Thursday, May 21, 2009

LTE gets a voice

The jigsaw pieces are all falling into place for LTE following this week's LTE World Summit in Germany. However, according to Rethink Research, "significant technical barriers still need to be crossed before most cellcos will commit to firm mass roll-out dates; and new approaches, notably femtocells, will be important to maximize return on investment".

One of the big questions around LTE is what is it actually for... is it a nice big fat data pipe or will it be the network for all services including voice? While Orange see it as a solution for mobile data, T-Mobile's Klaus-Juergen Krath, senior VP of radio networks development is adamant that "I don't think we should push LTE as a wireless DSL technology - it has much more than that. That's why we push heavily for early availability of all services, most importantly voice and SMS over LTE." According to Unstrung, 3 Group's technology director, Ed Candy, went even further commenting at the Summit that "In these difficult times, to go ahead with a technology that's service-limited is crazy. We don't know how this financial crisis is going to play out. I would be against [using] any technology that has fundamental holes in it."

It's this question of voice that is perplexing the industry right now, and given the comment above it's perhaps not surprising that T-Mobile, through the VoLGA Forum, is leading the charge to find the answer to the question of how to migrate voice services across to LTE. Backed by vendors such as Kineto Wireless, Ericsson and ZTE,* the VoLGA Forum is aiming to define the 3GPP solution for delivering Voice Over LTE (and done so via Generic Access technology, to complete the spelling out of the acronym).

While Orange's stance is understandable, given that there is a perfectly good network in the form of 3G that can handle voice so LTE can focus on data, the fact is that this approach would require the operator to maintain two distinct network architectures. The sprectral efficiency of LTE is such that there are already savings for operators simply by moving data traffic from 3G to LTE, but the big savings come when they can start to manage just one network. The VoLGA initiative is interesting simply because it aims to address the missing step ... i.e. how to actually manage the migration of voice and messaging services to LTE, without jeopardising the quality, experience and revenue currently yielded by voice services.

While the WiMAX faction fight an increasingly desperate rear-guard action, it seems clear that LTE has won this particular battle. However, it's equally clear the battle on what the peace looks like is already warming up.

* Ericsson, Kineto Wireless and ZTE are AxiCom clients. AxiCom handled the launch of the VoLGA Forum in March 2009.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

UK invests (kind of) in ultra-fast broadband

It seems a bit mean to criticise, but what the heck ... I've written a bit here about how the Australian government is investing billions in national broadband network, promising speeds of up to 100mbps and asked why hasn't the UK government done similar.

Well, they have. Kind of. Yesterday they announced an investment to support UK businesses developing 'ultra fast broadband' technologies. The sum? ... Wait for it ... one million pounds! (now try saying it again, but in a Dr Evil voice ... it's still a paltry sum, but the "mwah hah hah" at the end at least gives it a bit of an edge!).

There are 13 projects, each of which will get between £30,000 and £100,000 ... or in today's currency, the equivalent of a second home for between 1-5 MPs.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Is broadband a utility (part 3) - Open Access?

Last month, I asked the question whether more governments should follow the Australian lead and take the lead in investing in a next generation broadband network.

The latest is this saga is that the Australian government has earmarked an 'initial investment' $3.6 billion into its National Broadband Network. The NBN promises Fibre-to-the-Home (FTTH) delivering 100Mbps broadband to 90% of Australian homes and businesses. The model of the NBN will be that of an open access wholesale carrier.

The question of open access is one that is creating a lot of debate right now. In the UK, for example, you have BT building out its NGN and Virgin Media, the only cableco after the implosion of Telewest and NTL, both coming under pressure to open up access to their network. In the US, the debate is even more fierce because the closed cableco networks are still the dominant providers of high speed internet.

The big question is though (and this is the argument used by regulators like the FCC), why should telephone companies invest in high speed internet infrastructure, if all they are going to end up being is relegated to wholesale providers of commoditised bandwidth to other ISPs?

It will be interesting to see how the BT 21CN wholesale model pans out. Just what will the terms be for ISPs looking to use the network? Will BT continue to make the process of choosing an ISP other than themselves so much harder and more tortuous as to incur the wrath of the regulator? Or will the regulator say fair's fair, they made the investment so they need to make the money back?

Ultimately, it really does seem as if the Australian model is the way to go. Competition of course drives innovation ... but only if it delivers differentiation and advantage. Where's the value in investing and innovating if others can just come along and stick their own label over the top?