Broadband Internet Is Not a Socket in the Wall

Here’s a
statement made by Anssi Vanjoki at the recent Nokia World Conference: “Broadband Internet is not a socket in the
wall, it is all around us”

He draws
and interesting picture and I think he is right. Today, many people already use
Wifi access points to create their personal broadband Internet cloud. Thus, the
broadband Internet IS virtually all around them. In the future people will not
only use this cloud with desktop computers and notebooks but also with smaller
devices such as mobile phones with built in Wifi capabilities (like Nokia
N-series phones for example) or physical widgets .
Smaller devices will also change the way we perceive the Internet cloud. No
longer do you have to sit down at a specific place, e.g. in front of a
computer, in order to communicate (VoIP, eMail, IM), to get information, or to
publish information to the web yourself (pictures, blog entries, videos, etc.).
Even today you don’t need to be in your personal Internet cloud anymore to
perform these activities. When you leave your personal broadband cloud, 3G and
3.5G networks and WiMAX in the future are a natural extension. Instead of using Wifi, mobile Internet
devices then switch over to the cellular network. As we move into the future
the cloud will extend into areas not covered today, available bandwidth will
increase and moving between the personal Internet cloud at home and the larger external
cloud will become ever more seamless.

interesting scenario for handset manufacturers like Nokia and others developing
3G/Wifi integrated multimedia handsets, for innovators of cool mobile services
and for network operators such as Vodafone, O2 and Orange who have decided to include DSL lines
into their portfolio to offer a home cloud in addition to the larger network
coverage. It’s time to start the integration of handset, personal cloud and
external cloud and mobile services into a homogeneous experience.

Mobile Monday Global Peer Awards during 3GSMWC 2007 in Barcelona

"Well, you know I like the fireworks" said Rudy De Waele to me today after announcing that the MobileMonday Global Peer Awards Ceremony 2007 is to be held during the 3GSMWorldCongress week in Barcelona next February. And indeed, a firework of ideas, conversations and fun this is going to be. I haven’t been to the  Espacio Movistar where the event will take place yet but the pictures on the Mobile Monday Barcelona blog look impressive. So if you are at the 3GSMWC in February, this is the event you definitely don’t want to miss. So, no time to waste, head over to the MoMo Barcelona blog to get more info and reserve your ticket

Use Your Wifi Enabled Phone or PDA as a Heidelberg City Guide

Heidelberg is the first city I’ve seen that has started to offer local Wifi coverage in combination with a mobile optimized city portal for tourists. Supported mobile devices are Windows Mobile, Palm, the Nokia 770 Internet tablet and Safari / Nokia S60 phones. In addition to pictures and textual information the web site offers localization and audio guides:


The Heidelberg-mobile site can be accessed from anywhere via the Internet or a wireless 2G or 3G network or via one of the hotspots in town. If accessed via the local Wifi hotspots (hello people with  N-Series Wifi enable Nokia phones!) your position is analyzed by the web server and maps of the city will be centered around your current location. Very helpful if you don’t know your way around.

Audio Guides

I like audio guides in museums. Heidelberg-mobile goes a step beyond and offers audio guides for sights all around the city. Once you are at one of the attractions covered by the audio guide you can listen to it on your phone. The audio data is transfered over the Wifi network or in case you "only" have a 2G or 3G phone via an IP connection over UMTS or GPRS. This is a great idea, so I gave it a try on my N93 via my Wifi network at home. The audio files can be played by following the link to the audio guide section on the web site and selecting one of the links which lead to a specific story (sorry, all in German for the moment). After a few seconds the files are downloaded and are then played back in the media player.


Wireless Networks for Mobile Web 2.0

I still vividly remember standing in front of a big audience for the first time in 2001 speaking about wireless network evolution. At the time, GPRS was still in it’s infancy, GPRS enabled phones were not yet available and the 384 kbit/s promised by UMTS sounded miraculous to me. Today, five years later, UMTS is a reality and networks have already far surpassed the outlook from five years ago. Mobile Web 2.0 is in everybody’s ears these days and here’s my take on it from the network point of view:

Rudy de Waele recently posted a very good summary of his thoughts on Mobile Web 2.0. From the network point of view Mobile Web 2.0 social applications such as Flickr Mobile, mobile blogs, mobile podcasting, web and AJAX applications, mobile eMail, Widgets, location based services, etc. require one thing: Bandwidth, bandwidth and once again bandwidth. It’s one thing to download a tiny mobile optimized web page and quite another to upload large pictures and podcasts. In the fixed line world, DSL and cable modems have been the enablers on the network side for Web 2.0. For the Mobile Web 2.0 here are today’s and tomorrow’s enabling technologies from the wireless network side:

Today’s Enablers

EDGE: While GPRS was way too slow for most Web 2..0 applications, things got a lot better with the introduction of EDGE about one and a half years ago. EDGE improves GPRS downlink speeds to about 220 kbit/s and uplink speeds to about 100 kbit/s.

UMTS: Here, things are getting really exciting. First networks started operation about two and a half years ago and a data rate of 384 kbit/s in downlink and 64 to 128 kbit/s in uplink direction make the mobile Internet almost feel like over a fixed line connection.

HSDPA and HSUPA: This is the step about which only five years ago I did not even dream about. Only five years after GPRS downlink speeds reached about 35 kbit/s, HSDPA today offers data rates of 3.6 MBit/s. That’s almost 100 times faster than networks were five years ago! With HSUPA, uplink data rates will also get a big push and will exceed 800 kbit/s in favourable conditions. Again, 100 times more than the status quo five years ago.

Future Enablers

Again, I am at a point where I look into the future to get an idea what kind of mobile networks we are going to see in five years from now. HSDPA will keep evolving for some time to come and data rates of over 7 Mbit/s in downlink direction will be introduced in networks in the next year or two.

To increase speeds yet again by a factor of ten will be though. On the other hand, going from GPRS to UMTS was no child’s play either. Current plans for the UMTS successor called LTE (Long Term Evolution) and WiMAX foresee data rates of about 100 MBit/s in downlink and well over 30 MBit/s in uplink. First WiMAX networks are already in the deployment phase, LTE networks will follow in about three to four years.

WiMAX operators will have a crucial role in the development of the wireless web in general depending on whether they will offer their services in an open hotspot fashion or decide to go for a closed 3G like approach. More on this can be found here.

Private and public Wifi hotspots and networks (aka Muni Wifi) will also be an important ingredient for the mobile eco-system in the future. High end mobile devices already include both 3G and Wifi interfaces today. This both off-loads traffic from cellular 2G and 3G networks and offers additional possibilities to Web 2.0 applications today and in the future. It might very well be that in five years from now, 3G access will have become so cheap that most people download podcasts and upload pictures to Flickr wherever they are. In another scenario many people might still prefer up- and downloads multimedia content over their Wifi/DSL connection to and from their mobile device while at home and choose to keep their 3G bill as small as possible. Combined 3G/DSL operators as discussed here are in an ideal position to benefit both ways.

Impact on the Evolution of Mobile Web 2.0

The anytime anywhere Internet has already been promised to us five years ago with GPRS. The limitations financially as well as from a bandwidth point of view, however, were reason enough to prevent widespread adoption. Starting with UMTS and especially with HSDPA, the limitations of the mobile web are more and more dwindling away. Smartphones such as Nokia N or E-series devices, Sony Ericsson’s UIQ devices and Windows Mobile PDAs today have processors, memory and graphics capabilities surpassing those of PCs from 10 years ago. This trend will hardly stop either and in combination with ever faster and farther reaching mobile networks, Web 2.0 and the Mobile Web 2.0 will merge into a single social eco-sphere where people can truly access content and contribute anytime anywhere.

More on the technical side of the evolution of wireless can be found here.

Three Companies Get Nationwide WiMAX Licenses in German Spectrum Auction

It’s done, it’s over and it looks like it has been a great week for the wireless Internet in Germany. After a four day auction, three companies have each received a nationwide license to deploy Broadband Wireless Access (BWA) networks in the 2.5 3.5 GHz band. The three companies are DBD (Deutsche Breitband Dienste GmbH), Clearwire (WiMAX operator already active in the U.S.) and Inquam (partly owned by NextWave Wireless) and all have indicated that they will use their licenses to build WiMAX networks.

Total price of the licenses is 56 million euros which includes some regional licenses acquired by local companies. All three companies who are now likely to rush to beat the competition to the market already have WiMAX deployment experience. DBD already operates small WiMAX islands in Germany while Clearwire and Nextwave have already deployed WiMAX or pre-Wimax networks in the U.S.

From the end users point of view it’s good to see three companies now poised to compete with each other. There’s a lot of pressure now to roll out networks as quickly as possible as the first one is likely to get the major share of customers in areas without DSL or other fast Internet connectivity. Competition will also ensure that prices will be competitive, again good news for users. And finally, three additional nationwide wireless high speed Internet companies will also put some pressure on the four incumbent UMTS operators.

56 million euros in licenses sound like a lot at first. However, these companies "only" need to get 5-10% of people in Germany to sign up to their services in order to drop the impacting of the fees on end user prices to the order of a few of cents per user per month. For details on this, the background of the auction, frequency bands, bandwidths, etc., take a look here and here.

My WiMAX Expectations In Germany For The Next Few Years

I wonder if three nationwide networks will be able to successfully compete next to the four UMTS operators and DSL. I would not be surprised to see some mergers down the road. It also seems certain to me that all three companies will start deploying their networks in undeserved DSL regions first and then work their way towards DSL covered areas to compete head on with DSL and 3G/3.5G in addition to offering their existing WiMAX subscribers national roaming possibilities.

In contrast to 3G networks which were designed for handheld devices and seamless handovers of calls from cars and trains, WiMAX network roll outs are likely to have a different focus. I expect that these networks will mainly target users with notebooks at first who use the Internet in a nomadic rather than a truly mobile fashion. This helps to save costs as fewer base stations are required. Once demand picks up and truly mobile WiMAX devices like smart phones become available, the networks might even be densified to allow a more mobile experience for the user.

Interesting times are ahead. I’ll keep you posted!

Stranded Without DSL – Wifi To The Rescue

Despite being promised by the local incumbent telco, a friend for mine has now been waiting for months to get a DSL connection at his home in the countryside. Doesn’t look to good for him. He’s finally fed up of waiting and has started to experiment with Wifi as about a kilometer away people are connected to the DSL network. His first experiments are quite promising. With the kit shown below in the images (click on the pictures to enlarge), he was able to get a stable wifi connection between the access point and the strange looking antenna and a notebook with built in wifi antenna over a distance of 1 kilometer. Now he’s found someone who’s willing to share his DSL line with him about a kilometer away, line of sight in between them. Two "Yagi" antennas and a second access point are on the way and the end of Internet-less days are hopefully over for him soon. To be continued…



A T-Mobile Or FON Hotspot for your Hotel or Café

Recently, a new café has opened in the neighborhood of my flat in Germany and surprise surprise, they offer Internet access via a T-Mobile hotspot. Recently, I talked to the owner to find out more about her motivation to install a Wifi hotspot and how she went about it.

The pros and cons of a T-Mobile Hotspot

Getting a setup from T-Mobile seems to be fairly simple. After filing an application, a T-Mobile technician comes by and installs the Wifi access point and DSL connection. The owner of the business only has to pay for the power required by the equipment, installation and operation of the hotspot is free. For most businesses, this "no headache" approach to getting a Wifi hotspot is ideal.

On the other hand, there are a number of downsides as well: Firstly, the business owner does not get a share of the revenue. Also, the owner does not get free Internet access for himself. While she does not care for a share of the revenue much she is quite disappointed that she as no Internet access for herself over the DSL connection used for the hotspot.

The owner of the café is also quite disappointed that end user pricing of 2 euros for 15 minutes or 8 euros per hour is not attracting a lot of customers to use the service. She told me that she has business customers every now and then who download their eMails but students and locals who mainly frequent her business are hardly attracted to bring their notebooks and come more often.

The FON Alternative

But wait, there’s an alternative: FON, the wireless LAN hotspot initiative on which I’ve reported already here and here. The downside: The installation, hardware and the required DSL connection are not free. Thus, it’s obviously not as easy to organize and setup up as a T-Mobile hotspot. But the advantages are compelling. If the FON hotspot is set up in Linus mode, people can use it for free if they also of a Linus FON hotspot at home. Thus, the café becomes an extension of their living room / office. For people without a FON hotspot at home, service is offered for 3 euros a day. That’s definitely a sum which is much more compelling than the T-Mobile hotspot prices. And on top of this, the café’s owner gets the Internet connection she wants.

At the end of our discussion I told her bit about FON. So let’s see, maybe she’ll switch. I think I could get quite used to leaving my apartment / office every now and then for a cappuccino in the café while surfing the net, working on a blog entry and enjoying the atmosphere in the café.

CC2 Podcast with CEO of WIMAX operator DBD

It’s Tuesday, December 12th, 2006 and the WiMAX auction in Germany as discussed in this previous entry has begun. Things are looking great for the future of wireless in Germany as three of the six participating companies intend to get licenses for nationwide networks.

The "Computer Club 2", a German weekly tech podcast has interviewed Fabio Zoffi, CEO of DBD (Deutsche Breitband Dienste) before the start of the auction. Here are the main points that were mentioned in the (German) podcast and my humble opinion on them:

Phased Equipment Evolution

Zoffi said that their are aiming for a phased equipment rollout strategy: Starting in January 2007 they will expand their already existing network to other regions. For customers, they will offer fixed mobile terminals, i.e. set top boxes to compete with DSL. According to pictures of the Customer Premises Equipment (CPE) in this blog entry, they are currently using Airspan’s EasyST kit. For these set top boxes, transmission speeds of 2 MBit/s in downlink and 300 kbit/s in uplink are/will be offered. Later in 2007 they will start shipping WiMAX notebook cards and in 2008 notebooks with built in WiMAX chips. These will enable customers to access the Internet not only at home but also in other cities where their network is available. During the interview Zoffi also mentioned WiMAX mobile phones which Nokia has talked about in the past couple of weeks. These might be available in about two years from now. While he’s sticking to the time-lines given by Intel and others on the availability of end user equipment my experience tells me that actual products are usually delayed somewhat. But the EasyST kit is available now so expansion of the network can start as soon as the licenses are in their hands.

Network Dimensioning

Zoffi said during the interview that about 10.000 base stations are required for nationwide coverage with a network deployment phase of about 5 years. In my opinion these numbers are quite realistic. Therefore, DBD is not daydreaming in terms of what it takes. Note, however, that he did not commit that his company would deploy that many base stations. It remains to be seen how much of the country will really be covered in the end. To make the network attractive to be used with notebook cards and other mobile equipment, however, the company has to aim for coverage of both big and small cities.


According to DBD’s website, the basic tariff today includes 1.5 GB of data traffic for €27.-, 5 GB for €35.- and €40.- for 10GB. If users sign a 24 months contract, the WiMAX modem is free. Installation of the equipment at home by a partner company costs €70.- and an additional €25.- if an external antenna is required. Compared to current DSL offers, pricing is roughly similar. It has to be said though, that there are no volume limits anymore on DSL lines which make the prices less attractive in regions where DSL is available. The big plus on the other hand is the fact that no fixed line phone line is required anymore which costs DSL customers an additional €15.- a month. As WiMAX supports VoIP the offer could become attractive again.

Network Rollout Financing

An ambitious network rollout requires a lot of money up front. DBD might have some of that required cash already with Intel Capital having invested  an undisclosed sum in the company according to this news article.

Deep Inside the Network, Episode 2: AMR-WB – Skype-like Audio Quality for Mobile Networks

Ever since Skype has entered the VoIP sphere, I prefer using it over other VoIP or conventional phone networks for a
single reason: For Skype to Skype calls, voice quality is much better than what
other systems offer today. The secret is
a new voice codec which is much better than the standard G.711 PCM (Pulse Code
Modulation) codec which was invented several decades ago. For mobile networks a
new codec called Adaptive Multi Rate Wideband (AMR-WB) will do a similar thing
in the not too distant future.

Higher Sampling Rate

difference of AMR-WB compared to G.711 used in mobile core networks and fixed
line phone networks around the world, and the Enhanced Full Rate (EFR) and conventional
AMR coders used in the access part of mobile networks today is the much higher
sampling rate. While G.711, EFR and AMR use a sampling rate of 8 kHz to
digitize an audio signal in the range of 200 to 3400 Hz, AMR-WB uses an overall
sampling rate of 16 kHz to include audible frequencies between 50 Hz and 7000
Hz. In practice, this doubles the frequency range that is digitized and also
includes lower frequencies than before which are also very important for a
natural voice reproduction at the receiver side.

Standards and Interoperability

AMR-WB was standardized by 3GPP and an overview with references to
detailed standards documents can be found in TS 26.171 [1]. Later on, the ITU-T
also adopted the codec in its G.722.2 specification [2]. This could one day
lead to the adoption of this codec for fixed line networks as well. In
addition, a new wideband speech codec was also specified by the 3GPP2 for the
CDMA world which shares some of the AMR-WB modes. Therefore, if both originator
and terminator of a voice call as well as the originating and terminating
network support AMR-WB it is possible to establish wideband speech calls across
network boundaries.

Variable Bit Rates and Audio Quality

standard specifies 9 different codec rates. These are 6.6 kbit/s, 8.85, 12.65,
14.25, 15.85, 18.25, 19.85, 23.05 and 23.85 kbit/s. For circuit switched GSM
and UMTS connections, only the first three codecs are
used. In UMTS networks, it is also possible to use the 15.85 kbit/s codec.
According to [3] and [4], AMR-WB offers superior audio quality to AMR starting
with the 12.65 kbit/s codec while the 6.6 and 8.85 kbit/s should only be used
during bad radio conditions. EFR and AMR use similar bandwidths in the radio
network. Consequently, AMR-WB offers better audio quality with the same
bandwidth requirements. This is important for backwards compatibility as will
be shown below.

Codec Introduction

AMR-WB uses
the ACELP (Algebraic Code Excitation Linear Predication) codec which is also
used by EFR and AMR. The frequency band of 50 – 7000 Hz is split in to parts in
order to achieve the best possible compression. The main frequency band covers
50-6400 Hz. As it is narrower, an internal sampling rate of only 12.8 kHz is
required. The band between 6400 and 7000 Hz is treated separately. Also, fewer
sample bits are assigned to the higher band as the lower band is more
important. For lower bit rates only the main frequency band is transmitted and
the receiver synthesizes the higher band out of the information of the main
band. At a frame duration of 20 ms, the sampling frequency of 12.8 kHz produces
256 samples (12800 Hz * 0.02 s = 256). This is convenient as this allows
efficient software and hardware implementation of bit level operations. For
silence periods during the conversation, AMR-WB also supports Voice Activity
Detection (VAD) and Discontinuous Transmission (DTX) which are also used by EFR
and AMR. During times of no voice activity, Silence Descriptor (SID) frames are
sent only once every 160 milliseconds with which the receiver can recreate the
sender’s background noise in order to avoid a “dead channel” . This
results in an average bandwidth requirement of only 1.75 kbit/s. A detailed
codec description can be found in [4].

Network Issues: Getting Rid of Tandems and

The main
issue with the introduction of AMR-WB in operational networks are the
transcoding units. These are used to convert the EFR or AMR speech codecs used
in the radio network to the standard 64 kbit/s PCM codec which uses a sampling rate of 8 kHz per second. Therefore, it is necessary to
enhance networks as well so that they detect that both sender and receiver are
AMR-WB capable. In such a case, transcoders in the network have to be
deactivated to create a transparent connection. This is called Transcoder Free
Operation (TrFO) in UMTS and Tandem Free Operation (TFO) in GSM. For details on
TrFO and TFO take a look at this blog entry.


Even though
AMR-WB has already been standardized a couple of years now, it’s not out there yet.
There are some indications though that
things are moving forward, like for example a recent AMR-WB test of T-Mobile Germany and
Ericsson in
Take a look at the press report here.



[1] 3GPP TS
26.171, Adaptive Multi-Rate – Wideband (AMR-WB) speech codec; General

[2] ITU-T G.722.2

[3] Pasi
Ojala, et al., “The Adaptive Multirate Wideband Speech Codec: System
Characteristics, Quality Advances, and Deployment Strategies”, IEEE
Communications Magazine, May 2006

[4] B.
Bessette et al., “The AMR-WB codec”, IEEE transactions, vol. 10, no. 8,
November 2002