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

Midterm Observations on the Telecom Industry.

Observations - Telecom IndustryThree events were held this past week that provided an opportunity to get a midterm pulse of the telecom industry: the MWC-Shanghai, 5G World and WBA Congress. Having attended the last two, I wanted to summarize a few observations:

* The vision for 5G is converging; industry is aligning along common themes.  A few leading operators are racing to claim 5G capability for different reasons and interests. The absence of standards coupled with vendors’ urgent need for 5G, will lead to market confusion which will climax in the next two years as the olympics in Japan and Korea approach and companies and countries race to claim firsts. Expect to be inundated with terms such as ‘5G-Lite’, ‘pre-5G’, ‘5G-Phase1’, ‘pre-certified 5G’, ‘5G-ready’, etc. Continue reading

Does the Short Road to 4.5G Mean a Long Road to 5G?!

4.5G vs. 5GBrowse through industry literature or conference proceedings and trade shows, and you’ll be inundated with talk about 5G. On the other hand little is to be found on “4.5G”, or technically speaking, LTE Release 12 and 13 branded as LTE-Advanced Pro [which incidentally I find to be a bad choice of terms that I prefer to use 4.5G even as I don’t like the nomenclature!]. Why is there little to discuss on 4.5 G and much to talk about on 5G? What does this tells us about 4.5G and 5G? And, is there something between the lines that we can read? Continue reading

Comparative Look at LPWA Performance.

There are over a dozen LPWA technologies contending to provide connectivity for some of the billions of connected devices as projected by market analysts. How they all compare with each other is a hot topic in the race to markets. We recently published detailed analysis benchmarking these technologies in terms of capacity, range, throughput, power consumption and other characteristics*. In the process we developed a graphic for two parameters – range and throughput. Both are important parameters, but in the context of IoT, they are not the only parameters that need to be considered. Nevertheless, it is worth outlining some important aspects of this graphic. Continue reading

Demystifying Cloud RAN Architectures

Imagine a wireless service provider can provide service anywhere there’s Internet connectivity at the click of a button. All they need is a small remote radio connected to the Internet. The baseband modems no longer reside at cell sites, but are hosted in data centers where powerful commercial servers execute all the functions of todays base station baseband units. The remote radios can even be self-deployed by the mobile subscribers. The service provider would have full control of the service features which can be configurable on the fly. Sounds like science fiction to some, but this is what virtualization of the radio access network aims to achieve.

No wonder then that the term Cloud RAN which meant centralization and virtualization of baseband became an overused term to denote all types of architectures. We live in the world of Anything as a Service (XaaS). Which investors would put money now in a hardware company? Continue reading

Will Smart Parking be the NB-IoT Killer App?

NB-IoTThe outcome of the IoT connectivity standard battle which is in full swing today will hinge on a number of factors. One critical factor is the application of the technology. Applications vary in requirements as well as in barriers of entry. While IoT promises huge economic potential at a macro-economic level, it is a major challenge for any entity, be it investor or service provider,  to assess where to place its investments and focus. Such dynamics are fully evident today at different levels: competition between LPWA and 3GPP IoT standards, and the competition within each camp, for example, between backers of NB-IoT and LTE Cat-m1. So, if applications are so critical, what are some of the leading ones and where one needs to look? Continue reading

5 Reasons Why Smart Cities Fail

Smart Cities - IoTBeyond the hype of Smart Cities lies a number of challenges that have made the realization of smart cities a slow and arduous process. Some of the top challenges in my experience are the following:

1- Budget: cities operate on very tight budgets. The budget allocated to information technology is a relatively small part of the overall budget. This gates smart city activities a municipality can engage even before considering any other factor. Continue reading

The Mushrooming IoT Alliances!

IoT AlliancesMany industry associations emerged on the scene within the last 8 – 18 months reflecting both the heightened interest in the general IoT space and the need for interoperability in a fragmented market. These alliances can be categorized broadly into two groups: industry collaboration alliances and technology alliances focused on ensuring interoperability among devices. For the home automation space, alliances and organizations have recently formed with the direct purpose of enabling interoperability of connected home devices. We review these below in addition to listing adjacent alliances that have influence on this market. Continue reading

C-RAN and the True 5G

5G Cloud RANWhile people may debate what 5G will be, there are a few key facts that cannot be changed. These facts will shape what 5G will be. Based on this we expect that new winners will emerge who can capitalize on new trends through innovating new solutions. Therefore, aside from the hype that dominates 5G talk, the key is to peel the layers that shroud the fundamentals. Over the last three years of researching the potential for Cloud RAN (C-RAN), I saw all the traits of a disruptive technology lurking in the background (2014, 2015). But with 5G, I think this can all change, and C-RAN will bolt to the foreground in more than one way. Continue reading