Public Wi-Fi presents a great opportunity for Virgin

Last month, Virgin announced a major expansion of its Wi-Fi hotspot network, with the investment intended to challenge BT’s dominance of the Wi-Fi space. In this blog post, Real Wireless Expert Ade Ajibulu looks at how Virgin could be taking advantage of the latest Wi-Fi technologies to offer a game-changing service.

With BT boasting more than five million hotspots, most of them via home routers, Virgin has some catching up to do. Cost is certainly a key part of the decision, with network capacity only getting more expensive at the same time as mobile data use goes through the roof.Public WiFi

This move could however be a complete game-changer, opening up new revenue streams taking multi-play offers to the next level, disrupting the plans of the traditional MNOs and maintaining customer loyalty in the face of competition from disruptive players such as Sky and TalkTalk.

The key is in taking advantage of cloud-based Wi-Fi cellular integration tools coming to the market, which promise to deliver cellular-like quality of experience on hybrid networks and which, unlike bespoke software solutions, scale with the size of the Wi-Fi network.

Video services are an integral part of the offering, and any expanded Wi-Fi network will need to deliver the same quality of experience and reliability as the cellular network.

For this to work, the network requires performance optimisation and automated fault recovery techniques, plus seamless handover and full integration between cellular and Wi-Fi. This means that subscribers can experience the same content and services over any device, regardless of location and on the move, and that it is immaterial whether a user is on the cellular or Wi-Fi hotspot network.

Up until now this has been technically difficult and expensive.

However, with emerging technologies such as Hotspot2.0/Passpoint, this is set to change. These can support seamless handover along with a new generation of cloud based services, providing a full range of cellular and Wi-Fi integration and performance management techniques.XCellAir is one of a number of companies currently providing such a service.

It would reduce reliance on the EE network, without having to acquire spectrum or having to acquire all the mobile network engineering expertise to operate carrier grade networks. It would also bring significant revenue opportunities at a time when a number of issues are being thrown up by BT’s proposed acquisition of EE.

In order to make the most of the proposed move, now is the time for Virgin to be considering these services.

Carrier-grade Wi-Fi: a backhaul bottleneck by 2019?

Real Wireless was recently commissioned by Bluwan to analyse the emerging trends and technological challenges that carrier-grade Wi-Fi is creating.

The study, Carrying Carrier Wi-Fi: The Technology Challenges, emphasized the increasing reliance operators will be placing on carrier Wi-Fi over the next five years. In fact, our analysis reveals that carrier-grade Wi-Fi hotspots will make up more than 80% of all available access points in 2019.

The study also identified that data demands being placed upon Wi-Fi hotspots will increase dramatically in the coming years, driven by data-intensive applications like streaming content. In fact, according to figures from Cisco, the world’s hotspots will need to support a staggering 63 exabytes of Wi-Fi IP traffic each month by 2018.

While there is little doubt carrier-grade Wi-Fi will form a crucial part next generation mobile networks, operators need to be aware of how important effective backhaul provision will become. In particular, the affordability of backhauling such dense network hotspots will become an increasingly serious barrier.

To avoid this, our analysis identified eight key technology criteria that Carrier-grade Wi-Fi needs to meet in order to ensure they are both cost-effective and operationally efficient to deploy. These key criteria are:

  • < $1,000 per link
  • Flexible planning
  • Flexible capacity allocation
  • Low Total Cost of Ownership per Mbps
  • > 500Mbps throughput
  • High scalability
  • Low latency: < 10ms
  • Quality of Experience 

In the report, we then benchmarked a range of wireless backhaul technologies against these criteria to assess their suitability for tackling this challenge.

For more information on the findings, our full analysis, and our conclusions, please download a copy of ‘Carrying Carrier Wi-Fi: The Technology Challenges’ here.

Will cognitive radio, dynamic spectrum access come of age in 5G?

Around 10 years ago, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)’s Next Generation Communications program constructed a prototype cognitive radio system, which utilized dynamic spectrum access for its communications. By identifying unused sections of spectrum in the area it was operating, it was hoped up to 10-times more spectrum would be available for transmissions. This highlighted a growing interest in the defense community in dynamic spectrum access techniques which had been developed with the challenges of battle-space spectrum in mind, but also apparently had applicability in commercial environments in terms of making more efficient use of valuable spectrum resources and potentially leading the way to spectrum trading. The XG program was one of the largest cognitive radio projects at the time but interest in Cognitive radio was by no means limited to the U.S.

Martin Cave’s audit of public sector bands in 2005, which highlighted just how much more efficiently U.K. defense spectrum could be utilized, provoked interest in the topic in the U.K. This was produced alongside Ofcom’s Spectrum Framework Review, which set out ambitious targets for a general move from the traditional “command and control” approach to spectrum licensing to a more dynamic approach based on “market mechanisms” with the overall ambition of realizing better value from spectrum for the U.K.

With the switchover to digital television and release of TV white space, a debate was ignited over whether DSA could be applied to these civilian bands too. The obvious example of this has been the activity around TV white space, although the Federal Communications Commission discussion on 3.5 GHz is also significant.

However, the digital TV switchover was six years ago and the commercial roll out of white space devices is still fairly limited due to the complications of deploying these devices in practice. Concerns over the so-called “hidden node” issue (interference provoked by the failure of one device to detect the presence of all other devices) and how devices with different spectral views would liaise with each other have meant that the regulation of these white space devices has taken some time to agree.

In attempting to overcome these limitations, regulators gradually shied away from a pure spectrum sensing approach, towards the introduction of beacon signals to identify usage, before settling on the use of a centralized database of white spaces in each location that is used in addition to spectrum sensing.

But even then, the practical use of TV white spaces has continued to be fairly limited. Vendors and operators have struggled to find an application that suits the availability of white spaces, as well as handling the lack of guaranteed spectrum.

This same philosophy is being proposed for 3.5 GHz in the U.S., where some locations have other users (e.g. marine radar), but the combination of database and sensing could allow this band to be used. This is especially important as 3.5 GHz is one of the few LTE bands that is supported globally, so there is a clear commercial imperative.

Enter 5G

At the recent 5G Huddle, rethinking how existing technologies make use of spectrum was a key topic of discussion, with spectrum sharing a major part of this.

There are some strong arguments for why this would be sensible:

  • We’re starting to reach the limits of what we can achieve through higher order modulation schemes, with any gains insufficient to keep pace with demand.
  • We may still be making some gains with regards to multiple-input, multiple-output and CoMP, but again, not at the same rate that demand is increasing.
  • Small cells, which are increasing in usage, and network densification, levels of which are also increasing, both lend themselves well to spectrum sharing.
  • –he last variable available to us in our attempts to increase capacity is spectrum, and (at least in theory), DSA maximizes availability and efficiency of spectrum across all operators

On that last point, this is of course only if it is deployed correctly, with polite protocols for communications.

However introducing dynamic spectrum sharing to “5G” would surely result in 5G just suffering from the same technical issues that cognitive radio has encountered before.

After all, one of the key differentiators of cellular over many other wireless technologies, such as Wi-Fi, is the guaranteed quality of service. Indeed, we have previously examined how exclusively licensed spectrum loses value as the sharing arrangements increase uncertainty for operators.

Wouldn’t 5G lose this edge if spectrum access became dynamic and without guarantees?

At present, you would be correct, but it is unlikely anyone would be satisfied introducing such a glaring problem into 5G. Rather the key difference between earlier cognitive radios and 5G is that, as demonstrated with the discussions at the 5G huddle, major commercial vendors and operators are putting significant research time and investment behind the technology.

Perhaps this time around, with the full weight of the industry behind it, and with an appropriate understanding of what operators need from spectrum sharing conditions to offer high-quality services, cognitive radio and DSA can really come of age.

This blog post originally appeared as part of RCR Wireless’s Analyst Angle, where the industry’s leading analysts discuss the hot topics in the wireless industry.

Fools rush in….

Newcastle City Council today announced that they have struck a deal with GOWEX to install free Wi-Fi across key public areas.

Real Wireless were contracted to act as expert advisors in the process, assessing what the requirements for the tender process should be, comparing bids and, assisting in the assessment of bids against the requirements.

Part of Go Digital Newcastle, the scheme received Government funding via Broadband Delivery UK, and aims to deliver superfast broadband to 97% of the city by summer 2015. 

A key objective of our work with the council was to ensure that the chosen solution provided the best return for this money. After all, local councils are not experts in wireless technology and solutions and nor should they be expected to be. 

However many will still go ahead with implementing their own solution, despite the obvious technical and financial risks involved.

With the Go Digital Newcastle scheme operating on such a tight timeframe, Newcastle Council needed to take a more considered approach to ensure the best return for their money – hence seeking out Real Wireless for independent, expert advice. 

After considering all the bids, Newcastle City Council decided on the solution proposed by GOWEX.

Based around the use of small cells mounted on existing public assets, it meant Newcastle council could minimise installation costs, whilst ensuring the maximum coverage possible.

As mobile data continues to boom, it is no surprise that more congested urban regions are starting to look to Wi-Fi offload as a solution to their worries. The reality is that, whilst it offers some respite, it is not the quick-fix panacea that they are looking for. Rushing to install a new solution without consulting any kind of industry expert could prove to be an increasingly expensive white elephant.

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