristics, different devices, different places…
2010 – today: If we implement both small cells and Wi-Fi in a coordinated fashion it’s better for operators and consumers alike. And we need to use all the spectrum we can get!

Ajit Jaokar • @simon – thanks(re wifi) yes we need all spectrum

Dr John Kelliher IKC • Surely the concept of edge is somewhat of a misnomer – an artificial concept that should not be introduced or exist in cellular ? Well, why should it ?

Ajit Jaokar • we will take @John’s qs now re concept of edge?

Simon Saunders • @John:
The question of where is “the edge” is a good one. I was using it earlier to mean simply “close to the user”. But there are many options for how to distribute processing across a network and these options suit different use cases. C-RAN and femtocells represent two extremes of those options, but there are many useful cases in between which deserve more attention.

Ajit Jaokar • @thanks simon (re edge insights)

Ajit Jaokar • coming back to Operators .. other than spectrum case.. Why do mobile networks need small cells?

Simon Saunders • Mobile operators need small cells because:
– You can’t multiply today’s macrocells by x10
– Spectrum efficiency is limited
– Space (and money) for antennas on macros and in devices is limited
– User demand higher rates, reliably – and even without considering capacity, macrocell geometries struggle with that

Simon Saunders • …and operators need small cells to remain different. One day operators will advertise that they provide the best service because they have the most small cells. That may seem implausible today, but watch this space!

Ajit Jaokar • @simon – very insightful :) ” One day operators will advertise that they provide the best service because they have the most small cells. That may seem implausible today, but watch this space!”

Dr John Kelliher IKC • @Simon – Cisco and Juniper have a somewhat traditional view of Internetwork edge, which I thought you may be referring to. However processing should, I would be consider be a distributed function, granted that the air-interface processing is high. Operators usually consider use cases as multifaceted { end user – designer/implementer – Architectural }, so ordinarily I would consider this to be more a design consideration than a use case.

 

Simon Saunders • @John: I think the best location of the processing is indeed a design consideration, but the optimum location is a function of the use case.

Simon Saunders • .. so the best processing location for a remote rural village is entirely different to that for a national football stadium!

Ajit Jaokar • @simon – What about inter-vendor interoperability?

 

Simon Saunders • Interoperability = big topic.
Starting point: femtocells needed standards to get off the ground. And got them very early in the lifecycle I’m proud to say,

 

Simon Saunders • But interop is much more than standards. We organised plugfests to encourage and demo actual interop and to iron out standards ‘bugs’. But even then you have to advance step by step towards meaningful functionality. Today operators can genuinely buy femtocells from different vendors and have them work with a third vendor’s gateway, though there is still more pain than I’d like in that process. Nevetheless for femtocells it’s all trending in the ‘right’ direction.

Ajit Jaokar:) and the femto forum had a role to play :)

Ajit Jaokar • @simon yes agree tending in right direction ..

Simon Saunders • Metrocells are in a different state. They need very tight integration with the surrounding macro network. And there are sharp compromises at this stage between interop and performance. And tough choices for operators who want one “neck to choke”!

Simon Saunders • And let me be clear: open interop is not only good for operators, but also for vendors who want to address a wide market, and also for consumers who want products which work well. But it has to be done without sacrificing innovation or performance unduly,

Ajit Jaokar • @simon – thanks for insights on macro cells. agree re innovation

Ajit Jaokar • from a custromer standpoint femtocells have a cost?

Simon Saunders • For consumers, femtocells bring benefits which I believe outweigh costs. If you are genuiniely needy, most operators today will let you have a femtocell as part of the package (in exchange for a little loyalty!).

Simon Saunders • Another way of looking at it: given femtocells can (in the right circumstances) reduce overall costs of delivering a service for the operator, and eventually the customers pay for every cost in the network, reduced cost for the operator translates to reduced cost for the customer (assumes a competitive market!)

Ajit Jaokar • yes agree. win-win for all

Ajit Jaokar • ok we are in last 15 mins .. @simon anything imp we have not covered you think?

Simon Saunders • A tangential topic: for those considering research in this area, we need:
– More analysis of the lifetime environmental & energy impact of small cells
– Radio techniques for hyperdense networks

Simon Saunders • Would also like to give due acknowledgement to the >145 organisations (operators and vendors) in Small Cell (Fermto) Forum who made all this happen. When we started it was heresy – now 98% of operators want small cells in their networks. Prevailing orthodoxy!

Simon Saunders • But (maybe finally) there are unanswered questions: exactly how many small cells are needed, and exactly where they should go, and exactly how they are managed – are all open questions. We need to rewrite the mobile network planning rulebook!

Ajit Jaokar • @simon – yes indeed – great work by femto forum and great to have you here for that reason

Simon Saunders • Thanks @Ajit and all online – great to chat. Go and ask your mobile operator for a femtocell!

Ajit Jaokar • indeed! thats a good point to conclude!

Peter Holland • Thank you to Ajit and Simon for a great discussion and also thank you to all those of you who followed and contributed to the conversation.

It’s goodbye from ForumOxford at the University of Oxford for now.