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Ahead of the signaling show (who knew?) that starts tomorrow … I have been noticing a flood of information including various press releases about LTE roaming. I don’t have much that I can say publicly other than what I can observe in the public domain. So I wanted to point out some recent examples.

As you may or may not know, there’s some real challenges to LTE roaming around the radio interface, such as the ability of a device to operate everywhere based on radio bands supported, other than that, nearly all other big issues are primarily in the business domain if you exclude VoLTE for the moment.  I thought it would be interesting to have a look at some of the public info out there regarding LTE roaming.

Firstly, why LTE roaming? Simple, there are LTE subs nearly everywhere now. Chart above shows something like 100M now. Unlike 3G with the different flavors, this is interesting because multiple (or greater number of) networks could potentially host foreign subs in a given location and since the subs are substantially on a single standard, a greater number to deal with.

As you can probably guess, there are 3 domains the situation exists in. Firstly is from the network standards point of view. 3GPP and others have been working on filling in the gaps to help the situation. Release 9 and 10 fix some roaming holes in the standard (actually just standardized the fixes) and go a long way. Beow Sybase has a network diagram for your viewing pleasure. You may recognize that Diameter is a key protocol between the networks and it’s relatively new into the marketplace. Verizon and others are still discovering the ins and outs of using it. 

Next up is the obligatory network diagram that shows at a glance the network topology of the roaming signaling situation.

The second domain is the network OEM perspective. There are several players in this space like Sybase, Diametriq, and Syniverse to name a few. They offer products to assist with the roaming infrastructure and or provide hosting services to enable it. 

For example, here is an interesting slide deck describing a Diameter Signaling Controller from Diametriq. Notice the comments about operator challenges and the complexity just within the diameter protocol universe.


And Syniverse announces hosted Diameter services…

Syniverse Solutions Ready SmarTone for LTE Interoperability 

Here is Syniverse’s deck that’s fairly interesting titled, Preparing for LTE Roaming

Outside of that there is 3G roaming that already has lots of glue in place. It gets complicated when considering that LTE networks can communicate much easier over the wire to each other, however using a completely different protocol set and network topology than what is in place, yet the 3G fallback is highly desirable (Voice or edge data coverage.

Some service providers like Global Telecom have taken the initiative to be a first mover in this area. 

Globe beats rival telcos with LTE roaming function

Ultimately having some service providers go first will help to accelerate the LTE roaming marketplace in general.

The final domain of LTE roaming challenge belongs to the UE. The recently launched iPhone5 and iPads do have LTE, which will increase demand based on their historical popularity, however these devices are based on Qualcomm RTR8600 technology limitations that do not facilitate a single chipset for all bands, therefore there are different models that can use different sets of spectrum. Sysbase’s William Dudley recently posted about the iPhone5 and roaming in:

iPhone 5: A Catalyst for LTE Roaming?

Smith Micro Software is offering something in this space, a mobile based solution that focuses the smartphone on using WiFi to offload and presumably avoid roaming over LTE.

To me, until there is a simple solution that allows a single device to utilize all LTE bands being deployed this is the biggest hurdle for LTE roaming to become widespread. However, when it finally does happen, the commercial possibilities are exciting as the increased competition will improve choice and pricing globally thus fueling more adoption perhaps in the Machine to Machine (M2M) space where we will be able to have all of our cars, homes and non phone type gadgets LTE enabled.
Just an observation.

Full Syniverse PR below…

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 For those of you that haven’t seen the movie “Groundhog Day“, it’s a 1993 vintage movie starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell in which the main character, Bill Murray playing a weatherman named Phil Connors, is stuck in a time loop, reliving the same day over and over again. So I feel like it’s Groundhog Day. Again.

Mea Culpa, I started thinking this way about the football team I coach. We just relive it over and over each practice and each game, and I’m like Phil Connors, trying everything to break out of the loop but I digress here. This context is about the state of the LTE marketplace. 

So the US LTE market is searching around for equilibrium and has temporarily stabilized on operators offering LTE as a premium service with ATT and Verizon coming in at nearly the same costs per Megabyte at various usage points, the large OEMs offering nearly the same eNB/EPC packages everywhere (with the same old incentives etc…) in the same old business models, hearing about the upcoming small cell revolution ad infinitum, the daily PRs about an iPhone/iPad killer, the yearly iPhone/iOS release hype, Samsung and Apple lawsuits over LTE, on and on. Maybe I’m just being cranky but there seems to be a whole lot of ho hum same as it ever was marketing and product and service designs just being recycled. 

Networks aren’t being run autonomously by SON (yet)…heck most large US operators haven’t invested in Remote Electrical Tilt (RET) for their sites yet. There’s no LTE roaming yet. 

Even 

the most interesting developments are ghosts like SuperWifi (whitespace radio), Lightsquared’s GPS fizzle, news like Clear just turned down their heat considerably with their TDD LTE plans, and band 12 deployments are nowhere, VoLTE is LaTE. 

I mean, even TDD-LTE and 802.11ac are becoming increasingly blurry to the point it’s hard to tell which is which. The future of Release 10 and VoLTE etc aren’t here yet so I can’t consider these things.

There are a couple of outliers, like the crazy things that Lemko claims and so on but I’m talking about real change.

The future seems promising and a break from the blase but how long are we going to be stuck in this loop? Where is the REAL innovation? Where’s all the startups with the innovative SDR, noise canceling thing we can’t even imagine but will change things forever? I’m ready for more intelligence, faster gratification, less suffering all that good stuff technology promises. 

I can’t stand to read any more PRs about a LTE enabled Band 17 or Band 13 device that is better than an iPhone/iPad that I can have for $200 on a year contract extension. 

Previous wishing:

LTE Market Next Steps 

5G candidate technologies 

OK, just feeling a little sorry for myself may this will pass so I’m going to curl up with my Gartner Hype Cycle, maybe watch a little Star Trek and dream… 

 Sandy Motley, Alcatel-Lucent’s vice president of sales for U.S. wireless accounts told RCA conference attendees in her keynote titled “Destination 4G” that Dickens was correct, “It’s the Best of Times and Worst of Times.” Note, she begins at the 24.21 mark in the video.

Basically she talks positively about the connectivity aspect in society. For the worst of times she talks about limited resources such as spectrum scarcity, limitations on CAPEX!, data growth based on 70% of traffic is projected to be video, thus there will need to be a 70x capacity gain to facilitate this.

LTE in rural areas was difficult. So I’m thinking that sounds like some new and different thinking… anyway she continues… networking, hosting/sharing is a key, then small cells to offload the network. Then I woke up, wha?

If they have deployed 3G then the wireless piece is not more difficult. If it’s the limited spectrum resources then don’t forget many of them purchased 700MHz spectrum with the added benefits of awesome propagation characteristics vs the PCS/AWS deployments. It’s not the radio piece Ms.Motley. It’s the backhaul that makes it difficult. LightRadio won’t help unless it can be utilized to mesh relay nodes more effectively than other solutions. The rural carriers have deployed 3G (EVDO/HSPA etc…) and know the signal issues.

So in summary repeat after me, small cells, helps a little, 700MHz helps a lot. LightRadio is a great solution looking for a problem in rural markets. Wait, let’s use it for lower 700MHz and now we’re talking!

OK a little cranky but am I wrong?

Links: 2012-spring-reg3.pdf (Conference Hand out)

I like this Aviat diagram. 

So have you seen all the press reports about The New iPad?  In the beginning it was about features etc…now the chorus of boos is about the LTE data plans from VZW and ATT. People are looking at the size of files that can be displayed on the tablet’s high resolution ‘retina’ display (2048×1536 pixels) and then looking at all of the application download sizes and coming to the conclusion that $5/10GB is a little high. I agree. It’s skyway robbery.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the other hand, remember this chart? 

 Anyway the operators are banking on improving margins with you/we early adopters so this should not be shocking. They essentially need us to pay for the service but not really use it. Unfortunately this is not going to be the case with high speed mobile wireless. 

Unfortunately the wireless operator networks are organized for voice and sort of inefficiently designed for data, thus the costs for the operators will always be high and they will always be hesitant to give us a reasonable deal.

There is a way around this problem though. Operators could encourage the deployment of small cells (you are penalized now by having to buy one or complain to get one) and offer us free usage on small cells like femto cells. Traffic from a small cell is much less costly for them than over the macro network and while you are in coverage of a small cell you are going to be getting a very good signal, so high throughput is likely, thus this becomes a win-win solution.

So a lot of things on the operator’s side have to change to make this happen, but they are no different than the level of commitment it takes to launch LTE in the first place. It’s time for small cells to save the day. Let’s go get this done.

Links: valuebasedmanagement.net, Aviat

 I am amazed and just about stunned speechless that The New iPad, as Apple calls it, has 2 models still. Yeah yeah, the rumor blogs got the guesswork or leaks correct so the iPad not a big shock, however I thought for sure that Apple would like to minimize SKUs and maximize profits with a single model. The only thing that could possibly need to be different is the RF chain component and that’s questionable. Qualcomm MSM96XX baseband processing wouldn’t be the issue since it does everything commonly required for 3G and 4G. Seriously, if there HAS to be 2 models, and they are truly different then the consumer lost this round and ATT and VZW may need to face the wrath of the people. Who wouldn’t want the ability to switch providers with a single device? Who wants device lock in? We were willing to tolerate it because we mentally ‘grandfathered’ the bad behavior as vestiges from ye olde days of technology. 

I may be biting the hand that feeds me but this is getting out of control. Surely the FCC will step up. VZW’s Band 13  (Upper 700MHz) was sort of understandable although very opportunistic. Stupid Band 17 (F2+F3 of lower 700MHz) was ATT’s way of trying to lock the world out, especially those tons of small companies that purchased Band 12 (F1, F2 and F3 of lower 700MHz) spectrum. FCC if you are unwilling to take action then consider this, the precedent has been set such that these operators are jeopardizing/limiting compatibility with future public safety/first responder and governmental use of LTE too (Upper 700MHz). That means more costly devices for you and me to buy them. That probably means government will be forced to pay ATT/VZW for shared commercial infrastructure for profit instead of more secure, more optimized and lower cost self owned infrastructure. 

Apple’s specs:

Wi-Fi

  • Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n)
  • Bluetooth 4.0 technology

Carriers

Wi-Fi + 4G for AT&T

  • LTE (700, 2100 MHz)2; UMTS/HSPA/HSPA+/DC-HSDPA (850, 900, 1900, 2100 MHz); GSM/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz)
  • Data only3

Wi-Fi + 4G for Verizon

  • LTE (700 MHz)2; CDMA EV-DO Rev. A (800, 1900 MHz); UMTS/HSPA/HSPA+/DC-HSDPA (850, 900, 1900, 2100 MHz); GSM/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz)
  • Data only3

So at the end of the day, the cool New iPad will be world phone capable on 3G (Either one) but carrier specific on 4G. Stupid, unfair and begs a fix.

I wonder if you can truly use The New iPad in 3G only mode on both Verizon and ATT without issues? There’s no HW/RF chain issues nor baseband, nor even SIM holder (LTE has a SIM/UICC requirement.)

Back to LTE, we may get a second chance from better RF chain components but it will be interesting to see if those see the light of day. BTW it’s not unfathomable to build the right RF front end to serve both bands right now.

BTW, what happened to the Sprint version?

Get the pitchforks and torches!

I see a big problem with all of these Apple + LTE rumors. It’s not a show stopper per se but a really big hurdle for these rumors to come true nonetheless. Let’s see, I have a chart that tells most of the story. Examine this pie chart: (Reminds me of Ross Perot…)

 According to Article One Partners and Thompson Reuters research, Samsung and Motorola own essentially ~13% of the LTE patent pie. If Apple is claiming that Motorola and Samsung are not living up to the Fair, Reasonable And non-discriminatory (FRAND) definition for licensing 3G patents, what do you think will happen here? I’m not sure that a Qualcomm license pass through when purchasing the chipsets gets them off the hook unless they have worked something out.

Lots of people will be running around Barcelona for MWC claiming to have the iPhone killer in hand but I can’t help but think the iPhone killer will be time. At some point we’ll move on and find some other toy really interesting. In the mean time, let’s see how the FRAND IPR fight plays out.

 

Links: Article One

 

 

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