Becoming the chairman of the IET Berkshire Network

IET-communitiesI was recently elected chairman of the IET Berkshire Network, one of the many local networks set up by the Institute of Engineering and Technology.

As the chair, my responsibility is to provide leadership to the IET Berkshire network and represent the committee to the central IET body and other networks, such as the IMechE.

The members of the IET Berkshire Local Network come together to deliver a series of activities that promote the importance of science, engineering and technology to the people of the royal county.

Being one of the most active networks in the UK, the IET Berkshire Local Network has organised key events in the area and achieved some great attendance figures for some events.

Some of our flagship events include the popular Great Debate and the Prestige Mobile Lecture. As the chair, I’m particularly keen to engage with the local engineering community, in order to make our local network one of the most successful in the UK.

I’m also encouraging young people to enter the engineering profession, while helping to build the next generation of wireless engineers and experts through engagement with local schools and universities.

Currently I am also restructuring the committee responsibilities so that, as a team, the committee work more efficiently and effectively in the years to come.

I look forward to honouring the position of chair and providing leadership to the committee, whilst serving the UK engineering community over the coming years.

The impact of Brexit on UK use of harmonised spectrum

Logo_brexit_new_size2Later this week, voters across the United Kingdom will decide whether they wish to remain a member of the European Union. For better or worse, the result could have a major impact on many areas of UK governance that have been bound by EU legislation.

I was recently approached by Dugie Standeford of Policy Tracker to provide my opinion on what the impact of leaving the EU could be on the UK’s use of harmonised spectrum (once any negotiation period had passed and withdrawal had been agreed).

It is this: whilst the UK may be able to take a different approach to spectrum decisions to the rest of the EU, I can’t think of any where it would want to do so.

Taking the example of Decision 2007/98/EC, which harmonises the use of spectrum in the 2GHz bands for mobile satellite services that have yet to emerge, there are already plans in motion in the UK for operators to implement such services.

But more importantly, satellite services by their very nature must be regulated at an international level, therefore I doubt the UK would change direction even when it is not formally bound by the EU Decisions.

Going it alone in our allocation and use of spectrum would also ultimately lead to equipment becoming more expensive to implement, raise the risk of cross-border interference, and reduce the long-term certainty around allocations. At most we’ll see some minor relaxation of certain restrictions on the use of spectrum, or in implementation timelines.

Finally, the UK will likely remain a member of — and play an active role in — CEPT. This is the body that is responsible for much of the detailed spectrum harmonisation efforts we see in European countries, but it is not restricted to EU countries alone. As such, the UK’s involvement in these discussions will not disappear — and there’s no reason to think the government or regulators would change that.

Therefore, whilst it remains one of the most important political choices the country has been presented with in a long time, the outcome of this week’s referendum is unlikely to significantly impact the UKs of harmonised spectrum.

The full article is available to read here.

Why data analytics is key to the future of mobile networks and user experience

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It’s become common now for the big vendors to provide the telecoms and wireless industries with a regular view of the growth or decline in various sorts of traffic, services and devices.

The most recent update comes from Ericsson, with the publication of its latest Ericsson Mobility Report covering the period to 2021. As you might perhaps expect, Ericsson has forecast significant growth in a wide range of factors. Some of the highlight figures include:

  • Mobile broadband subscriptions: CAGR of 15%
  • LTE subscriptions: CAGR of 25%
  • Data traffic per smartphone: CAGR of 35%
  • Total mobile data traffic: CAGR of 45%

Video to dominate traffic growth
Ericsson expects video to continue to play a large part in the data traffic growth. In 2015 video was some 40–55% of the total mobile data traffic depending on the device type and is forecast to have a CAGR of 55% to 2021. By 2021 Ericsson forecasts that video will account for some 70% of mobile data traffic. As the report notes: “Today’s teens… have no experience of a world without online video streaming.”

To meet such growth, LTE continues to provide fast speeds with current deployments providing up to 600Mbps (Cat 11), which will grow to 1Gbps LTE (Cat 16) with deployments in in 2016 according to Ericsson.

5G to start in 2020
Looking beyond 4G and the massive growth, Ericsson forecasts that 5G services will commence in 2020 based on ITU IMT2020 standards, and that there will be 150 million 5G subscribers by 2021 led by rollouts in South Korea, Japan, China and the US.

IoT to overtake mobile phones
In one of the most eye-catching predictions, Ericsson suggests that the number of IoT connected end points — such as cars, machines, smart meters and consumer tech — will overtake the number of mobile phones in 2018. IoT devices are forecast to grow at a CAGR of 23% over the period, and what is worth noting is the connectivity types including non-cellular IoT connectivity and the various low-power wide-area (LPWA) proprietary systems like SIGFOX, LoRa and Ingenu. Ericsson forecasts non-cellular IoT to be almost 10 times the cellular IoT by 2021.

VoLTE set for rapid growth
Voice over LTE (VoLTE) also features in the report. Ericsson forecasts that the 100 million VoLTE subscriptions at the end of 2015 will increase to 2.3 billion by 2021 — representing over 50% of all LTE subscriptions. In the US, Canada, South Korea and Japan this figure rises to over 80%.

What does this all mean?
One of the key conclusions from the report is that managing the user experience is key for network operators and infrastructure providers – and all of the trends highlighted above are making that an increasingly complex challenge. As such, Data analytics are increasingly being applied to find the relationship between user experience and network performance statistics. Such an understanding is vital for operators to prioritise network investment as well as keep churn low. As the data from the report shows, operators face many calls on capex and opex as new technology combined with new use cases (and hopefully more spectrum), gives operators new opportunities and as well new challenges.

Of course, vendors put time and effort in to these reports to bring these challenges into sharp focus for the operators along with whatever solutions the vendor may have to offer. Real Wireless provides deep independent expertise in all of the areas and topics covered in such vendor reports including LTE, 5G and IoT. We’re involved in the business, technology, regulation and markets, working with all parts of the ecosystem including vendors, operators, regulators and end users. We help bring clarity and understanding to the challenges as well as the opportunities in the wireless world — without bias.

Solving the Wi-Fi challenge on trains

4479165212_390daa988d_oIt’s been just over a year since the government announced its ambitious target to have free Wi-Fi on trains by 2017. While the intention is obviously a good one (who doesn’t want connectivity on trains?) there are still significant barriers in place that are hindering the country’s changes of getting anywhere close to that target.

I was recently at an event called Going Underground a couple of weeks ago discussing the ins and outs of connectivity on trains. What’s clear from that event is that there are technical challenges with on-board Wi-Fi that won’t go away. Wi-Fi’s access technology “Carrier Sense Multiple Access – Collision Avoidance” (CSMA-CA) is not designed for high-density environments, such as busy commuter trains in rush hour with high capacity demand caused by a large number of concurrent users. In other words, when everyone on a train is trying to use on-board Wi-Fi at the same time to stream live sport or the latest Game of Thrones episode, we drive Wi-Fi into its limitations.

The technical limitation in such a high usage scenario lies in the way the Wi-Fi access points and devices interact with each other. To avoid data collisions, devices “sense” the Wi-Fi channel — listening to see if another device is transmitting data. Once a device sees that the channel is busy, it backs off to avoid collision of data, and a counter starts to count down before the device checks again to see if the air interface (the channel) is available. So, when too many users try to transmit data, devices start to go through a downward spiral of repeatedly backing off and trying again, thereby reducing the AP efficiency by 50% or even much more depending on the number of users trying to access it — resulting in less capacity per access point for more concurrent users.

Peak hour trains on busy commuter routes in particular take a triple whammy when it comes to on-board Wi-Fi:

  1. The sheer number of people trying to access a single access point overloads the system
  2. The sheer amount of bodies in one train can attenuate the signal between the access point and devices, rendering it poor (meaning low efficiency) to useless
  3. Peak trains tend to be full of commuters whose data needs tend to be far greater than non-commuters, which, again, overloads the system

Small cells, in particular femtocells, might be a better solution than Wi-Fi because they are more efficient when handling a high number of concurrent users and high traffic — but that still doesn’t solve the the backhaul challenge. Performance is always limited to whatever the backhaul can achieve, which is typically 4G. Hence, if there’s no mobile coverage, the whole on-board connectivity system — whether it’s Wi-Fi or femtocell based — is useless. Connectivity systems could use satellite backhaul for rural locations, but that in itself is a very expensive option. Alternatively, connectivity systems can use on-board repeaters, which don’t need backhaul and bring the signal outside the train to the users inside. On-board repeaters, though, still rely on reasonable outside coverage.

However, none of these technical challenges are insurmountable, with the exception of the inherent Wi-Fi technology challenges.

We do believe that the main barrier to enhancing on-board connectivity is the business model. We also believe that the requirement for trains should be on-board connectivity and capacity, independent of specific technology (such as Wi-Fi). At the moment, mobile network operators don’t have a revenue incentive to cover railway tracks or install on-board equipment because in a world of fixed and all-you-can-eat data packages, the average revenue per user (ARPU) doesn’t increase with incremental coverage and capacity on trains.

Therefore, the business case is the biggest bottleneck at the moment to improving on-board connectivity. If the government truly wants to provide Wi-Fi on 90% of journeys by 2018, it will have to manufacture a business case through regulation in order to kick things along.

Our own research a few years ago found that a clear business case could exist if the industry looks beyond Wi-Fi to mobile connectivity as a whole. We also found that on-board equipment deployment is cheaper than improving outdoor coverage to such a level that users inside the train could be served from outside. A business case would therefore have to clearly list the benefits to multiple parties, including advertisers (amongst many others), who would be able to clearly see the opportunity for ad revenue based on the length of passenger journeys, and rail companies, who could use the connectivity to improve day-to-day operations to become more efficient.