a week in wireless

Can’t we all just get along?

The Informer spent much of this week in sunny Amsterdam, basking in the glow of the world’s most advanced LTE networks, as early adopters and keen followers shot the breeze at LTE World Summit. The talk on the conference floor this year was all very heavy and technical, in marked contrast to the usual marketing gloss and business-case chat the Informer is used to hearing. Still, whereas the problems highlighted at those kind of gatherings are often identified as technical, the guys responsible for the technology were this time pointing the finger at commercial issues.

Research from the Global Mobile Suppliers Association published in April counted 175 commercial networks in 70 countries at the end of 1Q13, with LTE having taken a little over three years to reach this point. So after focusing on domestic deployments it now seems only natural that operators worldwide are looking at ways of getting their networks to talk to each other.

Figures being thrown around at the conference suggested that ten million megabytes of roaming data were consumed in Europe in 2012, but that figure the will explode to 70 million megabytes within four years, as operators move to LTE roaming scenarios much more quickly than they did for 2- and 3G.

However, technology executives at some of Scandinavia’s biggest carriers – Telenor and TeliaSonera – told the audience at the event that while technical hurdles are “easy” to overcome, more complex commercial issues mean a single mobile market without roaming borders is still some years away.

Tommy Ljunggren, VP system development at TeliaSonera, and LTE roadshow front man since the operator went live with 4G in 2009, said: “Solving the technical part of roaming is easy, it’s the commercial part that slows things down.”

According to Ajay Joseph, CTO of wholesale services provider iBasis, the majority of LTE roaming agreements struck today are still done so on a bilateral basis – old school style. Ljunggren confirmed that it can take between four and six months to roll out one roaming agreement, and the number of ‘relations’ an operator will establish on an annual basis with regards to roaming number well into the thousands.

So reaching a point where operators are able to treat Europe as a single roaming market will take several years at least, perhaps even a decade or more. As a result, hubbing via an IPX is picking up traction within the industry as it takes all the pain out of establishing roaming deals by giving the operator just one connection through which to reach many roaming partners. Hubba hubba.

What’s going to be driving that tenfold growth in data roaming though? Short form video, some would have you believe. Earlier this week Facebook-owned promoter of filtered food, Instagram, launched 15 second video clip capabilities and saw users publish more than five million videos in the first 24 hours.

Quoted by the Guardian, Sam Haseltine, social media strategist at Greenlight, was a bit more on the ball, with his Nathan Barley-style assertion that Instagram and Vine remain two very different offerings. “At 15-seconds Instagram Video is a micro-video service, whilst Vine at 6-seconds is a new medium in itself,” he said.

A new medium? The Informer predicts that the natural extension of micro-video will be single frame video. It could even be compressed further by the addition of a process that removes the colour information, re-rendering in greyscale. Except it wouldn’t be called greyscale, it would be called ‘HoboHashBrown filter’ or something equally non-descriptive.

In real world news, we can probably expect lots of Instagrams from Kim and Kanye, who have just welcomed their spawn into the world. Or can we? It’s emerged that in a real Game of Thrones style manoeuvre Kardashian and Kanye distributed bogus pictures of little baby North West (Really? North West? Even Go-, Way out-, or Wild- would have been better) to their closest friends to see who sold them out.

Sure enough, some of those pictures of other people’s offspring have made their way into the gossip rags. Sheesh, if you can’t trust your friends who can you trust?

Perhaps Edward Snowden might have thought that ploy through before outing himself. The whistleblower certainly seems to have suppressed all but the one image of himself on the internet. A few dummies might help him avoid the authorities for a bit longer. Then again, who knows, maybe he already did?

Anyhow, the pain of Kim and Kanye was probably being echoed by low-laying WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange today after it emerged that one of the site’s key volunteers was actually a paid FBI informant. Twenty year old Icelander, Sigurdur Thordarson, has been identified as serving two masters during his time running the WikiLeaks chatrooms and acting as a first point of contact for the site, all for a reported $5,000 and a taste of the secret agent adventure.

There were some more telecoms industry specific revelations which came out of the LTE event this week though, not least of which was ZTE’s claim that the industry has vastly underestimated the problem of inter cell interference (ICIC) that will likely increase as more micro cells are deployed in LTE networks. The other issue is that proposed solutions built into the LTE specification might not be sufficient remedy, according to ZTE.

CoMP, or Coordinated Multipoint Transmission/Reception, is an interference management technology first specified in LTE Release 11 and expected to be a major component of LTE Advanced. By coordinating and combining signals from multiple antennas, CoMP helps deliver a more consistent user experience for users on the cell edge or moving into new cells and instigating a handover. It can essentially turn the signal interference at the cell edge into a useful signal and help operators optimise their network.

But ZTE reckons that the CoMP specification relies on significant backhaul assets being in place and those assets are seldom available in real world environments. Not surprisingly the company has a tool to help operators make the most of the huge investments they’ve made in fibre and backhaul in general as well as minimise cell interference and hand over issues.

But the concerns about spectrum are real enough. According to Paul Ceely, head of network strategy at EE, the first operator in the UK market to launch LTE, the only way to get the optimal efficiency out of spectrum assets is to use as much of them as possible for LTE services.

Ceely said there were only three clear ways to build more capacity into a network: through greater spectral efficiency; by acquiring more spectrum; and by adding more cells. The latter two require more investment in auctions and infrastructure while the first can really only be achieved by deploying LTE.

As the futuristic South Korean market is wont to do, operator SK Telecom has gone one further by introducing what it says is the world’s first commercially available LTE-Advanced service. The big bonus here, and a feature that is hotly anticipated by many LTE operators, is carrier aggregation, which can help telcos make more of their fragmented spectrum portfolios.

In another revelation the company said that since launching VoLTE under the ‘HD Voice’ brand in August of 2012 it has acquired more than 4.5 million active users of the technology at the end of May.

There was another acquisition made by Hutchison Whampoa, which operates the 3 brand in Europe, and this week announced that it is to buy Telefónica’s Irish mobile operation O2 for €780m, with a further €70m payable if a number of agreed financial targets are hit. It is the second consolidatory move made by Hutchison in recent months, following the acquisition of Orange Austria, which was completed at the end of 2012.

On a similar note operator group Vodafone has had a €7.7bn bid for Kabel Deutschland approved by the German cable group’s board, with a view to offering premium unified communications services to consumer and enterprise customers.

Vodafone said that if the deal goes through, it will have 32.4 million mobile, five million broadband and 7.6 million direct TV customers in Germany, generating around €11.5bn in revenue each year.

There was a change of heart by US satellite player Dish Network however, which after constant rebuttal has decided to withdraw its offer to acquire all of the outstanding shares of in wimax player Clearwire.

Dish said it was taking its ball elsewhere in the wake of Clearwire’s recent decision to recommend a rival offer from mobile operator Sprint. Earlier this week, Clearwire said in a statement: “Given the cash consideration being offered by Sprint is higher than the tender offer from Dish, and therefore the best alternative currently available to maximise value, shareholders should vote for the proposed merger with Sprint.”

In related news, Sprint’s shareholders voted overwhelmingly (98 per cent) in favour of a takeover bid from Japan’s Softbank. Sprint’s board of directors had already ended negotiations over a potential takeover by Dish Networks on the basis that Dish did not “put forward an actionable offer”. The move echoes the finding of the most recent telecoms.com poll, in which 63 per cent of voters said Softbank’s offer was most attractive, against 17 per cent in favour of Dish, and 20 per cent who didn’t like either.

Something the telcos won’t like is the assessment of Kassir Hussain, director of technology for Centrica/British Gas, and a former O2, Orange and 3UK network specialist, who said this week on a panel at the Cloud World Forum in London that telcos are not the natural providers of enterprise cloud services because they do not come from the software industry. His assertion is that to be at the core of cloud you need software in your DNA, which is not something telcos typically specialise in. Never mind the fact that since the whole NSA PRISM furore blew up the cloud is getting a kicking for being the last place you want to store your data.

Richard Stallman, the founder of the Free Software Foundation and a newly-inducted member of the 2013 Internet Hall of Fame alongside Aaron Swartz, had this to say: “I don’t think the US government should use operating systems made in China, for the same reason that most governments shouldn’t use operating systems made in the US.'”

There’s going to be a lot of responsibility piled on the shoulders of cloud service providers the Informer predicts. And let’s hope they’re more up the task than Kanye West is looking to be with his parenting skills. After all, this is a man who once tweeted: “I hate when I’m on a flight and I wake up with a water bottle next to me like oh great now I gotta be responsible for this water bottle.”

Ok, Imma let you finish now,

The Informer

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