The BBC Charter select committee — fail fast, learn fast

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Simon Saunders (right) at BBC Charter select committee. Click on the image to watch the video — “fail fast” from 10:42:15

Last Tuesday (10th November), I was called upon to attend the House of Lords communications committee‘s inquiry into the renewal of the BBC Charter.

This session saw Mike Flood Page, former BBC TV and digital media executive producer, and I give evidence in relation to the BBC’s technological innovation efforts — particularly with respect to the development of iPlayer and the failure of the much-maligned Digital Media Initiative (DMI).

At the core of discussions was whether the BBC should continue a role in technological development. After all, this is an organisation that’s spending public money; it is therefore crucial any project it invests in is able to justify its own cost to the taxpayer.

I would argue the organisation still has a key role to play in technological development in the broadcast sector. But the BBC needs to make big changes to how it approaches projects if it wishes to safeguard taxpayer investment; most importantly, it needs to take a lesson from technology startups and be prepared to quickly drop any project that looks set to fail — appreciating that there is no inherent issue in failed projects as long as lessons are quickly learned.

Throughout its history, it’s fair to say that the BBC has played an important role in broadcast technology innovation in the UK. Particularly in radio, aiding in the development of radio wave propagation techniques in the first half of the 20th century, to spearheading the DAB rollout in the second.

But today is a very different world, with the BBC increasingly being called upon to serve a more diverse number of objectives at the same time. The organisation therefore need to reconsider, reassess, and recast its goals, taking in to account the platforms it needs to reach users on.

iPlayer is a great example of where lessons could be learned. One of the more successful recent BBC developments, at launch iPlayer was vastly superior to anything its competitors could offer. This was a great achievement, and a shining example of what the organisation can achieve once it commits to a project.

But at the same time, many of the challenges it faced and had to invest internal resource to resolving were simultaneously being invested in by external parties. Other solutions existed that, while perhaps not a perfect fit for the organisation to use ‘off the shelf’, could have helped reduce development costs and time.

Public organisations have been criticised in the UK for a perceived over reliance on external consultants, but these criticisms are misguided. The issue is in what areas organisations like the BBC are choosing to rely on external resources.

For example, while the BBC may consider the ongoing efforts to transcode and upload its content library as a task that needs to be handled internally, the initial efforts to develop the iPlayer network technology could have been offloaded to external technology experts who were already tackling these challenges.

There’s also a key need for, where projects are being handled by internal resource, for the organisation to take lessons from agile working methodologies and adopt a ‘fail fast’ culture. Aiming to rapidly produce proof of concepts, without fear of dropping those that look unlikely to be successful, will ultimately avoid — much more significantly costly — long-term project failures.

Of course the biggest example of where the current culture failed is the Digital Media Initiative, which managed to spend £98 million of investment across only two of its five years — and considerably more across its other three. For a project that seemed to be doomed for much of its lifespan, the counter-productive impact that a culture that fears failure delivers is starkly obvious.

At the same time, the BBC has a role to play in future technological development. Through its non-commercial yet high profile nature, it is in a unique position to drive developments in areas many commercial broadcasters would not. However, this also requires much more intelligent and considered management of investment — and a far more honest appraisal of success and failure.

Click here to view a transcript of the session.

Strength to strength

The wireless industry has changed significantly since Real Wireless was founded in 2007. Wireless customers face ever-changing demands for even better technology, with increasing customer and workforce expectations of what wireless can achieve. The role Real Wireless plays is a vital one, building the gap between the wireless industry and wireless users by providing independent expert advice to both sides. We help businesses to meet these increasing demands of wireless by aligning the right technology with specific use cases and identifying market drivers and commercial opportunities to inform investment decisions. To achieve this, Real Wireless has expanded its pool of experts and strengthened its management structure to ensure that our clients are always able to stay one step ahead of the competition. From autumn 2015, Real Wireless Co-Founder and Commercial Director Mark Keenan will take over as CEO. Existing Director of Technology Professor Simon Saunders leaves at the end of the year for a role with Google but will retain his share interest in the company. Julie Bradford will become responsible for Technical Quality; Oliver Bosshard takes over delivery and budgets and John Okas will continue to develop new business and be responsible for sales. Mark Keenan said: “This is a busy time for Real Wireless with significant long-term projects that include our involvement in the European 5G NORMA programme, substantial work items for two large international operators on mobile technology strategy, recent analysis for Cisco and Airvana, and ongoing support for sports venues and stadia. I want to thank Simon for his commitment to the company we set up together, he has played a significant role building the business and setting us on a road to success. We have a strong team, a healthy order book and a leadership role as experts-of-choice in one of the world’s most vibrant and expansive industries.”

Key considerations in the development of 5G

I recently gave a talk at a Westminster eForum event, discussing the challenges that 5G development faces.

This was part of a wider discussion about the future of networks, devices and 5G, with speakers from YouGov, Vodafone, Qualcomm and Analysys Mason participating in the conversation. Together we left no stone unturned, examining the latest trends, regulatory perspectives, what 5G will actually look like — and much more.

One clear point that came out of the talks was that, despite recent statements to the contrary, there remains a lot still be decided about 5G. As a result, it’s important we look carefully at who will be using the 5G standard and what implications that may have, not just the technology side of the equation.

5G — enabling new applications
5G isn’t just about doing things faster; it will be the first generation to explicitly target the needs of multiple vertical industries. The graph below is designed to illustrate the challenge at hand. The grey area denotes the applications whose needs LTE cannot currently meet, and these are where 5G could demonstrate real added value over LTE.


Addressing the Internet of Things and multimedia
One of the key conflicts that embodies the challenge of 5G is between the demands being placed on it by the Internet of Things and multimedia applications.

These each have a vastly different set of requirements, with IoT emphasising low power and reliability, and multimedia content a need for high capacity and data rates.

The diagram below demonstrates the different factors that need careful consideration where 5G is concerned, and how the two applications differ:



Rather than rushing out the next generation of cellular technology to meet arbitrary deadlines, time needs to be spent now thinking about how 5G can serve the wider societal and industrial needs — not just smartphones and tablets. Much thought also needs to go into the compact between investment and competition, the answers to which could come from network architecture.

At the same time, we need to avoid the real risk of overhyping 5G in the next few years, creating a much larger headache for the industry later on. For the time being, users are only just starting to come to terms with 4G, therefore we need to ensure we take the time to consider the next generation — squeezing out the maximum value we can out of the current generation in the meantime.

For more information on the considerations for 5G, take a look at the slides I presented in full here:

For more information on Real Wireless’s work in 5G, read our recent blog post.

Are UK mobile phone users paying too little?

17470913285_bbda8cf99a_kDuring the launch of its new iD MVNO service, Dixons Carphone suggested that UK customers overall overpay on their mobile bills by more than £5bn each year. If you look at Ofcom’s figures, which state that the UK has around than 83.1m mobile subscriptions, then you can assume that this £5bn figure equates to an additional £60 per year for each person who owns a phone.

While that news will undoubtedly raise the collective eyebrows of mobile phone users, we would argument that if users paid more, the mobile industry would be able to offer substantially more benefits in return.

Users will undoubtedly object to paying more for what they already consider to be pricy smartphone contracts. But when considering the fact that UK mobile operators receive four times less average revenue per user than Japan, two and half times less than the US and one and a third less than the rest of Western Europe, maybe UK users are still paying less than they really should?

The lower average revenue per person generated by UK consumers translates almost directly into a lower spend on networks by mobile operators in the UK compared with other countries. A 2013 report in to Europe’s telecoms infrastructure found a 34% difference in investment per head between Europe (£111,000) and the US (£167,000). What’s more, the report found that European investment is declining at a rate of 4% per annum. The lower spend shouldn’t be surprising — the money to invest has to come from somewhere, after all.

Without the money to invest, operators cannot roll out their networks to deliver the coverage and capacity we need. Since poor coverage costs UK businesses over £30m a week as employees waste time hunting for mobile phone reception, the need to eradicate black spots has never been more pressing.

Without the money to invest, mobile operators are cutting costs by sharing networks, resulting in little differentiation between competing operators — something that could reduce competition out of the market in the long term. We used to have unrivalled levels of competition with five operators, but that number is soon likely to reduce to three.

The challenge for mobile operators is to persuade customers to use their voice and data services more to generate additional revenue for investment. The benefit to users of mobile is around 8–10 times that to the operators — a great investment in anyone’s money.

MNOs need a change of culture rather than technology

3235380837_933c1c96dc_bOf the many issues that operators are currently seeking to address, one of the main ones they face is resolving problems relating to capacity — but some might argue the solution to this already exists, hiding in plain sight.

Offloading some of the mobile traffic to Wi-Fi networks has been a key strategy of some mobile operators in recent years. Wi-Fi accounted for an enormous 75%–90% of all mobile data consumed in leading LTE markets. The reasons for this are threefold. First, it’s frequently made available free at the point of use for users; secondly, support for the technology is included as standard in almost every mobile device on the market today; and thirdly the operators do not have to pay for the unlicensed spectrum used by Wi-Fi.

Although some operators deploy their own dedicated Wi-Fi networks, they are still not comfortable with sending voice over Wi-Fi. Carrier-grade Wi-Fi has been something the industry has discussed at great length, but as of yet has failed to turn into a reality on a large scale. This is because the best-effort Wi-Fi networks are not controlled from the carrier’s core network and the Wi-Fi access points (APs) often do not support any form of traffic management or prioritisation. As a result, the operators are unable to monitor or address performance issues such as congestion, as it would in the wireless or wireline access network. This means the provider cannot guarantee QoS (quality of service) and control things such as speed, latency, connectivity and prioritisation.

Despite what operators might believe about mobile users, they’re in fact quite used to the fact that when something is free it’s often not as good as the paid alternative. This is the same with Wi-Fi and mobile networks, and they need to adjust their thinking to suit this.

For example, I am a heavy Skype user and, especially when I travel to Africa, I always make sure I find a hotel that offers Wi-Fi. Sometimes there is a severe delay, and I have to live with frequent call drops — but this is a free service, I’m hardly going to complain about it.

Millions of other Skype users may also experience the same issues when using the service on free Wi-Fi networks, but again also accept that they get what they pay for and love the experience all the same.

Perhaps operators need to therefore acknowledge and accept this fact: users are happy to accept a lower QoS when using free Wi-Fi.

Now, I’m not advocating operators suddenly shift their entire business model to focus on freely available Wi-Fi networks. The industry knows all too well that when you augment a technology to do something it was not designed to do, it can become incredibly inefficient in the long term. This is why LTE networks were designed from the ground up to be fit for purpose.

Instead, operators could educate their users regarding the implications of using VoWi-Fi. Choice is crucial — let the user choose between quality, price and convenience. They will be much happier with the outcome and this gives operators more room to focus on improving the QoS of their own networks, as well as tackling capacity issues.

Operators could think outside of the box and take hold of this opportunity, rather than continuing to struggle until new technology appears to fix their issues. Otherwise they risk losing out to a new breed of MVNO, like Google.

Users are (somewhat) intelligent and, although their expectations are rising, they are already familiar with the limitations of technology like free Wi-Fi.

Nobody would use Skype in their hotel room if this wasn’t the case.

Real Wireless joins prestigious consortium to assess the socioeconomic benefits of 5G Network Architectures

Today we’re excited to announce that Real Wireless is part of the ‘5G NORMA’ (Novel Radio Multi service adaptive network Architecture) project, joining a consortium of leading companies and academic groups as part of the 5GPP initiative to help define 5G and its potential benefits.

The overall aim of the 30-month project is to propose an end-to-end architecture taking into account both the radio access network (RAN) and core networks. As independent wireless experts with experience in delivering 3G and 4G networks and the economics, regulation and standards behind them, Real Wireless has a lot to offer.

The project partners, spread across six countries, include leading mobile operators (Orange, Deutsche Telekom, Telefonica), network vendors and IT companies (Nokia Networks, Alcatel-Lucent, ATOS), SMEs (Nomor Research, Azcom Technology) and Universities (King’s College London, , Technische Universität Kaiserslautern, Univerdidad Carlos III de Madrid)

Our role in this project is to look at the socioeconomic benefits that 5G could bring and what some of the market drivers might be. We’ve seen a lot of talk already on what technologies might be a part of 5G, but the business case is crucial and needs to be carefully considered.

This is the area where we specialise — bridging the gap between the technical and the commercial.

As such we’ll be looking at a wide range of industries that could benefit from 5G, including transportation, energy and public safety. For each of these, Real Wireless will assess the potential use cases for 5G services and the challenges in delivering them, both with current 4G networks as well as predicting future demand.

There’s a lot still to iron out for 5G, but as more and more industries rely on wireless and as consumer demands increase, clearly something needs to happen. The work of the 5G NORMA group will be key in defining the technical specifications and the all-important business case that will be essential in generating investment for 5G development.

The 5G NORMA project starts now and will continue for the next 30 months. For more information on the project, see the formal press announcement or contact us here.


Telecom industry and European academia join forces to develop a multiservice mobile network architecture for the 5G era


  • 5G NORMA project, part of the 5G Infrastructure Public-Private Partnership (5GPPP) initiative, will define the overall 5G mobile network architecture, including radio and core networks, to meet the demanding 5G multiservice requirements
  • Consortium composed of 13 partners among leading industry vendors, operators, IT companies, small- and medium-sized enterprises and academic institutions

Industry vendors, operators, IT companies, small- to medium-sized enterprises and academia in Europe have joined forces to develop a novel, adaptive and futureproof mobile network architecture for the 5G era. As part of the 5GPPP initiative, 5G NORMA (5G Novel Radio Multiservice adaptive network Architecture) will propose an end-to-end architecture that takes into consideration radio access network (RAN) and core network aspects. The consortium will be working over a period of 30 months, beginning in July 2015, to meet the key objectives of creating and disseminating innovative concepts on the mobile network architecture for the 5G era.

Real Wireless is responsible for the socioeconomic assessment of 5G NORMA innovations, translating technical KPIs into business KPIs that hold relevance to each sector.

Real Wireless will identify changing market drivers in a range of industries from public safety (PPDR), to transportation, energy generation and distribution. Its work will also assess shortcomings in the expected capabilities of 4G LTE by 2020, based on the requirements of the expected future service demands.

Professor Simon Saunders, director of technology at Real Wireless, said: “Our work will bridge the technical, social and commercial domains, enabling the consortium to identify the relative value of each planned 5G NORMA innovation. This will in turn direct the technical work to focus on the innovations with the most opportunity to create overall value.”

5G networks need to meet a wide array of diverse and extreme requirements

There will be a need for super-fast and reliable connectivity with virtually zero latency for use cases such as remote control robots, and support for billions of sensors and things. 5G will also need to provide consistent and high-quality connectivity for people and things. In addition, 5G networks will combine revolutionary technologies and existing mobile radio generations, as well as Wi-Fi, into a new system. A new mobile network architecture is required to manage these complex multi-layer and multi-technology networks, and to build in flexibility even for applications that are yet to be envisioned.

5G NORMA: a novel, multiservice mobile network architecture

With the 5G NORMA project, leading players in the mobile ecosystem aim to underpin Europe’s leadership position in 5G. The NORMA approach breaks away from the rigid legacy network paradigm. It will on-demand adapt the use of the mobile network (RAN and core network) resources to the service requirements, the variations of the traffic demands over time and location, and the network topology, which include the available front/backhaul capacity.

The consortium envisions the architecture will enable unprecedented levels of network customisability to ensure that stringent performance, security, cost and energy requirements are met. It will also provide an API-driven architectural openness, fueling economic growth through over-the-top innovation.

The technical approach is based on the innovative concept of adaptive (de)composition and allocation of network functions, which flexibly decomposes the network functions and places the resulting functions in the most appropriate location. By doing so, access and core functions may no longer reside in different locations, which is exploited to jointly optimise their operation whenever possible. The adaptability of the architecture is further strengthened by the innovative software-defined mobile network control and mobile multi-tenancy concepts and underpinned by corroborating demonstrations.

A socioeconomic analysis of the benefits of 5G NORMA innovations will also be conducted. This will determine the value to the wireless industry, the users in society and the public sphere of enhanced services enabled by the proposed architecture.

Dr. Werner Mohr, Chairman of the 5GPPP Association, said: “5G is not only about new radio access technology — network architecture will play an important role as well. 5G networks will have to be programmable, software driven and managed holistically to enable a diverse range of services in a profitable way. With 5G NORMA, the consortium aims to ensure economic sustainability of the network operation and open opportunities for new players, while leveraging a futureproof architecture in a cost- and energy-effective way.”

5G NORMA deliverables

The consortium will be working over a period of 30 months, beginning in July 2015. Key objectives include the creation and dissemination of innovative concepts on the 5G mobile network architecture for the 5G era. Some of these may be captured in products or patents, while others may emerge from the process and working engagements. Emphasis will also be placed on commercialisation, including partnerships and start-up creation.


Industry players included in the consortium

Vendors and IT: Alcatel-Lucent, NEC, Nokia Networks, ATOS

Operators: Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telefonica

Small to medium-sized enterprises: Azcom Technology, Nomor Research, Real Wireless

Academia: University Kaiserslautern in Germany, Kings College London, University Carlos III Madrid

How Real Wireless is shaping the future of wireless connectivity with 5G

Whilst 4G might only just have started to be appreciated by personal and business users, the wireless industry is already awash with discussions about 5G. Whilst Boris Johnson’s prediction that London will have 5G by 2020 is ambitious, it’s a solid bet to say it will start to be rolled out – in some form – in the early part of the 2020s, with a few non-standard networks trialling it before this (at the Tokyo Olympics, for example).

But at the same time, the reality is that the 5G technology isn’t actually defined yet. To make matters more complicated, there’s little appetite for rolling out an expensive new generation of cellular technology that only offers the “usual” higher speeds and bigger capacity benefits we have come to expect.

Instead, 5G is aiming to be the first wireless generation that is designed to explicitly cater to the needs of specific vertical industries. These could be anything from the emergency services, to broadcasting, smart highways, and utility networks.

As a result, the industry is fully aware that the end technology will need to be hugely flexible, capable of providing wide range connectivity to wireless sensors in remote locations, through to the short delay communications required to meet the needs of M2M. There are also niche use cases, such as in hyperdense venues like stadiums, where it needs be capable of handling tens of gigabits per second of data.

This in turn requires new, more flexible network architectures at all levels. The core network needs to be able to route traffic quickly and efficiently, adapting to suit the current application and available transport networks. The radio network needs to be flexible enough to suit the various needs of immensely different applications, some of which could be decades of battery life, gigabits of speeds, and milliseconds of latency…

…fingers crossed it’s not having to provide all of those at the same time!

To meet this need, and to ensure that 5G becomes a timely reality, Real Wireless is playing a key role in the research it first requires via initiatives, which include:

1. The EC socio-economic analysis – Catering to all these needs could prove immensely expensive, it’s therefore particularly important we closely examine the business case of the new business models it could enable – and the associated social and economic benefits these in turn could provide.

In May, the European Commission launched a 12-month study into the socioeconomic benefits of 5G. The study will help provide a better understanding of the potential impact that 5G will have in a variety of industries including health and travel.

After working with the European Commission on several other projects, Real Wireless was selected, along with three other key independent project stakeholders, to perform the analysis for this assessment.

The study will include a series of stakeholder hearings starting on 22nd September and a workshop on 19th October.

2. 5G Architecture research – The technological elements of 5G are – and will continue to be – the subject of intensive international research over the next few years. Real Wireless is contributing to this research, some of which is being funded by the EU – to the tune of €700million, no less – including as part of its 5GPP programme.

A great example of our involvement in this work is our recently announced 5G NORMA project. In this piece of work, we are working to identify the optimum architectures for 5G – you can find more details on this here.

3. Membership of research centres – The 5G Innovation Centre (5GIC) at the University of Surrey is the UK’s only research centre dedicated to the next generation of mobile communications.

Real Wireless is now a pioneering SME member of the centre and will advise it on regulatory, technical and business challenges — driving the delivery of a mobile communications network capable of meeting the tomorrow’s needs.

We have also been contributing to the work of the world-renowned CONNECT research centre at Trinity College Dublin.

With the upward trend in mobile device adoption levels, 5G will become the crucial network underpinning almost every application, so the work we do now is crucial to ensure the infrastructure is ready when the world needs it.

It’s therefore important to us that we continue to play a key role in the development of the technology – both from an economic and technological standpoint.

Our work is also not without direct benefits for Real Wireless customers. Our insight in to the development process allows us to provide truly informed advice to both wireless industry players who wish to establish a position towards 5G, and to our wireless user customers who want to be sure that they are best placed to make the most of 5G’s potential to address their particular needs – at a time which is right for them.

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?


“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)