Monday, February 23, 2009

Mobile World Congress 2009 Viewpoint

With Mobile World Congress 2009 completed, my five net impressions of the show are as follows:

  1. MWC 2009 was a solid event. There was much enthusiasm for the future. However, the sentiment is that next year’s show will be the testament of the industry’s economic viability and ability to weather a worldwide “financial Tsunami”

2.     The industry wants an Open Eco System for collaboration among vendors, standards bodies, and operators. Open API to allow for apps to traverse networks just like SMS. Any device, any network + common charger for devices, the focus for 2010 and beyond. What’s next, a common platform for charging our handheld devices? Oh, yes, that’s coming too (2012 target).

  1. LTE infrastructure deployments may start as early as late this year with commercial services taking off in 2011-2012. Femto products and indoor wireless systems will play an important role to fill coverage and capacity holes for HSDPA/HSPA and support LTE in 2012 (WiMAX for Backhaul?)
  2.  More Spectrum is needed but there will not likely be a uniform worldwide band for LTE by 2012 (400/700/900MHz, and 1.7 +2.6GHz the likely candidates? Time will tell)
  3. No focus on Wi-Max…it’s now been relegated to backhaul and remote areas such as Africa. Today, MOTO also confirmed layoffs in its Wi-Max group which makes

Since Femto got some play at the conferenc, let me address the viability of this segment:

FEMTO and other indoor wireless solutions are indeed gaining momentum. This year will see 3 or maybe 4 major operators conduct controlled field trials (or labeled “commercial launch”) to test acceptance of these solutions to improve coverage and capacity for voice and broadband data and consumers and business’ willingness to pay. Unfortunately, the current startups will likely be pushed aside if the market takes off and hundreds of thousands of units are need. That’s when Cisco, Huawei, NSN, ZTE and Alcatel-Lucent step in.

Qualcomm is aiming to provide reference design in this space and given their 2H10 time-line, it may be well timed with market take off for this emerging segment of the industry.

Feedback from Telecom Italia was that consumers and business alike want an integrated ‘box’ for DSL/Wi-Fi/Femto. Netgear displayed an early demo box at the show. This “combo box” may be the home or SMB set-top box of the future (something Cisco will agree with)

This week, Brian Modoff of Deutsche Bank Securities sent out their Point of View on Femto.

“Most people we spoke with, including carriers, believe that the femto cell will not be a stand-alone box in the home. In many instances its features will be integrated into residential gateways or set-top boxes. This is particularly true of wireless operators who have wire-line assets.”

“We see this as toe-dipping by both carriers, seeking to fill some holes in their network coverage areas. The Samsung box can only handle voice and not data connections. It is also expensive, at an unsubsidized $250. Our understanding is that the box was built by Samsung’s handset unit, while femtocells under development by other vendors feature advanced network designs.”

“The biggest question around femtocells remains the operators’ interest.  Femtocell deployments still carry some thorny issues. The largest of these is how the femto will integrate back into the carriers’ core network. Much of this work has now been finished, with the standardization of the Iu-h interface, but final details are still being ironed out. Other technical issues, particularly interference management, are still being resolved.  If past roll-outs of new technologies are any good we would not be surprised if femtos get delayed by “unforeseen challenges” as we move through the year and into 2010.”

Overall, a good show in Barcelona. Next year, we hope to see less Thievery and no prostitutes on Las Rambla and more Police presence. More, cheaper, smarter mobile devices. A clear plan with regard to transitioning to a 20Mb mobile broadband experience around the world (and which bands to use). 

I’m sure, next year will be the year when personal video-casting makes its entry into handheld devices (early trials) which makes 2011 the year the entire mobile network crashed J


Thursday, February 12, 2009

It's a Plane, It's a Toaster...It's a...Femto?

Michelle Donegan (Unstrung) is a brilliant journalist. She's insightful and she also is ON to the subtle shifts underway when it comes to vendors marketing gimmicks.

In her recent blog ( ) she confesses that it is indeed confusing how the Femto and Pico Cell vendors are marketing and repositioning existing product lines -- or trying to create a differentiated product category. She brings up some simple and insightful questions as to what is what in Femto land.

Here's my crack at it (do not read too much into this)

1. Super femtocell: a beefed up picocell product repositioned to take advantage of Femto hype

2. Enterprise femtocell: anything a consumer vendor want it to this point. Place an 'e' in front to existing Femto (Home Node B) and promise up to 8 users some time in the next 18 months and voila`, there's the enterprise femto (regardless of what the enterprise needs from a premise equipment).

3. Enterprise Femto becomes Picocell when a customer want a Pico cell solution and Femto get the drift

4. When is Femto a small macro base stations?
A: It takes more than an AP, AP + Aggreagator to make an outside RAN. Some vendors will attempt to call a small Femto solution a Macro solution when LTE comes around. Scalability is key.

In the meantime, we have to witness Femto and Picocell vendors lobby for airtime and position products based on range, # of active users, time of day and time of month. It will only get worse before it gets better. Michelle - keep up the good reporting,


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Coming Mobile Network Capacity Problem

Today’s mobile operators are faced with a network capacity dilemma which will only become more critical as more smart phones and 3G-enabled laptops and devices are sold throughout the world.

The growing usage and penetration of high-speed mobile wireless services for both voice and data have created new challenges and opportunities for mobile operators, enterprises, and consumers. The requirement for always-on, high-speed communications both indoors and out is createing a capacity dilemma in the densely populated areas where enterprises are located (office parks) and high-rise office buildings in metropolitan areas. This capacity dilemma is not easily solved by adding more macro cell sites outside to ‘blast inside’ considering the expense and inefficiency of deployment in this way.

Attempts to provide the wireless coverage inside for voice and data has been cost prohibitive for mobile operators.  Wi-Fi, while offering a relatively low-cost wireless data access solution indoors, suffers from interference, integration issues, poor voice quality and issues with macro to AP and AP-to-AP handover. DAS and Pico-cell solutions are costly and require site and network planning. Existing solutions can either handle voice well or fixed data access– but not robust mobile voice and broadband inside the enterprise. UMA has its own issues and AP to AP handoff is not easily done over Wi-Fi (if at all). Show me a good working solution.

It will be interesting to see if FEMTO solutions can scale to handle dense areas without creating too much macro cell interference. Just adding a Femto AP does not solve capacity problems or coverage issues. Careful network planning is needed, otherwise we will face "Rogue" Femtos inside the enterprise (just like we experience with WiFi in '97 - '99 and beyond) and in dense areas which will only have a negative impact on the overal mobile network. The Femto Forum is on to the intereference issues and so are consumer femto vendors. The question is, when can they truely deliver a high capacity solution which address cost, coverage and capacity requirements for hundreds and thousands of people in a 1km by 1km square area?

SV Mobile Insider (twitter/mobileinsider

Monday, February 9, 2009

WiMAX Cloudy Future
In response to recent articles in Fortune (Feb 16 - Jon Fortt) and Forbes (Feb 6):

WiMAX: The Business Case Does Not Fly - anymore.

The promise of a $3B nationwide network is now more likely to cost $10B, something Clearwire does not have and Intel and Sprint would not underwrite (anymore). Current WiMAX users in the US should enjoy the spotty coverage where you have it, it's unlikely that we will see "NFL" city coverage any time soon. 

In 2003-4, Nextel envisioned a network costing $2.5-$3B with a mobile network from Flarion, a company acquired by Qualcomm in 2006. With the Sprint-Nextel merger, Intel promised to underwrite the WiMax technology and thus "WiMax everywhere" was what everyone envisioned by beginning of 2007. Then, with the issues and delays of mobile WiMAX, the vision became 2008... and here we are in 2009 and there are just a few cities with coverage. Clearwire (now includes Sprint/nextel WiMAX mobile broadband group), now realize that the "cheap" WiMAX is indeed as expensive as CDMA Do Rev A (or 3x more than FLASH-OFDM from 2005).

It is unlikely, given the economic climate, that Clearwire can deploy more cities without some serious funding or re-vector towards LTE and get economic incentives from the 3G community of vendors. But, the spectrum is indeed valuable. Maybe some major global operator will buy the spectrum in 2009-2010?

Regardless, WiMAX nationwide footprint is now a "pipe dream" and with HSDPA getting foothold with AT&T and CDMA/WCDMA operators looking to LTE commercial services in 2011-2012, the business case for mobile WiMAX has indeed failed.

MobileInsider (Twitter)