It’s time for operators to keep the vendor community on track

With the dust starting to settle on the Nokia and ALU news, it’s clear that this won’t be the last M&A story we’ll be talking about this year. Mergers amongst operators are becoming rife and the moves in the vendor sector mirror this.

We’ve already talked about the good and bad sides of operator mergers with one particular aspect being the impact on innovation. With multiple competitors watching every move in an attempt to capitalise on any mistakes, can we blame any operator that doesn’t want to experiment with an unproven technology?

In the vendor world, the picture is much more complicated as operators need both global scale and interoperability alongside innovation and new ideas. So what is the impact of fewer vendors on operators and what does this mean for the industry?

The importance of scale for the mobile industry cannot be overstated. Products needs to be developed for a global audience and, more importantly, in line with global standards. So on face value, bigger vendors with an increased reach and larger R&D teams.

As the industry gears up for 5G, we need lots of dynamic, fresh thinking and innovative companies driving new standards and approaches. Bigger companies are not always best placed to deliver this.

Additionally, less choice brings risks for operators, who may seek to second-source, but are often beholden to investments in single-vendor ecosystems. In particular, it’s a guilty secret of the industry that standards give no guarantee of inter-vendor interoperability: indeed this is the exception rather than the norm.

So where does this leave operators?

Faced with a smaller pool of vendors to choose from, operators need to wield their collective energies to ensure that there is a mix of vendors of all scales, by insisting on open interfaces and real interoperability in networks, and by encouraging small developers, not just in phone apps but deep in the heart of the network as well. This way we’ll continue to see the sort of innovation that drives our industry forwards, alongside the benefits that come from vendors with a global reach.

Is Wi-Fi Calling the end of the femtocell, or the latest QTWTAIN?

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“Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no”- Betteridge’s law of headlines

“Question To Which The Answer Is No” –  QTWTAIN

 

Having founded and chaired the Small Cell Forum for six years (of course then known as Femto Forum), I’ve been asked several times in the last few days whether Wi-Fi Calling  - voice calls carried over Wi-Fi but handled like an ordinary mobile call – heralds the death of the femtocell.

What sparked this sudden interest was the news that not only has Apple enabled the functionality in its latest iOS 8.3 update, but EE this week announced they are the first UK operator to launch a Wi-Fi calling service.

The thought process is obvious: If operator-backed Wi-Fi calling rolls out, then users can rely upon their home Wi-Fi network to support this. There’s simply no need for a cellular femtocell, goes the argument.

This view could hold water when talking about domestic environments where femtocells are shipped to ‘fix’ issues with coverage and reduce churn.

But small cells have come a long way since the first residential devices, moving into the urban, enterprise and rural sectors to name but a few. Particularly in enterprise environments, Wi-Fi Calling is in reality less of a panacea than it claims to be. Wi-Fi Calling relies upon a stable connection with consistent bit rates and latencies to place calls, something that is a huge struggle in a densely populated, heavily loaded environment for Wi-Fi, operating in unlicensed spectrum. Should enterprises install a network that offers the quality of service Wi-Fi calling requires, the levels of contention and strain placed on it in busy environments could mean that voice quality degrades dramatically – even large Wi-Fi vendors seem to agree on this point.

We’ve also seen the arrival of MVNOs boasting an ‘inside-out’ model, namely TalkTalk, BT and Free. These target their network efforts on locations where there is acute traffic – homes, offices, public hotspots – and leave wide area traffic at the macro level for their respective MNO to handle.

These are the main organisations driving residential femtocell volumes, and their reasons for deploying units are not coverage driven; these users already receive coverage from another operator, they instead want to reduce their own costs and enhance the customer experience.

As a result, heralding the demise of the small cell or perceiving this as an “either/or” situation is somewhat misguided. Small cells are used for much more than simply adding coverage, and Wi-Fi Calling still faces difficulties in areas of high congestion.

But by allowing the two technologies to coexist, users and operators can both reap the benefits of lower costs, a greater quality of service, and reduced congestion at the macrocell network level.

- Simon Saunders, Director of Technology (and formerly Founding Chairman of Small Cell Forum)

Harnessing wireless across transportation

“Real Wireless is focused on bridging the gap – not only between the users of wireless and the suppliers of wireless systems and services but also between communications needs and wireless capabilities. That goes for transportation in particular.

The potential uses of wireless in transportation includes everything from ticketing and signalling to safety – and of course passenger connectivity on the move. But the needs, constraints and regulatory environment of transport differ not just between automotive, sea, rail and air sectors, but also within those industries, as was made clear at the recent Cambridge Wireless Event, ‘How Innovation is Reinventing Rail Travel’, which I attended as a Champion of the Automotive & Transport SIG.

The UK rail industry in particular is divided both in terms of regional franchisees and core business functions. And yet there is a strong desire across the industry to explore ways in which technology can, for example, improve operational aspects such as predictive maintenance and asset management, enhance safety, simplify ticketing, bring high speed internet to trains, automate train management and remove the need for physical signalling infrastructure. This in turn could overcome complexity, lower running costs, improve the customer experience, increase safety and reliability and lessen carbon consumption.

Several of these topics were examined at the event with speakers from various parts of the rail eco system. What was clear was the number of opportunities for wireless to play a key part in so many aspects of rail transport. Change won’t happen overnight – this is a complex industry – and yet here as in all areas of the transport business there is significant investment underway resulting in great innovation potential. The role of Real Wireless is to use our in depth commercial, technical and operational wireless expertise to show how wireless in particular can make that potential a reality.”

John Okas, Real Wireless Strategic Wireless Business Expert