Living in harmony with 5G – Mike Goddard, International Spectrum Policy Advisor

Expectations for 5G from governments and regional groupings, like the EU and CEPT in Europe, are very high. On the operator side, frontrunners are starting to trial, possible applications are being assessed and as far as Korea and Japan are concerned, it‘s almost here — or will be in time for the winter Olympics in PyeongChang in 2018 and the summer Olympics in Tokyo in 2020.

However, the process of spectrum allocation for 5G isn’t going to be quite so much in the public eye – but it will be essential. Finding enough spectrum (probably across more than one range in every country) able to deliver the fast broadband, coverage, capacity and IoT services that, at the very least, 5G is expected to offer is a big ask given the different spectrum priorities and decision-making processes that prevail in so many countries and regions.

To make all of this happen, widely harmonized spectrum, freedom to repurpose existing spectrum and affordable access to the necessary amount of spectrum are all ideals that the operator community (and many other interested parties) will be encouraging governments and regulatory authorities to offer. After all, even compared to 3G and 4G, the investment in 5G infrastructure is going to be staggering — and then services have to be rolled out and the whole thing monetised. Put bluntly, without a coherent, and relatively benevolent spectrum policy across as many regions as possible why should anyone invest?

That’s why Real Wireless is calling for alignments. An alignment on spectrum prices and allocation processes. An alignment on bands that can and should be used. And an alignment that crosses borders: national approaches to regulatory policy that lay the groundwork for collaboration at a global level.

But this is more than just a utopian call for international understanding. Real Wireless has experience of both spectrum management and 5G. We are, for example, involved in assessing the socio-economic benefits of 5G by way of the European NORMA project. We have also worked with regulatory bodies on policy and have a strong track record in assessing spectrum needs and how to meet them. We know how difficult it is to accomplish this and how long it can take. We also know that, as far as 5G is concerned, it’s going to be a more complex challenge than any that have gone before.

This could be the most fundamental change to wireless since it went digital, creating a ‘hyper-connected’ society, supporting everything from connected machinery in factories and automated vehicles to on-demand video — and much more.

The challenge is to deliver widespread coverage and support all use cases — even some we haven’t thought of yet — that could build new and great industries and enhance existing ones with benefits to all. The more coherent, thoughtful and, it has to be said, agile, the international approach to spectrum allocation is the sooner we will be able to enjoy those benefits.

Back to backhaul – Julius Robson, Wireless Technology Consultant

The small cell backhaul has been a bit quiet recently… but now it’s back with a vengeance, as operators demand affordable gigabit backhaul to meet next generation capacity requirements everywhere.

The principle market for small cell backhaul is urban densification. Initially we saw relatively small deployments as operators used them tactically as a precision tool to fix isolated problem areas in their network. Operators are now urgently scaling up deployments to become part of their densification strategy. And this is where backhaul is needed. According to consultants IHS Technology, backhaul connections for urban small cells are set to multiply by 20 times between 2016 and 2020, driving cumulative spending of $6.4bn in the same period.

At a recent Small Cell Forum webinar, operators didn’t mince words when describing the challenges they’re facing, and how they’d like things to change. There were calls to unify planning which differs from city to city, let alone country to country. At the same time, there is great interest in using higher frequency spectrum for 5G access. However, this places uncertainty around the microwave and millimeter wave backhaul solutions which currently use these bands.

As the road to 5G beckons, the essential role of automation in deploying and operating dense HetNets becomes increasingly evident. SON today is largely RAN centric – automating cell ID and neighbor list allocations. In future, operators need to automate all aspects of end to end service delivery, including backhaul. Operators need small cells and backhaul to be plug, play and forget to avoid high and unexpected O&M costs.

Virtualization of small cells is also changing the game for backhaul. The Small Cell Forum has now published its nFAPI interface which enables C-RAN benefits over packet Ethernet type connections, unlike CPRI based C-RAN which generally needs fiber. Other so-called ‘functional splits’ of the small cell are possible, each providing a different tradeoff between the benefits of centralization and the required backhaul performance. In the longer term, virtualized functions can be moved around according to transport performance, allowing operators to squeeze the most from their deployed assets. This is why the need for guidelines on transport performance requirements for different splits is an early priority.

So after the hype and the disillusionment, small cell backhaul is once again re-asserting its place as an essential ingredient in the future HetNet.

Remote coverage: all for one and one for all?… John Okas, Strategic Wireless Business Consultancy

Automated, self-driving vehicles. Ultra-high broadband speeds. On-demand mobile video. Internet of Things (IoT) services that help reduce energy consumption. Wearable devices that aid health management.

If there’s a way 5G can benefit society that hasn’t been thought of yet, it’s surely only a matter of time before it finds its way into a serious study and from there into an excitable headline.

But maybe we should take a step back at this point, and consider the reality for a number of people — a reality that is far removed from watching a Harry Potter box set on your mobile. It’s a chastening thought, at a time when governments all over the world are setting aside or seeking out vast quantities of spectrum to deliver a high speed, high throughput 5G mobile future, that there are more than a few areas of the British Isles that would settle for good old 2G, if they could only get a signal.

The British Infrastructure Group (BIG) of cross-party MPs recently noted, in its report Mobile Coverage: A good call for Britain?, that the quality of mobile phone coverage has remained ‘alarmingly poor’ in rural areas of the UK. One third of mobile phone users, or 17 million people, across the UK report poor or no reception at home, and 28 per cent of all rural areas in the UK remain without coverage.

So what’s the answer? One option (from the UK’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport) is compulsory network sharing: national roaming, in other words. But this is hardly a business-friendly approach: where, for instance, is the operator incentive for further investment? And, in any case, what good does this do for signal-free blackspots?

A less contentious — and probably more effective — solution could be for UK regulators and mobile operators to pursue a multi-operator shared spectrum solution. In this approach a single network is built and operated for remote areas by a ‘neutral host’ — which all operators can then offer services on. Not only is this is a technically feasible system that can work with existing standards, but it is much more cost-effective and attractive for operators, while meeting consumer requirements for coverage and choice.

But how urgent is this coverage need? It’s important to remember that limited coverage isn’t just about people who choose to live in cottages on some windswept moor and can’t get a signal. It’s about a lot of UK villages and schools. It’s about bringing mobile broadband and with it fast remote medical diagnosis to hard-to-reach areas. It’s about helping farmers to find or treat animals and effectively manage crops. It’s about helping businesses to feel confident about moving outside urban areas where land is cheaper. It is urgent – and it’s important to get it right.

It’s also worth remembering that a coverage solution would be more credible if it could be applied effectively to other countries facing similar challenges. A neutral host, shared spectrum approach could work for many territories and not just the UK.

And if operators as well as regulators can agree on the benefits of one approach, perhaps we could then deliver that 5G vision — to everyone – whether at home, at work, in their car or on public transport.

The conditions for 5G success are years behind the new radio – Caroline Gabriel, Market Research and Telecoms Industry Analyst

As mobile industry analysts, we are always split when a new generation of technology looms. With 5G, as with 3G and 4G, there is the temptation to focus entirely on the emerging platforms, because there is so much attention and curiosity focused on the big questions of standards, spectrum and potential business cases. But while the media and most companies’ boards obsess about 5G, the majority of executives with real network and business responsibility remain primarily focused on the realities of today.

Rethink Technology Research, the source of Real Wireless market data, has built a unique research base of senior executives in over 100 mobile operator firms around the world. In its most recent survey, it emerged that only 8% of the companies planned to embark on 5G before 2020, and they accepted that their deployments would, of necessity, be partly pre-standard, which means expensive and hand-crafted.

The majority of operators will wait until after 2022 to deploy 5G at scale, and will focus in the meantime on squeezing as much life as they can out of LTE. For companies which will remain focused on mobile broadband as their primary business model for the foreseeable future – and despite all the hype about the Internet of Things, those are the overwhelming bulk of mobile carriers – there is a great deal of life left in 4G. Arguably, if there is no urgent requirement to move towards new use cases like fixed broadband or massive machine-to-machine connectivity, LTE-Advanced should suffice for many years. Even 5G early movers like NTT Docomo are saying that they expect to enhance their 4G networks for a decade after 5G is first switched on.

So many elements need to be in place before 5G is really a mainstream option for most operators. The actual radio standard is perhaps the least of these and there are already indications of what the 3GPP New Radio will look like. More thorny are the transition to a virtualized and software-defined architecture – a prelude to 5G for about two-thirds of tier 1 operators, our survey discovered – and creating appropriate spectrum and regulatory environments. And that is before operators can seriously start to evaluate the brand new use cases which will be essential to justify investing in a new generation of technology when the current one is still in the prime of its life.

Of all the issues which surround 5G, the spectrum situation is the furthest from being resolved in any harmonious way. The ITU’s next World Radio Conference, which will set overall allocations for 5G, does not take place until 2019. Meanwhile, some regulators, like the US FCC, are storming ahead with opening up new high frequency bands, which will be valuable for supporting use cases which require ultra-dense small cell networks. But there is little international harmony, and a concerning tendency to discuss these high capacity bands in the same old terms of auctions and exclusive licences.

At the same time, Google is pushing for a far more open approach with unlicensed, shared and dynamically allocated spectrum regimes taking over from licensing, even as Facebook throws a grenade at the traditional network equipment ecosystem with its open source Telecoms Infra Project. In these cases, the web giants are pointing to the future while too many regulators and operators stick their heads in the sand. Open source hardware and software and flexible spectrum regimes will be far more important than the actual radio for 5G to achieve its hugely broad-ranging objectives. The mobile operators still have a chance to share in that success, but only if they adopt 5G for sound commercial reasons, at the appropriate time, and in the meantime, recognize that the real change they must embrace is one of ecosystem and openness, not radio technology.

Demise of GSM-R highlights the need for radical rethinking of wireless communications in the rail industry

train-railway-s-bahn-transportThe International Railway Union has recently called for a replacement for the GSM-R network to be developed as a matter of urgency.

GSM-R is the modified version of GSM, which was developed for the specific needs of the rail industry’s operational needs. However, as the TelecomTV article above points out, the technology has had a notoriously volatile history and is now past its prime.

GSM-R was originally developed in the 1990s to deliver a specific set of functionality for the rail industry, but it was decided that it would use spectrum outside of the main GSM frequencies.

This decision meant that GSM-R required completely bespoke equipment, which in turn significantly raised the cost of deployment and has created commercial challenges ever since for the rail industry. As the International Railway Union itself said: “The use of … GSM-R has proven expensive for the railways, both in terms of capital and operational expenditure.”

The challenge for the industry is that while GSM-R is now nearing the end of its life, the ETCS (European Train Control System) is due to be in place until 2050 and as such, the rail industry needs a replacement solution for GSM-R. Currently there are many different views on the functionality and technology of a GSM-R replacement with LTE and 5G being ‘in the frame’. Whether the use of such technologies in near commercial off-the-shelf variants is some way away from being decided.

What this highlights is that wireless communications continue to be a major challenge for the rail industry — and clearer strategic thinking is the only way the industry is going to solve its challenges.

As our recent report Under pressure: tackling railway connectivity in 2016 outlined, on-board connectivity for passengers also remains a significant technical and commercial challenge for rail operators.

Part of the challenge is that there is a disconnect between the issue of on-board connectivity and how a solution could be architected in such a way to bolster rail operators’ safety-critical operational requirements. Any investment in new infrastructure for improving passenger experiences doesn’t have to be siloed. In fact, we see a huge opportunity for infrastructure investments to also support on-board train operator services, as well as potentially safety-critical functionality. Each new service supported by upgraded infrastructure creates its own opportunities for generating value, thereby helping to recoup investment.

The introduction of new standards, technologies and systems into the rail environment tends, for many reasons, to be a slow process — thankfully matched by long asset lives.

With the multiple challenges of providing broadband wireless for passenger and on-train staff use and replacing GSM-R in train control applications, this does provide the industry the opportunity to investigate whether one system could ultimately serve all requirements. Much like the emergency services moving to public cellular networks — something perhaps unthinkable not that many years ago — the rail industry might have to rethink wireless connectivity. The scale, complexity and safety critical nature of rail systems means this will be very challenging to say the least.

You can read more of our thoughts on these issues or feel free to contact us directly.

Convergence across verticals means new revenue opportunities for the wireless industry

This piece originally appeared on RCR Wireless as part of the publication’s “Analyst Angle” section. You can view the piece here.

Simon Fletcher chairing the 8th Future of Wireless International Conference

Simon Fletcher chairing the 8th Future of Wireless International Conference

Last month’s Cambridge Wireless Future of Wireless International Conference (FWIC) provided a great opportunity to bring together representatives from many vertical industries with wireless technology providers. As ever the attendees were highly engaged, with plenty of challenging questions and thought provoking panel and open forum discussions.

Perhaps the most interesting insight from the conference was the way in which it was clear that there is a convergence of challenges across multiple vertical sectors. A lot of speakers were articulating similar challenges — in areas as diverse as healthcare and automotive — and this is vital for the future of wireless. Convergence opens up opportunities for greater standardisation and the creation of platforms that have applications in multiple sectors, increasing efficiencies and revenue opportunities for vendors and service providers.

For example, the continuing need to improve remote and in-building coverage was mentioned by several speakers — particularly those from the automotive industry. The poor coverage on the UK road network was highlighted as a significant barrier to future innovation and revenues. The relatively poor coverage of the UK is a well-known issue for the wireless industry. But now transport industry players are highlighting the issue as a significant deficiency that needs to be addressed, and government departments that take an interest in transport systems are also applying pressure to improve coverage.

The topic of regulation remained ever-present in a number of the industry sector sessions. Several speakers noted that regulatory frameworks could put up significant resistance to wireless enabled change, which will create opportunities for disruptive start-ups in a number of sectors.

A final major point of convergence was also the impact that “OTT” players are having in the vast majority of vertical sectors, often already being an ‘incumbent’ themselves. The OTT has driven the data demand on networks and, whilst financial results indicate that the mobile operators have struggled to keep up with this demand, the OTT is now part and parcel of the wireless industry package. Having seen how the presence of the OTT, with their global reach over the mobile internet, challenges existing business models, some vertical players may be looking to defensive approaches that can resist change. To take a defensive stance is unlikely to keep the competition at bay and will certainly not create a competitive advantage. A number of panels observed that their challenges are more cultural or regulatory — rather than technological. However such a perspective overlooks significant opportunities for vertical markets to partition technologies into manageable platforms, where the pace of change in each area can be better understood.

Aside from these challenges, there were also encouraging signs of progress within a number of the vertical sectors themselves.

In the health sector, after many years of failed large IT projects implemented from the top down, there is a growing trend of putting wireless devices in the hands of frontline doctors and nurses. This is having a transformational effect on technology in healthcare from the bottom up.

Smart city technology trials have been ongoing for a number of years. The smart city panel explored the tipping points at which scale up to common platforms may occur. The recently started Innovate-UK funded work in Manchester and the news that Singapore is establishing collaborations with countries like the UK, start to show promising signs of the possibility of common platforms emerging.

The fintech session also served as a good illustration of how the large incumbent banks are establishing incubators to increase awareness of innovation and determine how these developments could be adopted in their mainstream business.

Overall it was interesting to see that there seems to be broad recognition — both within the wireless industry and the verticals themselves — that new business models are required in a number of vertical sectors if significant new revenue growth is to be realised. What will be interesting is to see how that plays out, whether it will be directed by ‘top-down’ or ‘bottom-up’ approaches, or if large incumbents and smaller disruptors will ‘join forces’ in certain sectors to nurture these new approaches.

Under pressure: tackling railway connectivity in 2016 (downloadable guide)

Railway connectivityWireless connectivity on trains is set to become a key area of focus for the wireless industry over the coming years. On-board connectivity remains a significant technical challenge; providing connectivity to people within a fast-moving object that often encounters mobile blackspots is inherently difficult. However, pressure is rising from governments and passengers to improve the current levels of wireless service available on trains.

Currently, enhanced on-board wireless solutions face two major barriers. The first is how to enable cellular connectivity. The second is how to secure sufficient capacity for on-train usage and the necessary backhaul where on-train Wi-Fi is installed. While the technologies are available today to solve these challenges, the business case for moving connectivity along remains largely elusive.

rail-connectivityNow though we are seeing some interesting moves in the market that may help to break the commercial deadlock we have seen in recent years. In particular governments around the world are now attempting to ease some of the pressure by investing in connectivity for trains. The UK government is investing £50m to ensure passengers benefit from free Wi-Fi by 2017. The state government of Victoria, Australia, has committed $40m to tackle mobile coverage blackspots across the region’s Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo, Seymour and Traralgon lines.

Although these developments are welcome, ultimately the ‘right’ solution needs to work for train operators, mobile network operators and rail passengers alike. All industry stakeholders now need to work together to produce business cases that can benefit every party involved.

At this time of shifting market dynamics Real Wireless has put together a short guide assessing the current situation with regards to wireless on trains along with our independent expert recommendations for ensuring connectivity remains on track.

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

Screen Shot 2016-06-09 at 11.06.27

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.