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Wireless Networks: Mobile World Congress review - Playing it safe



Mobile World Congress 2009 review - Playing it safe
The black suits were back, and the show was very business focused, serious even. And Mobile Europe had its team looking out for the most important news across the industry - from network equipment to application development.
The main vendors and LTE:
At MWC, tier one vendors faced a difficult balancing act of pleasing MNOs with widely diverging network development plans, kick-starting the network upgrade cycle to recover considerable investments into OFDM/MIMO technologies, and showing investors their optimised product portfolios that could be supported at lower cost.

As a result, the Big Four vendors - Ericsson, Huawei, Alcatel-Lucent and Nokia Siemens Networks - moved in a tight pack announcing their strategies to deliver end to end 4G portfolios, showing technical readiness to launch LTE and demonstrating converged RAN products, some of which were announced in the weeks leading up to WMC.

Ericsson exhibited the Evolved Packet Core portfolio for LTE and next-generation broadband, including SGSN/MME and Mobile Packet Gateway - software upgrades for the existing SGSN and GGSN - as well as Converged Packet Gateway. At the same time, it announced HSPA network upgrades to 28Mbps for TIM Italy and trials of 42Mbps HSPA speeds with Telstra. NokiaSiemens Networks demonstrated LTE interoperability between its recently launched multi-radio Flexi Base Station and Qualcomm's terminal technology, while Huawei showed off its unified LTE FDD/TDD solution.
Alcatel-Lucent stepped back in the game after Verizon's announcement that it chose ALU and Ericsson as its two vendors for the initial LTE rollout in the US. In Barcelona, ALU launched a new LTE software module of the node B, already trialled by a Tier 1 MNO and on general availability from mid-2009. It also completed a series of calls over LTE TDD on LG's devices.

Operators show LTE split:
Two distinct groups of operators emerged at MWC. The first is lead by DoCoMo, Verizon Wireless and TeliaSonera, all announcing plans for a fast-lane deployment and commercial launch of LTE in 2010. The rest, led by tier 1 European MNOs, are pushing ahead with LTE trials, but have made no commitments to the short-term rollouts. T-Mobile stated that from a technical perspective it would be ready for LTE from 2010, but plans to spend the next two years boosting capacity of its HSPA networks. Orange expects the first commercial LTE services to become available no sooner than 2011, with HSPA subscriber migration taking place from 2012.

LTE holds out three main values to mobile operators: higher speeds, improvements in latency and spectral efficiency. Although the former is the most frequently quoted benefit, it is the latter two, along with the availability of spectrum, that dictate the timing of LTE launch and migration strategies.
In Europe, where only a 5MHz TDD band is currently available for LTE, gradual rollouts and a demand driven migration will be a norm, slower in such markets as the UK, where MNOs face the most spectrum limitations. For all of Western European MNOs, the availability of digital dividend spectrum will be critical to provide indoor LTE coverage and better mobile data user experience. T-Mobile's CEO Hamid Akhavan was outspoken on the issue, stating that "digital dividend is absolutely critical for the development of mobile broadband on a large scale".

Give us the spectrum:
The GSMA repeated its call for governments to release digital dividend spectrum in the 700MHz band in a harmonised way, and without entering costly auctions or pricing the spectrum too highly.
"Governments are turning to the telecoms sector for a good part of their economic stimulus, and the mobile industry is one of the few sectors not asking for a bailout," GSMA CEO Rob Conway, said.
But Conway said that the industry risked running out of spectrum, due to recent surges in mobile data usage. Although operators in Europe have assets at 2.1GHz, 1800MHz and 900MHz, they argue that setting aside 100MHz of the 400MHz of spectrum released by the turn off of analogue TV would allow them to provide true mobile broadband rural areas, and in-building in urban areas.

They say that LTE at 700MHz is 70% cheaper to roll out than at 2.1GHz, and point to analysis that claims that a 10% penetration rise boost GDP by 0.6% . The logic is that by providing a boost to mobile broadband, governments will boost their own economies.

But although France and the UK, and other countries, are looking kindly on such requests, a GSMA spokesperson said that Italy and Spain at the moment are considering passing on all the analogue TV spectrum over to digital TV.

Have you got your ID?
Identity management in its broadest sense is going to be vitally important to the future shape of society as well as to the revenue streams of service providers. So far however, only a few seem aware of this, though some companies are already staking out the ground, ready for an expected surge of interest.

For Doug Daberius, head of identity solution management at Nokia Siemens Networks (who last year acquired subscriber data management specialist Apertio), what began as a simple extension to subscriber data consolidation is now morphing into a potentially critical core function for service providers. "At one end, subscriber identity management is about simplifying the user experience - through single sign-on features, for example. At the other, it's about the service provider becoming a trusted intermediary with all sorts of other Web 2.0 applications and services like permissive advertising. There's also a very strong case to be made that early adoption of an identity management strategy will save considerable operating and capital expense later on as awareness of the importance of identity issues grows amongst the wider population."

Many of these themes are echoed by Amardeo Sarma, a senior manager at NEC's European R&D labs where work on an Identity Brokerage system is underway. "Identity management isn't just about benefitting the privacy of the user - though that's obviously vitally important," he comments. "The world of services out there is getting more complex by the minute with new industries like finance and advertising adding functions and features and traditional boundaries breaking down. As an industry, we have to find appropriate ways to manage this both for the end-user's benefit as well as that of the wider industry."

One of the other important angles on identity is its intimate relationship with policy. Bridgewater Systems used MWC this year to launch its Subscriber Data Broker solution to link policy and subscriber identity information with an increasingly open service environment. David Sharpley, senior VP at the company commented, "By federating dynamic subscriber data from existing data stores and using sophisticated tools to broker this data to third-party applications, it enables service providers to rapidly create and deliver personalized applications such as mobile advertising."

NFC Ecosystem Builds:
Telefónica O2's Czech and UK operators have tested NFC-based transport ticketing with Over-The-Air credit top up and an eWallet application for small payments. The services were demoed on NFC-embedded Nokia 6131 handset using NXP's MIFARE4Mobile standard. Field trials at Telefonica O2 will start around end-2009, with a commercial launch tentatively slotted for 2H 2010.

NFC's adoption in Europe has been much slower than expected two years ago, but recent trials brought it closer to commercial reality. The ecosystem is starting to take shape: Telefónica worked with Visa, Barclays bank, Transport for London and Nokia to support its trials. In France, ERGOSUM NFC initiative brought together the largest supermarkets, such as Auchan and Carrefour, financial services providers and mobile operators Bouygues Telecom, Orange and SFR, and committed to field trials in 2009 and deployments in 2010.

The availability of NFC mobile handsets is now the main barrier for the mass-market rollout in Europe, as fragmented market has limited the volumes for handset component manufacturers. The recent announcements of universal security chipsets promise to accelerate the release of new handsets. At MWC, Moversa, a JV between Sony and NXP, demonstrated its Universal Secure Access Module U-SAM, which will support three existing standards - Sony's FeliCa, used by DoCoMo since 2004, MIFARE and Java.

ABI Research forecasts limited device shipments in 2009, growing to 300,000 in 2012. The initial trials have used embedded NFC handsets, but Telefonica mentioned that many MNOs would prefer to use SIM-based NFC applications. Contactless SIMs are seen as potentially more secure and flexible, easy to disable when a handset is lost and transfer to a new device during a replacement.

OneAPI testing environment goes live:
With traditional mobile business models now under attack from a variety of directions, a number of service providers in recent years have introduced partnership programs with the application developer community - but with varying degrees of success. It's only very recently that the explosive success of truly open platforms like the i-Phone has forced service providers to confront their destiny - hence the recent introduction of the GSMA's OneAPI programme.

While developer programmes have gone some way down the track to opening up network functions and assets such as location and charging- taking the internet's Web 2.0 vision to spawn the Telco 2.0 web-based services concept - those developers have had to confront great variations in different technologies and standards across those different networks.

To resolve these problems, the GSMA has partnered with open applications specialist Aepona to create a platform where developers can experiment with new functions and processes to rapidly create new applications. Currently, five mobile service providers are interconnected to the network - Telenor, Vodafone, Orange, Telecom Italia and Telus - with a number of others already expressing strong interest. The current infrastructure exposes messaging and location assets and its planned to soon add user and data connection profiles and charging functions to the set.

Going Green:
Two major themes emerged at the Congress: the use of renewable sources of energy to power mobile sites and the overall improvements in the energy efficiency of mobile devices and network equipment.
Solutions integrating renewable sources with the base station were demonstrated in the Green Pavilion of MWC by several start-ups, such as PowerOasis, Flexenclosure and Structa Power. A small number of base stations powered by solar, wind and hydro are already installed in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East. Further commitments to deploy "greener" sites have been voiced by Vodafone and Orange. By the end of 2009, Orange plans to bring the number of solar-powered sites to 1,000 from more than 300 today. The CAPEX for these is 3-4 times higher than for the equivalent diesel-powered sites, but the reduction in OPEX is as high as 80%, justifying longer payback period.

High-volume deployments will bring down the prices and improve the business case. "We expect that 2011 will be the inflexion point for the adoption of renewable sources in the mobile industry," said Juha-Erkki Mäntyniemi, Head of Environmental Affairs at Nokia Siemens Networks. To enable the high-volume turn-key deployment of mobile sites powered by renewables, Alcatel-Lucent announced the new Alternative Energy Program.

In parallel, network vendors announced 3G/4G solutions with self-optimising capabilities, reduced number of network elements, and lowered the power consumption of single RAN base stations and IP packet core equipment. Most of these solutions aim to improve the network efficiency, achieving the green end by different means.

Svetlana Grant, Alun Lewis
Mobile Europe, 25 March, 2009




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