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Thursday, October 24, 2019

5G will catalyse the transformation of the telecom industry itself

This is a post that originally appeared on my LinkedIn page (see here). There are numerous additional insights in the comments.

Much of the current hype about 5G relates to business and verticals. Many claim that 5G will be a central force in "transforming" industries. 

But what people in the telecoms sector don't yet seem to realise is that the very first industry that will be transformed by 5G is.... telecoms itself. 

5G is bringing a new set of challenges and complexities - new spectrum, more need for coverage indoors & in remote areas, and new use-cases and stakeholders. 

If 5G is anywhere near as important as it's claimed, then many businesses and governments will want to own it, customise it and control it directly, not through an MNO.

Meanwhile, localised and shared spectrum, arriving at the same time as 5G (but also usable for 4G) is creating a new landscape of wholesale/neutral host players, private and community operators, cloud/Internet players with mobile assets, industrial/vertical MNOs and hybrid MNO/MVNO providers. 

The old world of mobile involved 3 or 4 national MNOs, plus some TowerCos and a few consumer MVNOs. 

The new, 5G world is much more fragmented and heterogeneous. Even as regulators look at allowing mergers of the legacy MNOs, there's a Cambrian explosion of newer, cooler, more-agile niche players emerging. 

If you're interested in this topic & want to engage more deeply, I'm running a London workshop on Neutral Host Networks on Nov 21st https://disruptivewireless.blogspot.com/p/2nd-neutral-host-networks-london-public.html 

Also, I undertake private advisory work for clients on various angles relating to future telecoms & cellular provider heterogeneity and opportunities - please get in touch to discuss your needs.
 telecom neutralhost 4G spectrum privateLTE CBRS private5G

Friday, October 04, 2019

Updates on UK Neutral Host and local spectrum developments

I've written & spoken extensively about the new Ofcom rules for localised spectrum in the UK, both in new "innovation bands" like 3.8-4.2GHz and in secondary licensing of existing MNO national frequencies, such as 2.6GHz. (See here and here). The secondary licensing model is pretty unique, as it allows people to request to use telcos' spectrum resources which are lying fallow, with no plans for build-out in that location by the license holder. It's a bit like the spectrum-leasing model seen in some countries' remote areas for mining or community wireless.

As well as pure private networks, I see value in these bands for neutral-host propositions, and various forms of infill/coverage-extension. NHNs involve third-party operators offering wholesale capacity to MNOs and sometimes other service providers, either in their own spectrum, or some sort of shared infrastructure.

The first* example of the secondary reuse scenario has been announced (link), by Digital Colony's unit StrattoOpencell and Vodafone. OpenCell now has access to VF's 2.6GHz band, for a private LTE network covering a holiday site for caravans, in Devon in SW England. Most of OpenCell's previous focus has been on in-building, although in the last few months it has acquired outdoor assets as well.

The site currently uses Wi-Fi to provide broadband to caravans, as running fibre to each doesn't really make sense. However, there is significant interference between the outdoor site Wi-Fi and any "indoor" hotspots used within each of the thin-walled mobile homes for connecting PCs and other devices. 

The idea is to provide fixed-access 4G from a central LTE base station, to a Wi-Fi unit in each caravan. The cost will be paid for as part of plot rental fees charged by the site owner to the residents/visitor, bundled in with power and water and so on.

For now, this is a Private LTE service for local FWA. But it could be extended to SIMs for onsite mobile devices (perhaps the site's own staff phones or IoT devices), or support Vodafone's smartphone MBB subscribers onsite. I guess it could also handle WiFi-Calling / SMS for other MNOs' users (if the signal is strong enough and the phones set up correctly) or perhaps even allow roaming. 

I'm not sure if the agreements with Vodafone and Ofcom to reuse spectrum locally would allow full neutral-host, broadcasting the IDs of the other UK MNOs, though. Maybe as the various network-sharing and national-roaming options under consideration by the UK Government evolve, that could be a possibility.

In theory, I also guess Vodafone could have offered this by itself, either to the site owners or the individual tenants, but most MNOs aren't really geared up to work on individualised local business-models such as this, especially if they involve new infrastructure, new pricing plans and so on. It is also unlikely to set up a "micro-MVNO" for the site owner, if it needs to install hardware in a new location.

This is something of a new variant of private and Neutral Host mobile - and one of the first I've seen to use local secondary spectrum, rather than national licenses acquired by a wholesale specialist (such as Dense Air, in Ireland or NZ). 

I could also imagine a future vertical-sector specialist (let's say a new firm called Camping Mobile) could try to do this for multiple sites, perhaps working with OpenCell or other NHN providers as technical enablers.

There definitely seems to be a bit of race between the new US CBRS deployments, and the UK's new local spectrum models, to see which gets the most innovative new concepts and mobile networks to market. The German industrial 5G band and a few others are worth watching too. 

I'm tracking and speaking to numerous NHN providers in the UK and elsewhere - and it's pretty fascinating how diverse their spectrum, backhaul and go-to-market strategies are. For 5G, rather than 4G, there's an interesting overlap with Open RAN as well, but that's a post for another time.

If you're interested in a deeper dive, I'm hosting my 2nd NHN public workshop on November 21st in London. See (here) for details, or (here) to discuss a private internal advisory engagement.

*This is the first example to be based on Ofcom's new licensing regime. Arguably a trial deployment from friend James Body's Ch4lke Mobile / Telet Research got there first in concept (see here and here). There's also early NHN trials at some of the UK's DCMS 5G testbed projects, such as AutoAir and 5GRuralFirst, and private cellular at several others.

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

5G & Neutral-Host Thought Experiment #1

Reposted & extended from original LinkedIn post (link) - main comment thread on that page

Here's a thought experiment, to test your ideas about 5G, indoor wireless, neutral-host networks, URLLC and network-slicing.

It's a plausible scenario which seems simple, but actually has lots of complexities. It's the sort of thing that marketing departments might suggest as a use-case for 5G, but in reality, "it's not that simple".

Imagine it's the year 2025. 

There's a large office building on a business park... with a faulty elevator. The elevator company sends out one of its local maintenance engineers, who works as a contractor. 

He arrives with an AR headset, running an application to deliver repair instructions and record the fix, linked to the manufacturer's cloud-based diagnostics, image-analysis and compliance/recording platform. Given the safety issues such as fall-risks, it needs a low-latency connection to avoid the risk of nausea and distraction. 

But.... what's the network coverage like in the lift-shaft? Is there outside-in signal with <1GHz 5G? Or is there a DAS or multi-operator small-cell system? Is there a private cellular network with local spectrum? Does it support integration with all outdoor / public networks equally well? Can it support URLLC with a guaranteed SLA? What network is the engineer's headset SIM registered on, anyway? Is there a voice/video connection for looping in a remote expert? And how would that work?

Whose responsibility is all of this? Is it down to the building owner? A smart-building specialist? A neutral-host provider? Should the elevator manufacturer integrate local connectivity with Wi-Fi or 5G NR-U? How do they deal with sub-contractors? Is it possible for "slices" or performance guarantees to work on the indoor (possibly private) network? Is there a separate core network for the indoor system? Who designs, tests or pays for it? Who's liable if the network fails? Is there any need for edge-compute and storage as part of the application design - and if so, where is it and how is it accessed?
There are no easy answers here. The real world for many "5G" applications is going to have to deal with these heterogeneous situations, with workarounds and fallbacks. 

In this case, it seems pretty clear that the AR headset will have to have an offline mode, with blueprints & manuals stored on itself, or the engineer's phone or PC. Or the engineer will use the headset to record video, and then go back outside the building to upload it & call in for advice. Inefficient, but safer. When good-quality coverage is available inside the elevator shaft, the work can be concluded faster & more reliably - but it won't always be possible.

This is the first of a series of "5G Thought Experiments" that will help people think more about realistic scenarios and use-cases. I'll be focusing on ones that touch on opportunities for 5G, Wi-Fi6, neutral-host, cloud-native and private cellular. I'll be doing some as podcasts, so sign up here. I'll also be touching on these in my upcoming Neutral Host workshop on November 21st 2019. Details here.