Is the Speed Gap between Fixed an Wireless Widening?

I've recently been shown an interesting comparison that seems to suggest that wireless is really loosing out because despite wireless speeds rising, fixed line speeds keep rising much quicker. An interesting twist of numbers to get to a single message but in practice, things are a bit more difficult and the conclusion to which that chart arrives is not accurate. Here are some thoughts on this suggested widening gap:

  • ADSL top speeds have been rising constantly and today you can get a 16 or 20 MBit/s line IF (upper case!) you live close to a switching center. However, most people don't and as a result get much lower speeds out of their line.
  • VDSL is next in the evolution path but in order to achieve 50+ MBit/s speeds, the DSLAMs have moved very close to the homes. We have a VDSL roll out where I live in Germany and there is a huge cabinet (base station size…) every several hundred meters. Also, they had to dig up the ground to lay fibers for the backhaul. I can also imagine some other applications for those cabinets in the future, think low power low range micro cell wireless deployments…
  • Fiber directly into the home is next but that requires more digging and that's why for example Deutsche Telekom (the brothers of T-Mobile ๐Ÿ™‚ have selected VDSL instead of going with the fiber to the buildings.
  • In big cities it can be observed today that the ADSL line rates of existing customers are going down due to the cross-talk on the coper cables due to more and more people subscribing to ADSL. Some people have started with a 16 MBit/s link and have in the meantime arrived down at 2 MBit/s with their link due to the cross-talk. A drastic example, probably a big exception, but I can feel it in Paris as well. Previously, my ADSL modem there could easily connect with 8 MBit/s. Lately, it's only doing 4-6 MBit/s.
  • The only application for those higher speeds beyond 2 or 3 MBit/s fixed line carriers like is IPTV supplied by them. If the user uses his super fast ADSL link for anything else that requires a 10+ MBit/s bandwidth, the carrier gets quite unhappy because that costs real money at the interconnect to the Internet.
  • Wireless has evolved as well, and with HSPA, top speeds have arrived in the field today at a theoretical 21 MBit/s. And things keep rising. But in practice, speeds are much lower due to the number of subscribers per base station, signal to noise ratios, etc. You can go down with cell sizes, you can increase the frequency band you use, you can put in MIMO, you can do all sorts of things but the raw bandwidth available to the individual customer will always be below what you can get through an individual copper cable to the customer premises. But it's a moot point, nobody wants to replace all ADSL and TV cables with wireless. Why? They are already in the ground, they are already working. That's another reason why I think the combination of fixed and wireless Internet access makes so much sense.
  • But even for the ADSL and TV cable modem, the bits transmitted through the copper or fiber do not hop directly into the notebook ๐Ÿ™‚ Instead there's usually a wireless link in between, Wi-Fi ๐Ÿ™‚
  • So I don't see a competition of fixed and wireless access in most cases, I see a healthy combination which will get a great push from the currently ongoing re-integration of fixed and wireless.
  • There are some exceptions were wireless (e.g. HSPA) is in direct competition with fixed line ADSL or cable access. Take Austria for example where ADSL and cable was sort of expensive until lately and where wireless operators have positioned themselves as an alternative. Works pretty good, I am quite often in Austria, use one of those offers myself and the speeds are o.k. Definitely not in overload yet. Another example is rural areas where wireless technologies can bring broadband much cheaper than copper cables.

As always, comments and thoughts are welcome!

T-Mobile: Probably Integrating Fixed and Mobile Branches Again

After Vodafone Germany has reversed its course last year and stopped the sale of its fixed line branch, T-Mobile is now also revising its pilar model. Current rumors are that with the the boss of the wirline business going towards finances, CEO Rene Oberman will use the opportunity and combine wireless and wireline under a common roof once more. Looks like another major operator gets itself into a position to explore the possibilities of Connected Home Services, i.e. services in the homes of users ranging from sensor networks, accessing audio and video libraries to remote controlling devices not only from devices in the home network but also from mobile devices while on the go. I've had many posts on this in the past two years, for more background info see for example here and here.

2 Day LTE Services Course at the University of Oxford

Great News: On April 20 and 21st, Ajit Jaokar of Open Gardens and I will host a 2 day course on LTE Services at the University of Oxford's Department of Continuing Education!

Hereโ€™s the agenda:

  • New services based on enhanced capacity of the network
  • IP based business models
  • Rich voice applications
  • New role of devices to handle rich content and social networks
  • Social networks based on rich content like video
  • Services unique to LTE and the core network
  • Greater role for user generated content and for rich media
  • Unified communications and beyond 3G networks
  • Fixed mobile integration โ€“ leveraging enhanced networks and learning from past mistakes
  • Integrated networks and connecting back to home networks
  • Network elements: Femtocells vs Wi-Fi in the home gateway and services based on these elements
  • Wireless sensor networks at home and their role and opportunity in an overall beyond 3G network

I am very happy to be part of this and it will be great to look at these topics from our two different angles. We've also put together a questionnaire to see what your angle is on this topic. If you have a minute and are interested, we'd be happy to get your feedback. We'll share the result with those who leave their e-mail address and of course with all course participants. Needless to say that all responses are treated confidentially.

So, if I have caught your interest, head over to the course's web site for the details. During this week, thereโ€™s also the yearly Forum Oxford Future Telecommunication Conference. More about that in an extra post once the details are sorted out.

Nokia and Mobile Home Services

You might remember one or the other of my posts in the past where I've been speculating about mobile home services being an interesting field for mobile network operators with both fixed and mobile access networks. They are in control over both types of access and in addition sell mobile devices as well. In other words, they are in a perfect place to offer services that work both at home and on the mobile device while being away. Not many other players in the industry can do the same in this space. Now, Nokia wants to become active in this domain as well and has started development on what they call "Smart Home Solutions".

Basically the smart home solution is a home gateway with a Wi-Fi access point, built in storage and software to access home network sensors to for example control the room temperature, security systems, low-energy walls, programmable thermostats, self-adjusting curtains, configurable set-top boxes, self-operating yard lights, etc. From the outside, the gateway is accessed via a mobile devices' built in web browser. The ideas have been floating around for quite some time now and I agree with Nokia that all pieces have now pretty much fallen into place to make it finally work.

Nokia knows they can't do it on their own so they position it as an open solution and are looking for partners. According to their website they have their first partner for the project with RWE, one of the big German power companies that are also active in the Internet business. Let's see if they will also find an interested mobile operator over time to kickstart this project. I'll keep watching. More technical details on their web site.

How Do You Compete With Your DSL Competition?

I've just read an interesting article about how difficult it is today in some countries for DSL and cable operators to compete due to the sheer number of rivals in this sector. True, I can see it in France, for example. In Paris I can choose between at least 10 different DSL providers and the highwater mark for tripple play services (Internet access, unlimited landline calls and IPTV) is 30 euros per month, set-top box included. And competition is getting fiercer with alternative providers such as Free adding service upon service while sticking with the 30 euros per month price tag.

So the only real differentiator you could have against that competition is a wireless 2G/3G network that you bring into the bundle. To stay with the French example, Orange, SFR and Bouygues are going in the direction and are now all offering a DSL and set-top box. For now, I don't see a lot of combined fixed/mobile offers except maybe common billing, which won't make a lot of people switch to another DSL provider. But I suspect that might change in the not so far future when solutions mature to let people access the content stored in their set-top box or in their home network from their mobile device while being away. A unique chance for mobile operators with fixed line assets as they are in the right place to pre-configure the mobile devices and the set-top box (maybe even centrally) of a household to work together seamlessly.

Throw some femtos into the equation or simply a 3G USB modem with a SIM card that automatically installs when you plug it into your notebook. A daily fee or a couple of euros extra a month automatically and transparently put on your monthly invoice. Quite a number of options DSL/cable only players do not have. I am curios which fixed/mobile player will go ahead first to heat up the competition.

The Real Time Web And Connected Home Services

Here's a link to a very interesting presentation of fellow book author Paul Golding about the real time web and it's impact on mobile. A powerful train of thought and I would summarize what he calls the real time web as follows:

  • Today, the web (or the Internet in general) on mobile devices is still dominated by polling, i.e. the user requesting web pages.
  • Paul foresees that news and events happening around the world in real time will be pushed automatically to both mobile devices and of course also to desktop PCs and notebooks. Desktop and idle screen widgets based on web technologies is one possibility for this.
  • Information is meshed up on the Internet before it is pushed to the user on his mobile or stationary device. An example of this for example is TweetNews that sorts Yahoo search results with input from Twitter to increase the relevancy of breaking news that is spreading mach faster via social media than via the traditional channels.
  • Content is not only created by others and put on the web for public use, but everyone is creating content that while being private should be pushed into the web as well so it is accessible by its creator and owner from different devices and can be mashed-up with other content. An example for content that should be accessible from everywhere is the calender or address book.

I think that his ideas are great and many of them are already worked on by Google, Nokia and others. However, for the last bullet point where I would like to add a different idea. While I like the idea of mashing-up lets say my address book with information about online instant messaging availability of other persons, I don't really like my address book information in the hands of anyone else but me. In other words, I don't like my private information to be stored on a server on the web, I want it stored on a device under my control.

And I think that this is where mobile network operators with fixed line assets can come into play. Instead of having my private information stored in the web, it could also be stored in the user's home network. Fixed/Mobile network operators have all the pieces of the puzzle together to make this work and not much competition to fear. They are in the unique position to sell the following bits and pieces together to their customers:

  • A DSL modem / Wi-Fi / Femto box (also known as a home gateway)
  • Services running on that box or via that box accessible from within the home network and via a secure connection from the outside
  • Wireless Access
  • Preconfigured devices with connected home services that use the cellular / Wi-Fi / femto depending on where they are to access that information.

Of course network operators can't do it on their own, they need device manufacturers to deliver home gateways and software for mobile devices capable of doing that. It's a great possibility to compete with similar services that are web based, a territory where network operators have difficulty to compete in. And the best, the customers will love them for it, since they offer such connected home services with more security and privacy than what is possible on the web.

And for the mash-up part of the scenario it doesn't really matter if a central server mashes up the content or if a service in the home network do that.