Posts filed under 'Net Neutrality'

The Internet – still an Equalizer ?

Today there is a post in the Wall Street Journal as to how the websites are tracking all user activities, right from location, personal profile, profession, hobbies, likes and dislikes.

Today’s internet is perhaps “too open”, where users information is freely available to retailers, analysts, marketers alike. While this may serve the purpose of “personalizing” offers and deals to consumers, it risks being labeled discriminatory if such information is used to offer different product pricing or search results to consumers. Not to mention the bigger risk of spammers and ID thieves catching hold of such information and launching malicious campaigns against consumers.

A WSJ investigation found that the office products retailer Staples is offering different prices on the same stapler to two different consumers who were just a few miles away.

Retailers are justified in offering different prices to different customers – this is what happens in stores too especially in different stores of the same chain. Retailers argue that local operating costs, real estate pricing, manpower costs and other logistics etc influence local pricing. In that sense, the online differential in pricing is no different than it’s offline cousin.

“But the idea of an unbiased, impersonal Internet is fast giving way to an online world that, in reality, is increasingly tailored and targeted. Websites are adopting techniques to glean information about visitors to their sites, in real time, and then deliver different versions of the Web to different people. Prices change, products get swapped out, wording is modified, and there is little way for the typical website user to spot it when it happens”, says the Journal.

WSJ said that many firms resorted to such price tactics, including Discover Financial, Rosetta Stone, Home Depot etc. Office Depot told WSJ team that they use customers browsing history and geolocation to offer tailored product offers and pricing for online shopping.

Technically, this is all legal, but the boundary line to ethical or discriminatory behaviour is not far. Eg certain racial groups may claim discrimination or local governments may cry foul. It seems that 76% of Americans are opposed to this kind of differential pricing.

But there are advantages too for differential pricing. Eg certain services like movie theatres offer senior citizen and student discounts.

The key takeaways are :

  • the fundamental premise of internet being an unbiased and same-for-all internet is bring eroded now as personalization increases and website behave differently for different people. The INTERNET IS NO LONGER AN EQUALIZER.
  • while differential pricing is normal and legal, it can raise ethical and discriminatory haggles across sections of the society. So retailers need to tread carefully.

What is CellStrat view : Retailers and web commerce firms need to abide by laws and be careful in offering personalized offers and pricing. Tailoring offers based on user information or their location has to be considered in view of the prevailing laws and user acceptance. Otherwise, the online commerce firms risk alienating the consumers who took to the internet to find an equal society, in the first place.

(Excerpted from WSJ article titled “Websites Vary Prices, Deals, Based on Users’ Information” dated 23 Dec 2012)

December 24th, 2012

“2011 Analyst Outlook for Wireless” – Notes from Wireless Technology Forum, Atlanta

(from our Atlanta desk)

I attended the Wireless Technology Forum, Atlanta meeting on 18 Nov. The topic was “2011 Analyst Outlook” – an excellent one as we all are very curious to know what comes in 2011 in Wireless. Here are the notes from the meeting :

Speakers :-

There was an excellent lineup of speakers –

Keynote : “Prospects for LTE in 2011″ by Steven Leonard, Regional Director, Data Sales, Verizon Wireless

Panelists :

- Phil Hendrix, Principal Analyst, Institute for Mobile Markets Research (or IMMR)
– Jorge Fuenzalida,
Vice President, Strategy and Technology Group, inCode Telecom Group (now part of Ericsson)
- Jeremy Schneider,
Principal, Telecommunications, McKinsey & Company, Inc.
- Robert Prudhomme, Vice President, Client Services, Telecom Practice, The Nielsen Company

Moderator : Gerry Purdy, Principal Analyst, MobileTrax

Steven Leonard (Verizon Wireless) on LTE in 2011 :-

LTE offers 10 times faster speed compared to 3G networks. Verizon will have LTE in 38 markets by 2011. Verizon has the valuable 700 MHz spectrum which allows high speed and data accuracy in network transmission. LTE utilizes the MIMO technology. MIMO (Multiple Input, Multiple Output) is a technology that  increases in data throughput and link range without additional bandwidth or transmit power.

Another key aspect of 2011 is the growth of Tablets and accompanying data demands. 181% growth expected in Tablet usage in 2011 over this year. Verizon is the only carrier with contiguous 4G spectrum in USA (AT&T may disagree : )

Lte is 3.5 times faster than CDMA in how far signal will travel without diluting. It offers Latency near 30 ms where earlier it was 150 ms.

Verizon 4G leadership (per Steven) :-

    – Joint innovation lab
    – Open devl
    – Verizon developer community
    – LTE innovation center
    – M2M management center in partnership with Qualcomm

Note : M2M or Machine-to-Machine is the new wireless industry developing around putting wireless chips in home appliances, hospital equipment and other such non telecom functions).

Verizon Launch mkt this year – Athens and Atlanta are included

Wireless broadband features in LTE include :-

    1 Advanced applications :- like Entertainment and Music

    2 Innovative devices

    3 Location agnostic : Whereever you are availability

As per Steven, Verizon 4g network rollout will be completed in 2013 in the USA.

Phil Hendrix (IMMR) :-

Phil gave a presentation on Mobile Commerce, an area which is rapidly evolving. The most happening event in USA on Mobile Commerce has to do with NFC phone proliferation expected in 2011 with Google Nexus S and Apple iPhone – both NFC enabled phones coming out potentially as per reports.

As per Phil, Mobile Commerce has three perspectives :-
    – Consumers : mobile shopping
    – Brands : mobile advertising
    – Retailers : m-commerce

8 dimensions which together constitute mobile commerce:-
    – Mobile Shopping
    – Mobile Funds Transfer
    – Mobile Advertising
    – Mobile Rewards
    – Mobile Coupons
    – Mobile Booking
    – Mobile Offers
    – Mobile Payments

Today we are only in the initial stages of Mobile Commerce.

Certain trends are accelerating Mobile Commerce. These Accelerators include :-

    – Location-Based
    – Hyper Local sensitivity – what is around us
    – Social Media
    – Yield Management
    – Supply Chain integration
    – Big Data

Jorge Fuenzalida (inCode) :-

inCode Telecom Group, the telecom strategy consulting firm, has been acquired by Ericsson recently. inCode is famous for its “top 10 predictions” in wireless every year. Jorge said that these are not finalized for 2011 but offered a Sneak preview of the top 10 :-

Predictions :-
    1) Over the Top goes over the top (in other words, over the top video/OTT or IPTV accelerates and everything in video goes online)
             2009-Netflix becoming very popular – CPE based OTT
             2011-all content goes online eg Google TV or other such offerings
    2) Tablet rush – in 2011 it will overtake netbooks
    3) The new Gold Rush in 2011- wireless rural broadband – due to government stimulus

Well said, Jorge.

Jeremy Schneider (McKinsey) :-

Core wireless has matured. Revenue growth has slowed in voice and messaging

What is next then? Three predictions (since it is the day of 3 predictions from all analysts : ) :-

1) Data will grow much more than what most analysts are calling for. McKinsey thinks 17 times growth from 2009 to 2012 in mobile data
     McKinsey thinks that even this number is relatively conservative. They think it could be 25 times growth by 2012.
     Tablets, mobile video and broader consumer adoption of mobile browsing will drive mobile data growth.
2) Enterprise will outstrip Consumer in wireless (this is surprising as per me as consumer has been the bigger driver of smartphone data via apps so far)
     Enterprise mobility will enable employee mobility etc
     – 6 times higher willingness to pay in enterprise consider to consumer
     – big market. M2M sensors estimates keep rising on a daily basis
     – many verticals are ripe for innovation

     Healthcare is particularly exciting in the M2M arena.
     Healthcare will expand in 5 trillion dollars overall in 5 yrs. At current rates healthcare will be 30% of us GDP
           * Remote Monitoring
           * Remote Consultation
           * Medication Management
           * Health and Wellness

3) New directions in Application Architecture
     – Data growth needs efficient network
            * 30% time waiting on mobile browsing
     – Platform independent tech like HTML5, JIL (Java Intermediate Language), WAC (Wholesale Application Community – the operator consortium), SNs (?)
     – Delivered in the cloud (aha – Cloud Computing – we know it)
          * Consumer – Large portions of iPhone apps already on the Amazon Cloud or EC2
          * Enterprise – 40% savings by moving to cloud

Robert Prudhomme (Nielsen) :-

Growth has slowed in postpaid the USA. Prepaid is going well.

Only verizon and AT&T were able to get net adds in Pospaid this year. However, all of these came at the expense of T-Mobile or Sprint (no wonder, with 80%+ market penetration for wireless in USA, you can only get new customers by poaching from your competitors)

AT&T is doing well with its Connected Devices business, however a concern is that Standards and Business models around these new devices are not clear and their financial worth is not known.

The erstwhile prepaid kings, the carriers Cricket and Metro are suffering as the Big-4 wireless operators are getting most of the prepaid now.

Sprint is competing on pricing while it tries to retain its customers who are churning fast. The No 1 reason to win a customer now is promotion and pricing. This means price wars as are seen in $50 all you can eat plans from some carriers. Now, Sprint is even undercutting T-Mobile in pricing. (my conjecture is that the profit margin in $50 all you can eat plan is really next to nothing).

Of course wireless has lot of bright areas too on the premium side – mainly Record smartphone sales. On premium side, smartphone (driven by top smartphones like iPhone and Android phone) sales are driving fast growth.

Wireless Tablets remains an unpredictable play for the operators. This is depicted by the fact that only 1/10th of iPad tablets sold are activated on the AT&T network. Rest are using WiFi or exported out of the country. (But AT&T still scores as it has a respectable nationwide WiFi network – of course free public WiFi for broadband customers is a customer retention strategy by carriers like AT&T and not really a revenue generator).

Smartphones are driving increases in App adoption (finally a direct reference to Apps)
    – 59% smartphone owners download apps
    – 9% feature phone owners download apps

AT&T – 74% postpaid net adds in last quarter are iPhone customers (did I get it right – 74% ?).

Interesting stat from Nielsen : -950,000 netadds lost from AT&T if they lost iPhone exclusivity per Nielsen estimates. In other words, with the impending Verizon iPhone and potentially on other carriers too, AT&T might loose almost 1 million net adds per quarter. A significant number but one AT&T is already planning for most likely.

In France and other European countries, when iPhone exclusivity ended with one carrier, Apple doubled their share or more in some cases. So one can conclude that the Apple stock price may be trading at a discount if its market share is about to rise (now let me run and buy some Apple stock.. : )

Overall an excellent discussion on the 2011 Outlook for US wireless by some Industry heavyweights in the Analyst world. Congratulations to the team at Wireless Technology Forum (Atlanta) and especially to Gerry Purdy of MobileTrax for putting together this awesome event.

November 22nd, 2010

Notes from Wireless Technology Forum SIG on Mobile Video, Feb 11 2010

(from our Atlanta desk)

I attended the Wireless Video SIG organized by Wireless Technology Forum, Atlanta on Feb 11, 2010 at Goizueta Business School, Emory University. The title was :

“Mobile Video : New Horizons, New Possibilities”

Here are the notes from the SIG :

Panelists :

David Barnette, Regional Vice President, Clearwire

Craig Kirkland, CNN Mobile

Dr. Nikhil Jayant, Executive Director, GCATT

Mark Nagel, Mobility Video Services, AT&T Mobility

Susan Schedel, Director, Business Development, FLO TV (Qualcomm)

Clay Garrett, Director of Visual Design, N4D

Moderated By : Dr Benn Konsynski, George S. Kraft of Business Administration, Goizueta Business School, Emory University

Overall – an excellent session on Mobile Video arranged by Mobile Video SIG Chair Caroline Dunn and Ashok Kumar.

Dr Konsynski started off with saying that there is a tidal wave of mobility and also of video. There exists a confluence of each. Moreoever, UGC (user-generated content) and other actors are confounding these influences. There is also a strong pursuit of standardization in this space.

David Barnette – Clearwire :
Clearwire leading 4G space in United States. Clear (Clearwire markets its 4G wireless service under the brand name “Clear”) is present in 27 cities covering 30 million people. Clear finds that usage for its service is increasing rapidly. Users are moving double the bandwidth compared to first generation network that they had. As they say : “If you build it, they will come”.  David says that Mobile experience with Clearwire is not about dropped calls (dig at traditional wireless operators :) but rather can you take a video while driving and not dropping the signal. Clear is judged by video apps and not really voice. “does it pass the hulu test?”.

Davind mentioned that typical phone customers are on 3G but have no expectation for video for 3G. This is not the case when these consumers adopt 4G and WiMAX. Clear thinks that video will become standard expectation with consumers in due course and then the 3G networks just won’t suffice. Price structure is crucial for marketing mobile video. In future you buy bandwidth on Wireless and voice is just one of the many apps offered on the wireless channel.

Consumers – most devices and networks are designed for 3G svcs. But Clear is evangelizing with consumers and manufacturers that new age services and products need to be designed for 4G.

iPhone has opened lot of eyes. Clear is excited about the potential of Mobile web. Clear considers itself as an ISP and not as a wireless carrier (interesting !).

Dr Konsynski asked Clearwire about extraordinary innovations once the WiMAX network is in place. Clear executive said that it is normal everyday things which will have better capacity and pricing on 4G network. On business side, Clear gets requests (from enterprise customers) for high speed business apps in places where it is normally difficult to reach using the older networks.

Craig Kirkland – CNN Mobile :

Craig said that CNN (United States’ leading news network and TV channel) is bullish on mobile and in fact quite excited about it. Short and longer videos both will succeed, eventually, CNN feels. They say mobile video is in experiment stage right now. Their iPhone app is the most successful so far. It has video clips and streaming videos of major events (eg Haiti disaster reporting). CNN sees lot of challenges as well. Craig used to work at Alltel before (and so has a carrier perspective as well). CNN Mobile is  excited about the device evolution. But CNN is concerned about mobile network quality. They are hoping the WiMAX LTE solves the network issue (indeed- a customer does not care whether it is LTE or WiMAX, Customer only cares about what experience they get). CNN Mobile also worries about discoverability challenge on app stores. CNN Mobile team focuses on discoverability a lot.
Craig said that CNN Mobile believes in net neutrality, even though a small set of users hog a a majority of the bandwidth.

Dr Konsynski says that Prodigy example (remember that now defunct high-flying ISP of the 90s) shows that if you throttle network for a small set of users, you can damage experience of your larger user base. So have to tread carefully in network throttling practices when managing high volume data users.

CNN has lot of internal resources dedicated to Mobile effort.

Dr Nikhil Jayant – GCATT :

Dr Jayant has an extraordinary background in academia and corporate. He said that he wanted to recognize the underlying core technology of Signal Compression. He said that signal compression was a great enabler to transfer CD-quality music and other things. Video is even more compressed signal. Video signals are compressed today by factor of 100 to 1.

Mobile TV factor compression today is sometimes 200 to 1 and 300 to 1. Dr Jayant expects 1000 to 1 video compression in his lifetime. He says network is fine but services on that is key. Video has the potential to become even more exciting in the next 5 to 10 years.

Mark Nagel – Mobility Video Services, AT&T Mobility :
Mark said that AT&T is focused on consumer and consumer experience. First mobile video app from AT&T stable was MobiTV in 2006. 3-4 frames per secs. You had to buy a $20 Data plan to get MobiTV. MobiTV was popular. Now they have a more advanced product from Qualcomm (called FLO TV) and it costs 9.99 per month. Nickelodeon is their most popular show on the mobile TV channel. He said that consumers still need to find the right app – consumer awareness about Mobile TV is the biggest issue right now.

Susan Schedel, FLO TV, Qualcomm :

The carrier partnership is most crucial for Qualcomm to popularize its innovative FLO TV service. They are trying to understand TV on the Go. MediaFLO (the network operated by Qualcomm for its FLO TV network) has high usage per day per user. FLO TV was started 5 yrs ago. They started with carrier partners like AT&T and Verizon. They have wholesale relationship with the consumer so far. Now, Qualcomm is also introducing direct-to-consumer channel called “Personal TV” sold via Best Buy or Amazon (in my personal opinion, they face stiff competition from Apple iPad TV channels in near future). They have a dedicated device for Personal TV.  Eg parent does not want to provide a phone to a kid but can give a Personal TV device. They are also working on backseat vehicle TV (personally, I think Qualcomm and Apple are on a competing path in 5 years – probably the reason why Apple did not choose SnapDragon processor from Qualcomm for their iPad device). They are also developing TV for the Android platform also.

FLO TV has DVR type capabilities as well as interactivity on roadmap for a user to stop, record and do catch up television.

Clay Garrett, N4D :

N4D is about 3D imaging. Focused on content. Volumetric rendering like catscans, weather etc.
Trying to solve headaches in watching 3D etc (think Avatar). As a content firm, they want to know about network viability and compression to allow them to deliver the content to consumers reliably.

Dr Konsynski – stretching the capabilities is important. Clay said that brain and eyes can cause issues eg in the recent blockbuster Avatar, 3D people said that content felt as if coming out of the screen can cause headaches and nausea. So, N4D is working on cutting-edge technology trying to make it easier to consume this 3D content.

CNN – iReport (user submitted video content on CNN) is popular with all audience ages even though CNN originally assumed that only youngsters would be interested.

Clear – Maximum adoption for Clear service in Atlanta area is in the midtown (think young, urban audience in townhouses and condominiums rather than suburban family crowd). It seems that the lifestyle pattern is more important to predict user adoption rather than age profile for such services.

Dr Jayant – Quality of Experience is key as Craig pointed out. eg Healthcare over broadband may be a big factor for success of broadband.

David (Clearwire) said that in few years Internet traffic and video traffic will become one and the same thing.

Audience question – Why will WiMAX succeed (when most major carriers are touting a LTE future) ?

David (Clearwire) – speed to market is important. WiMAX is available today with users. He said that Clearwire is aware of LTE but he says that they have spectrum positions. They say LTE and WiMAX are very close and feel that there may be dual mode devices and networks in the future. Eg combined LTE and WiMAX base stations and devices are alredy being built.

Audience – all said and done, what about mobile battery life?

Mark Nagel – FLO TV is broadcast-only technology and so battery experience is not really that bad.

CNN Mobile – battery issues bother them but the CNN exec agreed that consumers still want cool thin phones, regardless of battery issues.

International issues :-

CNN – have a large International operation. In general, they merged international and domestic products together. There are different subsets for both and there are pros and cons abroad compared to the US environment.

Dr Jayant :-
What consumers expect abroad in different parts of the world could be different from USA. Willingness to pay and Broadband policy may influence growth in other nations. Eg Finland declared recently that broadband is a birthright (::) (wow – won’t fly in the USA).

Mark Nagel (AT&T) – Rich experience in iPhone compared to before. Opening up new models and apps.

Dr Konsynski – why did qualcomm go direct to consumer ?
Mark Nagel (AT&T) downplayed that question. He said that AT&T is not competing with Qualcomm for Mobile TV. Bigger issue is consumer awareness.

Clay (N4D) – 3D has bad rep. But Avatar kind of experience may help popularize it and make it more consumer-friendly. Consumer education about 3D needs to be increased.

Net Neutrality :- (tough one)
Clear – flexibility is key and it is imp that people can push and pull content freely.

Mark Nagel – AT&T is open (ok!). Network is precious and have to manage the network using innovative techniques.

Dr Konsynski provided a killer line : If Content is King, then Context is Emporer.

Dicoverability, search, context :-

CNN – discoverability is about people making aware of their mobile app and moving across CNN properties.

Mark – trialing of apps is useful for discoverability but too many apps make it difficult to innovate in this area. Too many apps is a good problem to have ultimately. Somehow discoverability issues need to be solved via some innovation.

A fabulous panel discussion on Mobile Video set up by Wireless Technology Forum, Atlanta. Thanks to Caroline Dunn and Ashok Kumar of WTF.

February 25th, 2010

Wireless Predictions 2010 – A Panel Discussion : Wireless Technology Forum, Atlanta

(from our Atlanta desk)

I attended the Wireless Technology Forum, Atlanta’s General Session meeting on Nov 19 at the Ashford Club. This session had a blue-chip panel from leading Market Research firms and Mobile Strategists world :

J Gerry Purdy, VP and Chief Analyst – Mobile and Wireless, Frost and Sullivan

Jorge Fuenzalida, VP/GM Strategy and Consulting, Incode

Jeff Kagan, Telecom Analyst and Publisher, The Jeff Kagan Report

Moderated by Hamish Caldwell of AT&T

This star lineup of Mobile Analysts presented their views of the Wireless Industry in 2010. Here are the notes from these experts’ presentations :

Mobile is turning out to be unique compared to Internet. In Mobile, both the extremes of Open (eg Google Android) and Closed (eg Apple iPhone, RIM etc) are doing well. Apple iPhone and AppStore story is well known. Google Android is the new star and giving sufficient headache to old entrenched stars like Nokia and RIM BlackBerry in the Mobile Media space.

Jorge Fuenzalida from Incode :

Jorge showed the Top 10 Predictions Incode is making for next year (these are for US primarily but some themes apply to Asia) :

i) Operators push netbooks. They see mixed success.
ii) Net Neutrality in USA remains stuck in debate.
iii) Data Capacity issues get resolved somewhat.
iv) All devices in the West move to be smartphones. Smartphones compete on features
v) Wireless Rate Plan pricing looks like airplane pricing (read – complex and unfriendly)
vi) M2M (Machine-to-Machine) Wireless leads to acquisitions (think a GSM chip in your watch, refrigerator, gym machine and so forth). In my opinion, broad M2M is a pipe dream at least several years away.
vii) Carriers get into cloud computing in a big way. Compete with Google and Amazon there.
viii) At least one major handset OS bites the dust (Palm OS – anyone ?)
ix) MVNOs bounce back with niche business models (eg eReader network)
x) Internet video via game consoles. eg XBox and PlayStation drive IPTV – cable firms feel pressure.

 

Jeff Kagan, Prominent Analyst has this to say :

Wireless Industry changes every 5 years or so and basically re-invents itself. Current state of Wireless Industry is Very Good and Wireless is stronger than ever in spite of (or perhaps due to?) recession. Communication thrives both in good times and bad times. It is a critical social behavior.

Apple changed the smartphone sector. It brought amazing user experience and other handset makers were forced to follow suit. Phones are doing what computers used to do. iPhone is still the fastest growing smartphone business. Why – Apple is a marketing genius. Other handset makers play catchup in marketing strength. Google is in this space now. Verizon is pouring lot of money in Google Android promotion for its Cliq and upcoming Android handsets. Customers love Google over the internet and it is free. Google’s success in Mobile is quite different than that of Apple. Google will succeed with several carrier and handset partners. Apple is limited in partner base but vertically integrated.  Google wants to be everywhere. Apple wants to be the premium player and mind-share leader. Apple is a rifle where Google is a shotgun.

Wireless will transform other industries eg Meter Reading, eReaders, Smart Grid, Healthcare. Wireless will continue to be a strong industry but it will look substantially different in 5 years from now.

Gerry Purdy :

Android is customizable. It may face fragmentation (remember J2ME or Java Mobile Edition!). But it is all about the consumer experience and Google will eventually figure it out just like it did for the Web. Apple has low fragmentation – it is vertically integrated via iTunes and iPod/iPhone and quite beautifully at that.

All speakers were also of the opinion that off-network traffic will accelerate. WiFi, Bluetooth, Femtocells all have bright future because classic wireless networks will be buried under the load of iPhone like traffic and Mobile Video.

When asked, which of the Incode predictions were more likely to bear out next year, Jorge from Incode says that it is No 5 – “Wireless Rate Plan pricing looks like airplane pricing (read – complex and unfriendly)”.

What happens one year from now :

Gerry – Apple and Google continue to do well in fast growing smartphone space. RIM (BlackBerry) remains under pressure as they have a Virtual Software environment (cloud-based mostly) and lack a good Mobile OS as capable as Apple’s or Google’s. Microsoft struggles in mobile space. Palm will probably be acquired by Nokia. Maemo – Nokia’s one of two Mobile OSes (other being Symbian), may see mixed success.

Jorge – No further Mobile OS will be seen in the marketplace as it is already too crowded.

Jeff – Things will be faster and better in wireless, one year from now.

Excellent presentation by an accomplished panel. Kudos to WTF and its board for pulling together yet another excellent General Session. The next General Session at WTF is on Jan 21 and it is focused on Investing and Funding Opportunities in Mobile and Wireless domain. Stay tuned for this session and do attend if you are in Atlanta area.

December 21st, 2009

A Primer on LTE

LTE or Long Term Evolution is a 4G wireless technology and is considered the next in line in the GSM evolution path after UMTS/HSPDA 3G technologies. LTE is espoused and standardized via the 3GPP or 3rd Generation Partnership Project members. 3GPP is a global telecommunications consortium having members in most GSM dominant countries. 3GPP specifications are based on GSM evolution path of wireless communications. GSM is the most prevalent wireless standard in the world and has maximum number of subscribers globally.

The impact of LTE is so big that even powerful carriers which were on the alternate CDMA path like Verizon Wireless of United States, have decided to go with LTE in their next generation 4G evolution. Firms like Verizon and MetroPCS of USA have all but dumped the CDMA technology path almost dealing a blow to the CDMA owner Qualcomm, although the latter is much more diversified so it is not really short of business models.

LTE vs WiMAX
Whereas WiMAX emerged from the WiFi IP paradigm, LTE is a result of the classic GSM technology path. LTE is behind in the race to 4G with WiMAX getting an early lead with the likes of Sprint ClearWire and several operators in Asia opting to go with WiMAX in the near term. So where WiMAX has a speed to market advantage, LTE has massive adoption and GSM parenthood to back it up.

It is widely believed by market analysts that LTE will win ultimately but WiMAX will find adoption in frontrunner communities and niche business models which tend to take up technology faster. WiMAX vendors will have you believe that speed to market is too important to ignore. History suggests otherwise in case of wireless industry. It is also believed that ultimately, wireless industry will figure out a way to wed the two 4G technologies so the end product in few years might be a nice amalgam.

So ultimately, what standard an operator uses might be a moot point in the long run. The inter-operability would be just too great to get hung up on the wireless standard. The fact that both WiMAX and LTE are all-IP means that a cross-connection will be a piece of cake at some point in future.

In terms of speed, Fixed WiMAX lacks LTE in speed but Mobile WiMAX may catch up with LTE on this front. For an overview on WiMAX, refer to our post “A Primer on WiMAX“.

LTE Technology
LTE builds on 3GPP family which includes GSM, GPRS, EDGE, WCDMA, HSPA (High Speed Packet Access) etc. LTE is an all-IP standard like its peer WiMAX. LTE allows for rich applications and business models which include ultra-high speed voice, video and data. It also enables integration with the classic internet infrastructure which is all-IP based.

HSPA (High Speed Packet Access), the 3G GSM standard popular over near-term, offers uplink speeds of 11.5 MBPS and downlink of 28 MBPS. Whereas LTE offers 75-100 MBPS Uplink speeds and 250-300 MBPS downlink speeds. Compare this with 20 MBPS U-verse speeds of AT&T wired broadband network U-verse and 50 MBPS speeds in Verizon FIOS TV service. In a nutshell, LTE will beat the fastest wired broadband delivery High Def TV today (in USA) by order of 1 to 4 or 1 to 2 depending on which wired broadband we are talking about. That said, many carriers like AT&T believe that HSPA and its faster cousin HSPA+ will compare well with early WiMAX speeds and so there is no rush to LTE yet for these kind of carriers.

Some key characteristics of LTE are described below :

  • Increased Data Rates and High Efficiency : LTE is based on OFDM Radio Access technology and MIMO antenna technology (just like its cousin WiMAX) which offer excellent modulation technique for achieving powerful spectral efficiency.  Think of the OFDM wireless spectrum as a series of very fine and narrow wireless  bands and each band gets allocated to various service providers.  LTE offers higher data transmission rates while utilizing the spectrum more efficiently. This translates to an ability to support many more multitude of subscribers than is possible with pre-4G spectral frequencies. LTE is 2 to 5 times more efficient in spectrum utilization than the most advanced 3G networks.
  • Radio Planning : LTE signal goes far and wide and covers a larger geographic territory. LTE signal is way faster than the existing wireless transmission resulting in higher user response times.
  • IP environment : LTE is all-IP which permits new enhanced applications like real time voice, video, gaming, social networking and location-based services.  The concept of wireless ubiquity comes alive with LTE processor chips in everything from netbooks to mobile phones to consumer devices; all these devices talk to each other seamlessly and effortlessly.
  • Inter-operability : LTE IP network co-operates with circuit-switched legacy networks resulting in a seamless network environment and signals are exchanged between traditional networks, the new 4G network and the IP-based internet seamlessly.

LTE Applications
LTE will enable applications previously unheard of. Wireless ubiquity is a given. All consumer devices. communication and computing resources may be enabled on the wireless network courtesy of chipmakers like Intel who are eagerly building in WiMAX and LTE in future chipsets which will be embedded in all sorts of technology devices that one can imagine.  Social Networking and human-technology interaction (HTI) will take on a new meaning. Human-technology interface and resultant communication could be as seamless and as effortless as the Tom Cruise movie Minority Report makes it out to be (ok we are bragging a bit now).

Web 4.0, if you will, may just comprise the Wireless as an integral element of the hyper-connected world via LTE and WiMAX enablement.  Broadband TV might not need wired cables anymore and new MVNO service providers may emerge who enable wirelessly driven TV and broadband internet. Business users might exchange massive amounts of data while on the go at the flick of a button (or touch). Interacting with your Flickr and Picasas photo streams from mobile devices might be a breeze. Games will cross wired / wireless domains and mobile location will figure in the gaming context naturally. Location-based may take a new meaning with location being the true IP beacon determining the application context in a flash, thereby offering a ultra-personalized mobile experience to the user.

LTE Timeline
Operators are just now fully deploying 3G using WCDMA or UMTS/HSPDA. WiMAX is coming in via ClearWire in USA and several operators like BSNL in India and many others in Middle East and Africa. The first LTE deployment in USA is with relatively tiny MetroPCS which may just beat the big 3 LTE carriers (AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile) in the race to 4G. Verizon is claiming 2010 LTE deployment and AT&T is taking a more patient approach and states that LTE is in 2011-12 timeframe. China is unique, as usual. They have taken the TD-SCDMA 3G route which is a “unique to China” standard.  Chinese 4G strategy is not clear still. India is more LTE centric like the West with major carriers like Airtel and Vodafone adopting the LTE route. LTE in India is many years away as India’s regulator TRAI has not even awarded the 3G spectrum licenses yet.

Japan, we won’t even go there..

April 6th, 2009

Panel participation at Telephony Live 2008 conference panel “Service Gets Personal”

I had the pleasure of participating in a panel at the prestigious Telephony Live conference hosted by the editors of the Telephony magazine in Chicago last week. The conference titled “Telephony Live-The Telecom Summit 2008″ was a great success and I thoroughly enjoyed the excellent event, the panel participation and hobnobbing with some distinguished luminaries of the telecom and wireless industry.

Kudos to Editor-in-Chief Carol Wilson, marketing chief Kim Brower, all the editors including Rich Karpinski, Kevin Fitchard, Sarah Reedy, Ed Gubbins and the entire cast of Telephony magazine for doing a stupendous job on what I believe is the second time for this conference. Congratulations Carol and team !! Great job and I look forward to more of these in the future.

First on the panel I participated in :

I was in the panel “Service Gets Personal” along with some other distinguished telecom execs – Nancy Kaplan from SECOR Consulting, Ken King from SAS and David Allred from SezMi, a stellar team of telecom experts from blue chip firms. The panel was moderated by the Chief Editor of Telephony magazine Carol Wilson.

Carol, Nancy, Ken and David – It was a pleasure and I appreciate the opportunity. I whole-heartedly enjoyed the spirited discussion and felt enriched by the keen insights offered.

The topic concerned the implications and importance of service personalization in telecom and mobile offerings. Pretty much all panel members agreed that with brutal competition in telecom industry and commoditization of the old bread and butter voice revenue, service personalization is all but inevitable.

Broadly, service personalization means taking customer demographics, customer’s location, customer’s permission, customer control etc into account while disbursing relevant services and / or rendering marketing messaging to the customer base. Service personalization allows providers to create new revenue streams, retain existing customers and keep their offerings differentiated and innovative in midst of what is a highly competitive and fast-moving communication services market. The various techniques used to achieve personalization include :

– location – to render location-sensitive mobile advertising, in-proximity marketing or media

– customer demographics from social networks or customer profiles

– customer opt-in permissioning ( as opposed to spamming )

– reviewing customer’s past usage history or buying patterns such as used by telco operators to determine what new services should be offered

Interestingly iPhone, the new game-changing mobile phone has shown that mobile web can get 10 times the adoption with the right ecosystem and device support. This has created a race to capitalize on this new channel from all members in the ecosystem. Amid this application, device and media frenzy triggered by mobile web as on an iPhone, personalized services promise to get the customer’s attention, thereby creating new revenue streams and brand new players like Apple, Google, Loopt, in the mobile ecosystem.

Business Intelligence firms like SAS are sitting on prime customer intelligence data which can be mined for detecting customer patterns and offering more personalized services. SezMi has a breakthrough internet TV product soon to be launched which promises to bring internet style control to the TV experience. Consulting firms like SECOR and CellStrat stand ready to help CIOs, CTOs and CMOs sort through the service jungle and create viable and compelling solution offerings.

Challenges to service personalization are many, eg privacy concerns including location and data privacy, risk of spam, regulatory hurdles (eg FCC penalizing Comcast on Deep Packet Inspection), device and technology fragmentation (too many devices and standards).

On Telephony Live Conference :

The conference had some great keynote speakers, viz Daniel Kelly (Exec VP, Tellabs), Hardik Bhatt (CIO, City of Chicago), Andrew Lippman (Fellow, MIT Media Lab), Jeong Kim (President of Bell Labs). All offered immense insight into the future of communications and the role of communications industry in modern society. Hardik Bhatt presented some interesting use cases from the way the City of Chicago is using communication services and technology to enhance the lives of city dwellers. Andrew Lippman offered some really insightful advice on how it is about “We, not Me” anymore. Essentially he sought to convey that one must always think of social aspect rather than individualistic service (I don’t believe this conflicts with service personalization before as some might suggest, we are on two different planes here). Jeong Kim discussed innovation and its role in modern world and how innovation has a slightly different perspective in research and industry circles.

There were many other panel discussions with some excellent industry thought leaders and executives. All in all, a great and enriching experience for all and me in particular.

Carol and team – Awesome job. Look forward to other events like this from the Telephony team.

October 5th, 2008

Traffic Shaping in telecom networks

On the subject of Net Neutrality, the editorial team at Telephony Online (www.telephonyonline.com) wrote an interesting note on “traffic shaping”, or the practice by telcos to inspect packet traffic and do bandwidth prioritization. User-generated content or P2P traffic like Video (YouTubes of the world) are congesting the global network and telcos want to control this kind of traffic and police it. The telephonyonline article can be accessed at :

http://telephonyonline.com/software/commentary/dpi-p2p-traffic-0519/

Editor Carol Wilson at telephonyonline.com writes “By enabling ISPs to identify P2P traffic and employ “traffic shaping” that prevented that traffic from taking over available bandwidth during times of congestion, DPI was supposed to give ISPs greater control over the quality of their networks.” DPI stands for “Deep Packet Inspection” or an ability to inspect data traffic and apply throttle control above certain loads. “Latency-sensitive traffic such as voice and video would get one level of QoS, best-effort data another, and P2P another. “, according to Wilson.

Wilson gives example of BCE, Canada which resorted to traffic shaping causing a headache for various ISPs. This has angered independent ISPs whose traffic is being policed by BCE.

Network Congestion and Traffic Shaping are vexing problems with great ethical and regulatory implications. We feel telcos should be able to recoup their heavy return on investment in the core network and have a right to resort to some bandwidth control eg we disagree with the idea that a couple of apps like YouTube and others should hog the bandwidth on the internet and all other low volume apps are left hanging high and dry with regards to bandwidth availability. But a balance is needed via regulation where carriers cannot control the internet traffic to the extent that they inhibit internet from functioning and end up throttling innovation instead.

MT

May 20th, 2008

Net Neutrality : “Managed Internet” vs “Free-use Internet”

AT&T Vice President of Legislative Affairs, Jim Connoni, warns that by year 2010, internet will hit full capacity. Says Connoni : “Eight hours of video is loaded onto YouTube every minute”. Whew. That sounds almost ominous. How will internet traffic flow – countless businesses, corporations not to mention daily lives of people would be effected. Well may be, I am exaggerating a bit. By that time, the truth is that our capable internet backbone providers would have added tremendous amount of bandwidth firepower in preparation for this coming internet congestion. Firms like Cisco are busy churning out heavy duty routers which will allow heavier and heavier load to be carried on the IP network.

Point is that firms like AT&T want to use such arguments to overcome the network neutrality camp led by likes of Google, Microsoft, video transmitters, user-generated content (UGC) and other high bandwidth hogs which run large amounts of video and content on the internet. These firms and individuals would not want to see backbone providers like AT&T charge a premium to carry their bandwidth gobbling content like YouTube videos, online gaming etc. Whereas backbone providers want to prioritize the internet where higher bandwidth users have to pay more to use the IP backbone. Internet firms like Google which thrive on high bandwidth applications like YouTube would like legislation which bans such prioritization arguing that such priority access control is against the tenets of a free internet and that all traffic must be considered equal and should compete for bandwidth. Vint Cerf, co-inventor of Internet Protocol, supports a light legislation to ensure net neutrality. Of course, Google’s preferred solution would lead to bulk of the internet capacity being utilized by few high usage firms or individuals causing slowness or lack of service for bulk of the population.

What is the right answer. Depends on whom you ask. We feel this issue still needs some analysis before one take sides on this. We feel that backbone providers deserve some way of ensuring that internet continues to provide a reasonable QOS (Quality of Service) for the larger population instead of being jammed by a few big network hogs. On the other hand, internet was founded on the premise of true democracy and free flowing content and its sheer growth is attributable to lack of regulation and control. Hence one has to tread a delicate balance between a “managed internet” and a “Free-use internet”.

Your thoughts are welcome.

MT

April 28th, 2008


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