Saturday, November 22, 2008

Taking the Back Office to 2020

This week I posted an article about a survey that showed how far mobile operators and mobile ISPs have to go to realize the potential in their subscriber information data bases. This is only one aspect of what has to happen to move back office systems to be ready for 2020.

The major goal for all Telcos has to be to dramatically increase efficiency. This will require that Telcos move to self-service and mechanized, if not automated, service fulfillment. They have to get humans out of the loop with systems that permit customers to order services on line and then to have them automatically installed using web-based customer portals.

As operators start providing GigE fiber connections or LTE wireless services, they will be providing access capabilities with spare capacity. The user may order a 50 Mbps Internet data service over a GigE link or a 1 Mbps wireless service. A web-based portal should be available that permits the subscriber to upgrade the 50 Mbps FTTH service to 100 Mbps or the 1 Mbps wireless service to 2 Mbps. The back office system can accept the order and implement while the subscriber is at the web portal placing the order.

Another area where significant efficiencies can be realized is in service assurance. By 2020 there will have to be agents that permit the operator to monitor, trouble shoot, and modify the configuration of devices on home networks or wireless handsets. These systems should proactively search for problems and fix them even before the customer becomes aware of them. This should automated as much as possible and mechanized at a minimum.

These kind of tools will enable the Telcos to offer a much broader variety of complex services and keep them operating correctly with less resource than they put into it today. The goal will be to eliminate the use of call centers, except for quite exceptional cases.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

T-Mobile Sets Standards for LTE

Light Reading published an article that discusses statements from T-Mobile about what they are looking for in LTE. T-Mobile believes that the cost to deliver a Mbps must go down by a factor of 10 because data traffic is increasing at a higher rate than revenues. It also wants LTE networks to be self-organizing and to be software upgradeable.

T-Mobile also believes that femto cells will be important for extending coverage. It also is looking for the early availability of mass market LTE terminals.

T-Mobile plans to go to Ethernet backhaul either over high-speed wireless links or optical links to keep network costs down.

All of these are clear requirements for LTE. Without these, there will be no reason to upgrade from 3G.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Will Femto Cells Rule LTE?

A Light Reading article describes a picoChip presentation that femto cells will be used rather than macro cells for 4G LTE deployments. picoChip believes that the reduction in speeds that come at longer distances will require reducing cell radii in order to keep performance high. It states that its femto cell technology will solve this problem when used in place of macro cells.

This is an interesting minority position. The mobile operators seem to be adopting a macro cell LTE architecture. However, picoCell's point is a good one. The recent 3G iPhone experience is showing that there is low user tolerance for major variation in data performance across wireless networks.

China Mobile Poised to Jump to 4G LTE

A Light Reading article stated that China Mobile is poised to jump to 4G LTE before it has widely deployed its 3G TD-SCDMA network. It plans to launch LTE in 2010 and says that 60 percent of its TD-SCDMA investment will migrate to LTE. It plans to use TD-LTE, which uses spectrum in a similar manner as TD-SCDMA.

It will be interesting to watch how this situation progresses. I think the transition will be more problematical than this article indicates, but it show that China Mobile recognizes that 4G LTE is the right technology in the long run.

Microtune Introduces 120 Mbps DOCSIS 3.0 Upstream Amplifer

Microtune has introduced an RF gateway that permits DOCSIS 3.0 upstream speeds of 120 Mbps and downstream speeds of 160 to 320 Mbps. Its chips are available for less than $5.00 in volume quantities.

DOCSIS 3.0 is shaping up to be a formidable competitor to Telco fiber technologies. It will compete directly with Verizon's FiOS BPON and GPON services. It leaves ATT's VDSL service in the dust.

First 100 Gbps Network for ESnet

Light Reading has published and article describing the 100 Gbps network that ESnet and Internet2 plan to deploy by 2010. This network will use equipment from Infinera and Juniper Networks over Level3's network to combine ten 10 Gbps links into single 100 Mbps logical links. This is in advance of when 100 Gbps Ethernet will be broadly deployed.

ESnet has found that it is currently supporting single flows of 10 Gbps and needs the 100 Gbps links to be able to handle them along with other traffic.

The U.S. Department of Energy has long been a leader in super computing and high speed communications. This is an example of the kind of application that will drive the speeds of networks up to and beyond 100 Gbps during the next decade.

Gaining Subscriber Insights

Nokia Siemens published the results of a survey of mobile operators and mobile ISPs to determine their ability to use subscriber data for customer profiling. It shows that these operators have a long way to go and 53 percent of them say that their existing data does not allow for profiling and 46 percent say that the data they have is not analyzed quickly enough.

On interesting result was that the mobile operators are ahead of the mobile ISPs in real time analysis of user activity but that the ISP's have much more aggressive future plans. Today 16 percent of mobile operators perform real time analysis today compared to 10 percent of mobile ISPs. 47 percent of these operators plan real time analysis in the near term compared to 67 percent of the mobile ISPs.

The survey shows that the industry has a long way to go to make good use of the information that is available to them. They will have to make a lot of progress in this area in order to effectively sell and support the array of sophisticated services that they will be offering by 2020.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Telco IPTV Network Architecture

Both Alcatel-Lucent and Cisco have introduced edge routers that facilitate Telco IPTV networks by supporting fast channel change, packet retransmission, and ad insertion using a large flash memory in the router. Both companies are talking about having enough memory in these routers to support video on demand caching. That is, the most popular video on demand assets would be stored on the routers which would eliminate the network traffic required to provide them from a centralized server.

I think that these developments are a real step forward for IPTV networks. I think that their ability to support fast channel change and packet retransmission are fundamental improvements. The ad insertion and video on demand capabilities will provide significant improvements, up to a point.

The fundamental issue will be the amount of storage provided by the router. In a personalized ad insertion system, this will work fine as long as the number of personalized ads does not become too large. The issue with video on demand will be the hit rate, that is the number of video on demand requests that are served by the content on the router vs. the centralized router.

My own thinking on this issue has evolved. I did a report for MRG in the scaling of IPTV networks three years ago that identified that the amount of traffic required to support high levels of on demand traffic will be a major issue. At that time, I felt that the caching approach that Alcatel-Lucent and Cisco are talking about would be the answer.

I looked at this issue again last year in the report Networking Strategies for TelcoTV Services. With further analysis, I realized that the traffic to fill the distributed video on demand caches would be enough by itself to swam metro networks. My conclusion was that the IPTV traffic had to be removed from the IP/Ethernet networks and move down to the optical level.

My recent report Telecom 2020: Transformation Strategies looked at the issue again and took into account the consolidation of fiber access systems into large centers that would serve very large numbers of subscribers. This architecture would mean that there would be enough video on demand traffic to one of these major fiber access centers to fill a 10 Gbps or even a 100 Gbps optical link; therefor, there is no benefit for bringing this traffic up to the packet layer. It will be much more economical just to pass directly to the fiber access center over a direct optical link.

There are too philosophical points that drive my thinking. The first is that as IPTV moves from multicast to on demand and unicast, the TV traffic will dominate the network. It just makes sense to optimize the network for the dominant traffic type.

The second point is that it is very difficult to understand how a packet network can provide an acceptable SLA or QoS when 99 percent of the traffic on the network is deterministic TV traffic. On the other hand, it is easy to see how this will work over direct optical links.

There is a real question of timing here. For many carriers, the cached approach introduced by Alcatel-Lucent and Cisco will be a big help over the next three to five years. However, I do think that these carriers will be thinking seriously about a direct optical approach after that.

Spectrum Bridge's On Line Spectrum Auction

"eBay" is coming to the secondary market for spectrum in the U.S. A new company, Spectrum Bridge, has just started an on line spectrum auction system for the U.S. The company's auction web site provides spectrum owners the ability to list excess spectrum for sale and provides operators looking for spectrum to purchase or lease the spectrum. The web site supports the sale of any kind of spectrum resale permitted by the U.S. FCC.

Spectrum Bridge updates the web site daily with the most current information from the FCC. With this information the web site presents a potential seller with a list of their holdings and allows the user to select the specific pieces of spectrum that they would like to list.

The company's staff facilitates sales by helping buyers to identify available spectrum that meets their needs. The company also assists the buyers and sellers to make the deal happen with standard contracts and assistance during the negotiation process.

This is a significant development. With the move to 3G, operators are looking to refarm spectrum and add to existing holdings to increase the bandwidth of current 2G holdings so that they can use them for 3G services. This will be a continuing problem as these operators move to 4G and need even wider bands.
Spectrum Bridge can facilitate this process with its on line spectrum auction.

Spectrum Bridge plans to become a broker for white space spectrum as called for by the FCC's recent ruling. Coordinating the use of white space spectrum to minimize interference will be a natural evolution to its web site.

Its spectrum database intrigued me. This gives the company to do database sweeps and identify markets where one operator lacks spectrum and another has excess spectrum. With this kind of information, Spectrum Bridge could proactively bring potential buyers and sellers together, even before they have decided to buy or sell spectrum. I think this is only the beginning of the kind of services that the company could offer to its customers to facilitate the more efficient use of spectrum.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Qualcomm Backs LTE

Qualcomm will abandon its UMB 4G technology in favor of LTE. UMB was intended to be the 4G evolution for its CDMA and EV-DO customers.

LTE has been accepted by most of Qualcomm's CDMA and EV-DO customers as their 4G technology choice. UMB has received little or no support. By removing UMB from the table, it seems clear that LTE will dominate the 4G mobile networks. WiMAX has been adopted by some but is likely to be used more for wireline broadband replacement services in under served areas.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Cisco Introduces 100 Gbps Ethernet Edge Router

Cisco introduced its Aggregation Services Router (ASR) 9000 that will provide significant increases in performance over its work horse 7600 routers with a total of 6.4 terabits per second of capacity. The ASR 9000 is designed around 100 Gbps Ethernet interfaces.

The ASR 9000 incorporates the Cisco Advanced Video Services Module (AVSM) with 4 terabyts of flash RAM storage that offers content caching, ad insertion, fast channel change and error correction of video streams. Fast channel change and onboard error correction for both unicast and multicast video traffic helps ensure that errors can be detected by any set-top box and retransmitted within milliseconds.

This is the kind of improvement in performance that will be required as we move through the next decade as 100 GBps Ethernet links become commonplace.

The AVSM capabilities of the AVSM provide similar capabilities to Alcatel-Lucent's TPSDA 2.0 approach that provides similar capabilities. Both approach will require support from the IPTV middleware to get their full effect.

The 4 TB of storage will be enough to store about 1,000 hours of HD content. This will be enough for the most popular video on demand assets but not for the long tail of for an extensive NPVR service. Cisco will have to add a lot more storage to really offload video traffic from the network as it is currently claiming. I will write a column that will discuss this issue in more detail in a couple of days. I just don't think that a distributed approach will hold up over the long term.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

DOCSIS 3.0 to Provide Fiber Push

An article on Light Reading cited a statement by Charter Communications that it will cost about $8 to $10 per subscriber to bring DOCSIS 3.0 services to a home, including the new cable modem termination system (CMTS) equipment and the routing systems. It does not include the cost of the new DOCSIS 3.0 cable modem or the cost of provisioning the service.

Verizon has said that it costs them $800 to $1,000 per home to make its FiOS fiber service available with a maximum 50 Mbps data service today. The cable companies can accomplish the same thing for one percent the cost.

DOCSIS 3.0 will provide the cable companies a strong defense against FiOS and be a very strong offensive weapon against ATT's VDSL U-verse service. Verizon will need to improve the performance and lower the price of its FiOS high speed data services. ATT will need to move from VDSL to GPON to be competitive.

White Space: Taking the Internet Back to the Future?

The FCC decision this week to open up the TV "white spaces" to unlicensed wireless services has great potential to break the hammer lock that the cable and Telcos have on the consumer Internet business today.

Ten years or so ago, before the advent of cable modem and DSL services, there where hundreds, if not thousands, of ISPs providing dial up consumer Internet access. There were a few large ones such as Prodigy and AOL along with many, many small providers. It was easy and inexpensive to set up a dial up ISP service. Get a T1 line and attach a dial up mux, and you were in business.

The advent of broadband services brought this to an end. The cable modem and DSL services had the ISP service bundled in with them. This gave the cable companies and the Telcos a strong strategic advantage. AOL continues to exist, but is a shadow of its former self. EarthLink provides Internet services on top of Telco DSL services, but has a very small share of the market. Almost all broadband Internet users subscribe to cable or Telco Broadband services.

The white spaces spectrum is the UHF TV spectrum that is not being used to broadcast TV content. There is generally 100 MHz of vacant spectrum that can be used for white spaces applications in the major metro areas. There is 200 MHz or more of vacant spectrum in more rural locations. This is enough to support several ISPs that want to offer services.

WiMAX and LTE 4G technologies can support wireless broadband data services that will provide a 1 to 5 Mbps. This will compete well with broadband cable and DSL services. These wireless services will share the conveniences of mobile voice service that have made them popular. These white spaces services have the potential to dominate the low end of the broadband data market. People will like their personal nature and their go anywhere convenience.

This will drive the cable companies to DOCSIS 3.o and the Telcos to fiber, which will give us all that still want them much higher performance on our home broadband services. Enabling start ups to compete will be a good thing for all of us consumers.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

U.S. FCC Approves White Spaces Unlicensed Spectrum

The FCC adopted rules to allow wireless devices to operate in unused broadcast television spectrum, commonly referred to as television “white spaces”. These rules will allow for the use of unlicensed devices in the unused spectrum to provide broadband data and other services for consumers and businesses.

These rules represent a first step to and include safeguards to protect incumbent services against interference. Devices must include a geolocation capability and provisions to access over the Internet a data base of the incumbent services, such as full power and low power TV stations and cable system headends, in addition to spectrum sensing technology. The data base will tell the white space device what spectrum may be used at that location.

The locations where wireless microphones are used, such as sporting venues and event and production facilities, can be registered in the data base and will be protected in the same way as other services. The Commission also has required that devices include the ability to listen to the airwaves to sense wireless microphones as an additional measure of protection for these devices.

All white space devices are subject to equipment certification by the FCC Laboratory. The FCC will permit certification of devices that do not include the geolocation and data base access capabilities, and instead rely solely on spectrum sensing to avoid causing harmful interference, subject to a much more rigorous approval process.

The FCC will oversee and monitor the introduction of TV white space devices and will promptly remove any equipment found to be causing harmful interference. The FCC will explore whether higher powered unlicensed operations might be permitted in TV white spaces in rural areas.

This ruling potentially has major ramifications. It makes it much easier and much less expensive to set up a wireless service. It is not necessary to win spectrum in an expensive auction. A service provider only needs to purchase appropriate equipment.

There is a large amount of white spaces spectrum that is available. It is possible for multiple service providers to operate without interfering with each other, even in dense metropolitan areas. Spectrum sensing will prevent them from interfering with each other.

It is likely that these services will have a major effect on ADSL services. It is likely that a white spaces wireless data service will be very competitive with a 3 Mbps ADSL service. This will drive the wireline carriers to fiber technologies.

U.S. FCC Approves Sprint/Clearwire WiMAX Network

The U.S. FCC approved the transfer of control of licenses held by Sprint and the the existing Clearwire to the new Clearwire joint venture formed by the two companies. This action is expected to facilitate the build out of a nation wide WiMAX network by the new joint venture.

This action clears the way for Clearwire to deploy its WiMAX service in the U.S. in 2009. This will be the first major 4G network in the U.S. and is an important test case for WiMAX and for broadband wireless services.

T-Mobile to Adopt LTE

Light Reading has and article that describes T-Mobile's wireless network evolution plans. T-Mobile plans to continue to make software upgrades to its HSPA network to improve its performance; however, the company will not make hardware upgrades. Instead it will move to LTE at that point.

With software upgrades, T-Mobile can boost its current 7.2 Mbps HSDPA network up to 14.4 Mbps on the downlink. Beyond that, HSPA Evolution (or HSPA+) can boost 3G network speeds to 28.8 Mbps or more but requires MIMO antennas. That is where T-Mobile draws the line.

T-Mobile also stated that it is considering deploying TD LTE in currently unused TD spectrum that it owns in Europe.

T-Mobile's approach makes sense. It will put them onto the OFDM track earlier than later.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The 4G Conundrum

The announcement by Cox Cable this week that it is going to build two wireless networks as well as utilize Sprint's wireless network got me thinking again about what I call the 4G Conundrum. I just don't understand how 3G and 4G networks will coexist.

Both 3G and 4G networks will be targeted to the same set of users: laptops, smart phones, and the iPhone class of handsets. Sure, operators can deploy 4G in areas were there is a high level of 3G use as a more economical way to add capacity. But it they provide higher speeds on these 4G hot zones, people will see a significant decrease in speed when they move to a 3G zone. The recent problems with iPhones on the ATT network show that these uses see this kind of performance decrease as a network failure. I think that this kind of zone based 4G deployment will just not provide the level of service that the Internet heads that use iPhone like devices will want.

The other thing is that 3G HSP continues to be enhanced. Performance is getting better. These advanced 3G networks are adopting the same flat IP architectures that is part of 4G networks. The question here is if 4G is really enough better than these advanced 3G technologies to justify deploying it.

There is one situation where the the case for 4G seems clear. The CDMA operators are moving to 4G LTE technologies to enable international roaming. Today the lack of international roaming is a big disadvantage for CDMA operators compared to GSM/WCDMA 3G operators. Verizon is adopting 4G LTE as are many other CDMA operators.

I do think that nearly all carriers will migrate to 4G LTE by 2020. There will be a few such as Sprint and Korea Telecom that will operate WiMAX 4G networks. It is very likely that handsets will be able to support roaming between WiMAX and LTE by that time. Operators will bite the bullet as HSPA's WCDMA reaches its limits and is surpassted by 4G OFDM technologies.