600 MHz Incentive Auction: Beating Disappointment

600 MHz Spectrum AuctionBidding on the 600 MHz ‘incentive band’ stopped at $19.63 billion. The assignment phase now in progress to decide on specific allotments.  Detailed results will be announced a few weeks after that concludes. Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, Dish and Comcast are among the bidders with Sprint a notable absentee. It will be a few short years before this new spectrum enters service. Continue reading

The Value Proposition of mmWave 5G Networks

5G mmWaveThis year marked a coalescence* around the 28 GH band for 5G fixed access services. A year ago at MWC 2016**, different millimeter wave bands (mmWave) were still in play including the 70 GHz range. I recall discussing the performance of those solutions with exhibitors. They all claimed that mmWave access works in non-line-of-sight conditions. I even recall one the demos had a node behind a wall to make that point. The wall turned out to be made of cloth! Continue reading

The Crossroads of Change: My thoughts on MWC 2017.

MWC 2017 There’s not event like Mobile World Congress for gauging the pulse of the industry: 108,000 visitors and over 2,300 exhibitors provide the right platform for that. As I participated with other partners at Xona Partners in drafting our observations from MWC, I wanted to share a few notes and thoughts: Continue reading

The Road to MWC: The Challenge Ahead

It’s only a week or so for MWC to opens. The biggest telecom event in the globe continues to grow, challenging companies to get their message heard. Press releases are no-longer effective. Day 0 – Sunday before the show – is now a full event day. But even that is not enough, leading major corporations host to analysts and opinion leaders in pre-MWC events.  So with this background, I wanted to share a few thoughts! Continue reading

IoT Business and Technology Simulator

IoT Connectivity TechnologiesMultiple IoT technologies are competing for dominance with no one solution fits all applications. Rather, application requirements, regulatory, and deployment constraints will favor one technology solution over another. This makes it imperative for IoT service providers, vendors and investors to make sound and knowledgeable technology and business model choices. To help in strategic decision making, we at Xona have developed a business and technology simulation software based on several years of providing advisory services in this space. The simulator will help crystallize the opportunity, warn of potential weaknesses and pose important questions to answer. Continue reading

A Year in Transition: A Look Ahead

As the year winds down, I wanted to share a few brief notes and observations. In short, I view 2016 as a ‘transitional’ year. This transition will unfold  unfold over multiple years. It will see new technologies and business models rising while others fading away. Some highlights based on what we at Xona Partners have been involved in: Continue reading

Is There a Business Case for Network Slicing?

Network slicingNetwork slicing is a focal feature of 5G networks – a savior for service providers that will enable greater control of the quality of service delivered to clients, especially the enterprise market.  But while the discussion address the technical aspects of network slicing, there are many business and financial issues that remain mysterious! Continue reading

Is 550 million 5G subscribers in 2022 Too Many?

5GWill there be 550 million 5G subscribers in 2022 as Ericsson forecasts in its latest mobility report? I highly doubt it – here’s why.

LTE is a very successful technology that commercially began to roll out in the US, Japan and Korea in 2010 timeframe. Today, it includes over 520 live networks and over 1.3 billion subscribers (1.7 b per Ericsson’s report), recording 100% growth in one year. The reasons for fast adoption of LTE comes down to:

  • Validation of data services stimulated by the iPhone launch in 2007; before this date, the ‘killer app’ was still missing.
  • Need for US, Korean and Japanese operators such as Verizon, Sprint, KDDI, SKT, and LG for a new technology to get off CDMA/EV-DO.
  • Availability of new spectrum such as the 700 MHz digital dividend band, 2.3 and 2.5 GHz bands.
  • 3G is a poor technology for handling data services; LTE at least doubled the spectral efficiency of 3G.

Looking at these factors, the case for having a 5G technology reaching 550 m subscribers becomes challenging because:

  1. LTE has a rich roadmap to enhance its performance which makes the business case for 5G more challenging forcing carriers to look for new, yet unvalidated, applications to drive revenue.
  2. The need for 5G framed around capacity is not alone a sufficient incentive to deploy. In fact, 5G will provide small advantage over LTE in terms of spectral efficiency.
  3. The spectrum situation is tighter today than 5-10 years ago when large swaths were becoming available. Spectrum in sub 6 GHz is more limited and new spectrum will take longer to reach the market. Little harmonization exist among major player and trends point towards new ways of awarding and using spectrum.
  4. The standards for 5G are expected to finalize in 2018 (phase 1) and end of 2019 (Phase 2). Adding the time required for availability of commercial solutions, testing, certification, etc. it takes on average 2 additional years for commercial launch.  LTE standard, for example, was first released in 2008 while commercial deployments started in 2010/2011.

Mobile subscriptions per technology [Source: Ericsson, November 2016]

Mobile subscriptions per technology [Source: Ericsson, November 2016]

Considering that much of India, Africa and Latin America still need to get on LTE, in addition to emerging opportunities such as private networks, there is an argument that the growth of LTE may be longer than expected as 2G and 3G networks are turned off in favor of LTE.

The Triumvirate Standoff and the New Telecom World Order

TriumvirateWe are at a defining moment in the evolution of telecom. Forces are building across a fault line between service providers and Internet giants. Both sides appear to have reached a wall. It’s a matter of time before an earthquake reshapes the scene.  For service providers, the challenge lies in hard-to-scale rigid networks and a culture steeped in conservatism that slows evolution. For the Internet player and OTTs, the challenge lies in a business model that is close to run out of steam with slower growth looming in the horizon. Each side views the other with trepidation. The service providers claim that the Internet players are getting the bigger slice of value, while the Internet players see service providers as the bottleneck that’s gating their revenue growth. The triumvirate of mobile network operators, fixed access service providers and Internet giants are locked in a standoff that will shape the future of telecom.   Continue reading

Virtualize or Perish: The Software Transformation Challenge!

virtualization SDN NFVTelecom service providers are facing a challenging dilemma. While they are sitting financially comfortably, the forward-looking service providers know that they are required to implement sweeping changes in how they deliver services. Otherwise, they stand the risk of being relegated to commodity dumb pipe provider by visionary entrants with new service models. Thus, in facing the risk of marginalization, service providers have to embark on a software transformation process that’s challenging and painful.

To transform their clunky hardware-based networks to flexible adaptive software-based network service providers are looking, and a few are implementing, SDN and NFV technologies which have had a lot of attention in the last 5 years with limited market traction to date.  The argument is that with NFV and SDN, new service creation and delivery become order of magnitudes easier and faster as does scalability in all the sense of this word. Continue reading

The Future of 5G: Risking Disappointment?!

5G FutureMonitoring the progress of 5G at the recent 5G Americas analyst summit, where carriers including AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint engaged industry analyst on many 5G topics, I noted few observations. For context, the industry remains fixated on capacity: how to scale to support 11 GB in 2019 from ~4 GB monthly usage? This is fuelling the drive towards millimeter wave* communications (mmWave) which has become synonymous with 5G. While the access network remains the focus, I think this is taking away attention from other, more important, issues not the least of which is the use cases and applications that will generate revenue. This, in my opinion, could lead to future disappointments: the access network for 5G seems will be late in coming! Continue reading

Why Are Telecom Service Providers Interested in Open Source?

open-source-telecom-networksOpen source in telecom networks is an emerging concept that could disrupt the telecom value chain. Hardware solutions make up the vast majority of today’s telecom network infrastructure. In recent years, Network Function Virtualization (NFV) and Software Defined Networks (SDN) solutions began to appear in networks – a trend that will accelerate in the future. While virtualization provides a leap in flexibility over hardware-based architecture, virtualization solutions remain proprietary implementations that are optimized for performance. Open source solutions that build on SDN/NFV promise to open up the network to third parties, adding vitality to a mature market and stimulating innovation. This is much desired by mobile network operators (MNOs) who face a shrinking ecosystem of suppliers. In our survey of open source in telecom, the following are the main priorities cited by MNOs for pursuing the open source model: Continue reading

How to Get to 5G?

5G driversNever before in the history of wireless that as ambitious a program as 5G was put in place. The scope of requirements far exceeds anything that came before it. Moreover, 5G comes at a time when mobile network operators are facing their toughest challenges as their financial performance demonstrates. Consolidation in the ecosystem is wide-spread at the semiconductor and equipment manufacturer level, while regulatory power is still holding in the face of greater carrier consolidation. 4G technology, LTE and its evolution, have proved hugely successful and still has much stamina to carry the industry for years to come. For such an ambitious technology as 5G to come at such a time begs the question: how to get to 5G? Continue reading

Will 5G be the Last ‘G’!

The 3GPP recently agreed to accelerated timelines 5G standard definition to bring in a new radio system in both non-standalone (LTE EPC core) and standalone (next generation core) architectures within Release 15 targeting June 2018 for completion of specifications.In the meantime, the ‘more mature’ version of 5G will come in Release 16 in conjunction with ITU specification for IMT-2020.

5G Standardization Timelines.

5G Standardization Timelines.

The accelerated standardization timeline pulls up the standalone deployment scenario (new radio and next-generation core) into Release 15. It answers to the pressure from a few network operators, especially those in US, Japan and Korea, to get on with 5G specifications whereas European operators are more inclined for letting the process takes its course. Moreover, the new timelines aims to prevent divergence and fragmentation of 5G at this early stage. For example, Verizon released its requirements for 5G last month (see http://www.5gtf.org/).

Considering the scope of targets set for 5G, fragmentation is a major risk that can only be compounded by the mandate of standard bodies such as 3GPP which specifies ‘what to do’ leaving much on ‘how to do’ subject to vendor implementation. 5G runs a risk of being a complex network of many parts that is only optimized within a certain vendor’s sphere leaving much desired in terms of interoperability and multi-vendor sourcing. It also runs the risk of having many interpretations of what 5G is. This is ironic since LTE managed to present a unified global technology and achieve rapid wide-scale adoption. On the other hand, 5G promises to defragment the market with different implementations of technology. From that sense, it would be more appropriate to refer to 5G as a framework for wireless networks than a technology. Taking this a step further, it may well be the last ‘G’!

What Capacity Problem?! A View on the Small Cell Market.

small cellsSmall cells have existed and been talked about for about a decade now. The technology and market went through different phases tracking 3G, LTE and now 5G technologies. Yet, the deployment of small cells has been timid and numbers fall below expectations. The fundamental thesis behind small cells is that demand for capacity exceeds supply. The market speculated that small cells is the solution to close this gap. But in fact, this thesis has several flaws. Continue reading