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.

Mobile coverage in rural areas – a step in the wrong direction?

Mobile_Phone_Mast_at_Two_Burrows_-_geograph.org.uk_-_272976The UK currently has around 54,403 mobile phone masts dotted around the country — many of which are on land leased to the major telecoms companies by local landowners.

4,000 leases are due to expire this year, and this could lead to serious consequences for  telecoms companies and consumers alike. In the absence of any regulation, lease renewal negotiations could lead to significant demands from landlords for rent increases in a large number of cases. Telecoms companies will then need to either pass on this cost to the consumer, through more expensive tariffs, or remove macrocells completely and create coverage or capacity gaps. The Telegraph recently wrote an article on this topic.

Macrocells are still vital to mobile coverage

Despite advances in small cell technology and Wi-Fi calling, macrocells remain the backbone of the mobile network, delivering the majority of the UK’s coverage and capacity.

There’s no alternative to macrocells, either, that doesn’t involve some form of relationship with a property or asset owner. In-building connectivity solutions like small cells and DAS do improve coverage and capacity in homes, offices and public buildings, but they will never replace macrocells entirely and do not provide wide area coverage in towns and around the countryside.

Operators need to protect their investment

Vital infrastructure is often expensive to provide and macrocells are no different. Operators naturally want to keep hold of their existing assets, given they’ve invested heavily in constructing macrocells in the first place.

Operators and landowners both know the difficulties with finding alternative sites for macrocells and obtaining planning permission and the time and cost associated with doing this would be significant — whilst the operators could resort to invoking code powers this is not a step that would be taken likely but it cannot be discounted completely as an idle threat.

How rent rises will affect mobile provision

The first impact of rent rises is likely to be felt by users in those locations where high costs force MNOs to remove macrocells, resulting in coverage or capacity gaps. Site closures aren’t going to happen overnight, though. MNOs will fight to keep their sites at rental levels that are either at or below the current level. But if landowners insist on increasing site rent by excessive amounts then users will no doubt have to bear the brunt of the costs through higher tariffs. Most likely the operators will pass some costs onto the users and absorb the majority but this will lead to less investment in new infrastructure in their networks and invariably lead to a negative impact on the digital economy generally.

Can the government intervene ?

The story of land rentals is an old chestnut in the mobile industry. The cycle of site acquisition, rental renewals and notices to quit will carry on as long the mobile industry exists — unless the government  is prepared to intervene to help regulate the rental levels that MNO’s pay for this essential infrastructure. At the same time, MNO’s need to realise that landlords and building owners should not have their genuine development plans for their land or property undermined by MNO macrocells that may have been on there for many years.

The reliance the British public currently places on their mobile communications and, within a few years, the reliance that the Police and other emergency services will have on their vital communications being carried by mobile networks suggests that this particular debate should be opened up and that representatives from the various parties (MNO’s Property owners and Government) can create a solid and sustainable basis that will help maintain mobile communications services throughout the UK.

Wireless technology and commercial property: why should property developers care?

CommIn 2015, mobile users — including both you and I — expect to be able to use our mobile devices and laptops wherever we are.

More than this though, we expect to receive the same level of service, functionality and, increasingly, data speeds, regardless of the environment we are in.

This has big implications for property developers and others that provide commercial property. While most people have been aware of how important mobile connectivity has been within their buildings for business tenants, in the past this has typically been basic voice and SMS access.

In the past developers and building owners typically found that there is adequate coverage and service for these technologies inside their buildings with minimal additional effort; the external mobile network could penetrate their building and serve their tenants to a sufficient level.

However, as mobile data connectivity (and the expectations of users of these services to receive good data speeds) has spread, the need for dedicated infrastructure inside a building to meet these needs has also grown.

It’s also no longer sufficient to rely upon Wi-Fi alone to provide data connectivity, with residents expecting 3G and 4G devices to work inside a building as well as they do outside.

Mobile operators, meanwhile, are becoming increasingly reticent to fund the rollout of this infrastructure for all but the very largest of their corporate customers.

It is therefore increasingly expected that the building owner themselves will invest in the infrastructure required to provide mobile services to people inside the building.

We’ve therefore created a guide that helps outline the wireless need — and business case for installation — that modern commercial property developers face. It outlines how wireless can improve current business models and practices, helping to both attract and retain tenants through enhanced connectivity.

After all, it would seem completely illogical to construct a commercial building that did not include a water or electricity supply, as no business would become a tenant. As mobile adoption amongst consumers and businesses becomes so universal, it’s time wireless connectivity was treated the same.

The guide ‘Wireless technology and commercial property’ is available free of charge.

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.

3G as an alternative to home broadband?

 

In a desire to develop competition in broadband provision to the home, many have hoped that wireless might one day evolve sufficiently to become a viable alternative. But the technologists were generally sceptical. Wireless, they noted, did not have the capacity and tended to lag behind the speed of fixed connections. Previous attempts to deliver wireless broadband, from Ionica to the more recent UK Broadband, have all either failed, or remained small-scale activities. Yet suddenly, almost out of nowhere, 3G data card sales are rocketing and for many wireless does appear to be becoming a viable alternative to fixed line broadband. What is going on here?

 

The answer is that 3G is a viable alternative for some – in particular those with relatively low total data volumes and who do not want a fixed line to their home. On the data side most 3G cards have a limit to the data per month unlike home broadband which is typically unlimited (albeit with some “fair usage” clause). So, 3 are currently offering 5GBytes/month for £15 on contract with 10p/MByte additional charge if this limit is exceeded. That equates to around 160Mbytes/day. For downloading emails and web surfing that is probably plenty for most, but audio and video streaming could quickly eat through that (audio streaming at 100kbits/s equates to around 45Mbytes/hour, video streaming at 500kbits/s would use up the daily entitlement in 40 minutes). As the BBC iPlayer becomes ever more popular, many predict a rapid increase in the average data consumption to the home. (In passing, it is worth noting that 160Mbytes equates to around 1,800 voice call minutes per month. Current offers are £20 for 500 voice call minutes so data is being offered at around a quarter of the voice call price making VoIP attractive.)

 

The other question is whether the household wants to have a fixed phone line. If they decide they do, and pay the line rental, then the additional cost of broadband on this line is typically well below £15 and provides higher data rates, unlimited volumes and often mostly free calls (except to premium rate and overseas numbers). For such a household, mobile broadband is not particularly attractive (except as a way of accessing the network when on the move). However, many people do not want a phone line. Those who are renting, students and those who spend little time at home often do not want to feel tied to a fixed line. Such individuals already make use of mobile as their only means of voice communications and extending this to mobile data clearly looks sensible.

 

Finally, there is the question of network capacity. Cellular networks have enhanced their capacity with HSDPA which broadly enables higher data rates for those with good coverage while excluding those with very poor coverage. This makes it very difficult to analytically derive cell capacity. Instead, Qualcomm and others have modelled and measured typical scenarios and concluded that data rates in the region of 1.2 – 1.5Mbits/s per cell can be supported. So if all the data users tried to access their 160Mbytes between, say, 8pm and 10pm, the cell could, at best support around 8 subscribers per carrier. If voice traffic is also to be carried then this would be lower. Assuming around 10,000 cells covering the UK, each with 3 sectors, then the total subscriber numbers per operator per carrier would be in the region of 240,000. Of course, if users actually averaged less than their allotted allocation per day then more could be supported – as is likely the case. So perhaps up to a million users per operator might be feasible, especially if additional spectrum is acquired allowing more carriers to be deployed, giving perhaps as many as five million across all operators.

 

So we can conclude that cellular is not a viable replacement for broadband for all – it does not have the capacity for more than around 25% of UK households. It is also only attractive to a certain class of user who would typically not have a fixed line to the home and it may become less attractive if video streaming becomes the norm. But for a substantial subset of the market it looks ideal.

A measurement device in your pocket

The recent news item that a US university had used mobiles to track the movement of thousands of individuals generated a lot of interest in the press. The study, reported in Nature, took anonymised data from a cellular operator as to the movements of their users and concluded from this that humans are creatures of habit, travelling the same routes to the same locations most of the time. This may not come as a great surprise to anyone who commutes to work each day and might not seem to be a significant advance for science but it does potentially give some indication of what more may be to come.

 

Nokia Eco-sensor concept

A Nokia Eco-Sensor Concept Phone (more)

 

Gathering data of most sorts – for example on the air quality throughout a country – can be very expensive. But costs can be much reduced, and the volume of data massively increased, by harnessing the daily movements of millions of mobile phones carried everywhere by most of us as part of our daily travels. The mobile is unique in being a device that either knows its own location, or which the network can locate, and which can input, process and transmit data. With our example of air quality measurements we could imagine clipping a small sensor onto the bottom of the mobile phones of volunteers. This might periodically sample the air quality and then the mobile might send a short data message back to the network. The network would then add the cell location to the message and pass this onto the agency conducting the trial. For very little cost, detailed information which was frequently being updated could be generated.

 

The list of possibilities is likely to be extensive. Ofcom is using around 50 mobile phones with Wi-Fi capabilities to test the Wi-Fi data rates available throughout London. Phones with microphones could test noise levels, deduce what TV programme their owner was watching to derive audience research data and much more. Phones docked in cars with vibration sensors could send back information on road quality and traffic speeds could be estimated from their position. The position of entrants out on a course for a cycling or running event could be tracked by the organisers to help them run the event smoothly. It seems likely that many specialists would like measurements of some sort in their specific areas of interest and many hobbies would benefit from more information.

 

This sort of application might raise privacy concerns and in some cases might require additional hardware or software to be added to the phone. But many users might be willing to agree to help if they thought that the information would benefit them – perhaps by leading to a better environment. In the near future you might leave your phone on for more reasons that just to receive incoming calls.

Hexagons in 3D – Is it time to update the defining image of the cellular industry?

If you had to pick a single iconic image to represent  the world of the mobile operator , it would have to be the hexagon. Much used in the early marketing literature of operators, the hexagon provided a simple representation of the area covered by a base station, and helped to illustrate how a limited set of frequencies could be reused in order to serve an unlimited number of users. This is the central ‘magic’ of cellular networks.

 

Hexagons define frequency re-use in outdoor macrocellular networks

 Hexagons defining outdoor cellular coverage areas

 

More formally, a hexagon defines the region which contains points which are closer to one base station site than to any other  if the base stations are arranged in a regular grid.  Assuming uniform wave propagation conditions, it therefore shows the coverage area of the base station in the centre of the hexagon, i.e. locations where a mobile would receive and deliver a stronger signal to this base station than to any other. The hexagon is a special case of a Voronoi polygon, which contains the closest locations to any random selection of points.

 

 

 Voronoi Polygons for Random Points (Base Station Sites)

 

Real-world propagation conditions are never like that, of course; in practice the coverage area of a given base station is very irregular indeed. Nevertheless, the hexagon provides a useful idealisation – its six sides give an indication of the  number of sources of interference which need to be considered when working out the total capacity of a basic cellular system.

 

So what’s new? Today, cellular systems are undergoing a period of renewal. Well over two-thirds of voice traffic occurs inside buildings and it’s likely that data services will occur even more inside buildings. This means that mobile networks need to do more than provide coverage to a 2D plane – they need to consider the third dimension. Re-use of radio resources vertically is inevitable, whether using Wi-Fi access points or femtocells. A 2D map can be coloured without reusing colours in adjacent shapes using just four colours, so 4 frequencies  can be reused without limit to avoid interference between adjacent cells. In 3D, the number rises greatly adding to the complexity. [Note: I haven’t yet been able to find the 3D equivalent of the four-colour theorem – I’d be fascinated to hear if anyone knows the answer]

 

So the question arises: what is the equivalent of the hexagon in three dimensions? In the jargon, we are seeking a space-filling polyhedron.  There exist various exotic candidate shapes (anyone for rhombo-hexagonal dodecahedra?). However, we don’t simply want a polyhedron which fills the space, but one which corresponds to a 3D version of the Voronoi polygon, enclosing the points closest to the antennas.

 

If the antennas in a building are on a regular grid across each floor of the building, with antennas directly above and below each other on successive floors, then the Voronoi polygon is simply the humble cube.

 

 

Cubic Honeycomb

Inside a cubic lattice

 

If the antennas on successive floors are offset between floors, so that an antenna is at the midpoint of its four nearest neighbours on the floor above, then a rather more interesting shape results. This arrangement is known to crystallographers as a body-centred cubic arrangement, for which the Voronoi polygon is the truncated octahedron. This has 8 regular hexagonal faces, 6 regular square faces, 24 vertices and 36 edges.

 

 

 

 The Truncated Octahedron

 

 

So there are 14 adjacent interference-creating cells surrounding each antenna:

 

A Lattice of Truncated Octahedra

 

 

Finally, we can contemplate arranging the antennas in a face-centred cubic pattern. The Voronoi polygon in this case is the rhombic dodecahedron, with 12 rhombic faces.

 

 

 

Rhombic Dodecahedron

 

The lattice in this case looks like this:

Lattice of rhombic dodecahedra

 

 

Of course, these patterns don’t relate closely to the reality of in-building propagation any more closely than the real world of outdoor macrocell planning. In particular, the high propagation losses involved in penetration through walls and floors will distort the relevant shapes hugely.

 

Nevertheless, doesn’t an industry which has changed so much deserve a new defining image? Perhaps the truncated octahedron could fit the bill !

 

The Truncated Octahedron