Monday, May 15, 2017

Big shifts in the U.S. mobile market – part 4


After years of rather stagnant market positions and look-a-like services, suddenly a lot is happening in the U.S. mobile market. In the first three articles of this series, we looked at the move to unlimited mobile data plans, the new regulatory climate in Washington, the Broadcast Incentive Auction, and the coming unlicensed spectrum technologies.

The FirstNet project is huge

Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 there were calls to improve the communications of emergency response teams; sixteen years later and the U.S. is still working to put in place a national network capable of providing voice, video and broadband data communications to first responders. Until now, there has been a patchwork of incompatible radio systems, but finally it looks like the FirstNet project is ready to move ahead, providing a significant improvement for emergency personnel and potentially providing a long-term pillar of support for one of the four major U.S. mobile operators. FirstNet has publicised a very big number to reflect the size of its program: $46.5 billion.


In 2012, the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) was created and funded by Congress an independent authority within the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). FirstNet set up its headquarters in Reston, Virginia along with a technical lab in Boulder, Colorado. The organisation is headed by a 15-member board and led by Michael Poth (CEO) and TJ Kennedy (president), both of whom have backgrounds in law enforcement. The FirstNet technical team is headed by Jeff Bratcher, CTO, who previously served at the NTIA and was at Motorola Cellular and Siemens Mobile during the earlier part of his career. FirstNet funding was raised from previous FCC spectrum auctions.

FirstNet will build a new Band Class 14 (700 MHz) network designed to be reliable, functional, safe and secure, and provide optimal levels of operational capability at all times. The infrastructure plan is divided in distinct layers: core network, transport backhaul, RAN and public safety devices.

AT&T wins the bid

On March 30th, FirstNet announced its selection of AT&T as its strategic partner. The record-breaking public-private partnership for communications infrastructure is formalised in a 25-year agreement covering all 50 states, the District of Columbia, tribal lands and 5 U.S. territories. The broad terms of the agreement were listed as follows:

FirstNet to provide 20 MHz of high-value, telecommunications spectrum and success-based payments of $6.5 billion over the next five years to support the network buildout.

AT&T to spend about $40 billion over the life of the contract to build, deploy, operate and maintain the network, with a focus on ensuring robust coverage for public safety.

Additionally, AT&T will connect FirstNet users to the company’s telecommunications network assets.

The procurement process began with a network RFP issued by FirstNet in January 2016. AT&T said it was selected on a 'best value award' that considered financial sustainability and was based on more than just a technically acceptable solution at the lowest cost.

In describing the project, AT&T said it will provide a nationwide seamless, IP-based, high-speed mobile network supporting prioritised communications. The system will also leverage existing infrastructure. 5G capabilities will be added in the future. Another outcome of the project is that it will also make 20 MHz of prime broadband spectrum available for private-sector development. AT&T has assembled a team that includes Motorola Solutions, General Dynamics, Sapient Consulting and Inmarsat Government. FirstNet will be a huge step forward over the current emergency response systems, many of which have not been updated in over a decade and lack the video chat capabilities available on any smartphone.

Network slicing

For AT&T, the project will be a very powerful overlay to its own mobile infrastructure. In a sense, FirstNet will be a high-profile, high-margin MVNO on the AT&T infrastructure giving it a point of differentiation over its competitors. Due to its nature and budget, it is likely that many network elements are owned by and solely dedicated to FirstNet. This level of technical detail is not published in press announcement but might be accessible via the RFP documentation that should be part of the public record.

Meanwhile, AT&T and its competitors are building overlay networks on their mobile infrastructure for other applications and users, such as connected cars. For instance, AT&T provides in-vehicle connectivity for Tesla, supporting remote diagnostics, over-the-air updates, live traffic, Internet entertainment and other telematics. Entering the era of autonomous cars, the mobile infrastructure will have to keep up with latency and data volume requirements. Virtual network slices will become more numerous and more granular.

As the agreement outlines, FirstNet traffic will be flowing between its network domain and resources on the larger AT&T network, such as third-party, connected vehicles with cameras already at the scene of an accident. The expertise that AT&T gains by building the FirstNet project should be highly applicable to other commercial customers.

Concluding thoughts

With all these forces coming into play, 2017 is shaping up to be one of the big transformative years in communications, at least for the U.S. mobile market. Looking back at 2008, one can clearly see how the iPhone changed the course of all the major vendors. Now, instead of a single event, multiple changes are all happening at once; the regulatory climate will be a bigger factor than we have been used to during the Obama years; and if the AT&T Time Warner deal goes through, there will be heightened pressure on the other three players to keep up.

NEC Demos 50T per fibre over 11,000 km

NEC announced that it has demonstrated transmission capacity of 50.9 Tbit/s on a single fibre over a distance of more than 11,000 km, which the company claims represents the first time 50 Tbit/s have been achieved over 10,000 km using C+L band erbium-doped fibre amplifiers (EDFA).

NEC stated that the high capacity, long haul transmission demonstration corresponds to a record capacity-distance ratio of 570 Pb-km (Petabit/s per kilometre). NEC noted that its efforts to extend the benchmark 50 Tbit/s transmission capacity to trans-Pacific distances supports the current trend of increasing the reach of ultra-high capacity submarine cable segments.

The company stated that achieving the high capacity transmission, even employing extremely wide bandwidth EDFAs, requires the efficient use of bandwidth at a level approaching the Shannon limit, the fundamental spectral efficiency limit of optical communications. NEC added that while there is more than one way to design modulation formats that allow transmission close to the Shannon limit in the linear regime, these generally do not perform well in the non-linear regime, where the performance gap increases approaching the non-linear Shannon limit.

To address this issue, NEC researchers developed a multilevel, linear and non-linear constellation optimisation algorithm. Leveraging this algorithm, it created an optimised 32QAM (opt32) constellation that allows performance close to Shannon capacity and, more importantly, enables a higher non-linear capacity limit that is more appropriate to submarine transmission.

Additionally, the new modulation format developed by NEC is simpler to implement as it does not require iterative decoding or non-uniform coding. As a result, opt32 modulation enabled NEC researchers to achieve spectral efficiency of 6.14 b/s/Hz over a trans-Pacific route.

The demonstration also featured C+L amplification to maximise the capacity per fibre pair, and as part of the solution NEC researchers also developed a patent-pending bi-directional amplifier that is designed to reduce the effective noise figure and overall device complexity.

Netcracker 12 Targets Operation of Virtual and Cloud Infrastructure

Netcracker Technology announced the launch of Netcracker 12, a new technology platform featuring a comprehensive product suite designed to help service providers accelerate digitalisation and operationalise virtual and cloud infrastructures at scale.

The new Netcracker 12 provides an integrated platform with two-speed architecture and advanced agility layers designed to support rapid customer engagement, while optimising the digital business and operational domains.

The enhanced Netcracker product portfolio aligns to the business, operational and infrastructure needs of digital service providers and encompasses domains including:

1.         Digital customer enablement, leveraging a multi-speed architecture and analytics to enable omni-channel customer support and management, also offering an application and partner ecosystem.

2.         Digital business enablement, designed to transform legacy customer, partner and revenue management IT environments into cloud-based business systems.

3.         Digital operations enablement to help service providers rapidly create and deliver new digital, virtualised, cloud and value-added services over hybrid networks and including NFV management and orchestration and SDN controllers.
4.         Digital and cloud infrastructure, comprising virtual network functions (VNFs) including customer-edge, core and value-added VNFs, as well as data centre and NFVI and IoT and M2M modules.

5.         Advanced analytics that leverages artificial intelligence, machine learning and analytics modules that can be applied to internal and external operations.

6.         Cloud platform, a microservices-based, cloud-native platform that serves as the foundation for all Netcracker products and solutions, deployable in private, public or hybrid clouds using a DevOps approach.

7.         Business, operations and infrastructure agility layers, comprising an API ecosystem that enables the multi-speed IT architecture.

Netcracker noted that Netcarcker 12 is complemented by an expanded portfolio of professional services, designed to ensure that customers receive the support and guidance required to manage the complexities of a multi-speed IT architecture as they launch digital transformation and virtualisation initiatives.

Nokia and KDDI trial 5G on 28 GHz

Nokia and Japanese operator KDDI, serving around 40 million mobile subscribers, announced they have conducted a trial simulating future 5G network demands, providing high-speed, gigabit connectivity inside an apartment block utilising Nokia radio technology on the 28 GHz band.

The trial, conducted between the KDDI Research building and a residential apartment approximately 100 meters away, achieved speeds in excess of 1 Gbit/s over the 28 GHz band, demonstrating how 5G technology can be used inside apartment blocks to meet demand for wireless ultra-broadband including in major cities such as Tokyo, which is estimated to be the world's most densely populated metro area.

The trial with KDDI was carried out in Fujimino City, Saitama Prefecture and represents the first in a series of planned 5G collaborations between Nokia and KDDI following the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in 2016 to develop technologies for a new, faster generation of wireless communications.

The trial specifically involved the Nokia AirScale base station, part of its 5G FIRST end-to-end solution, which provided coverage and connectivity to the apartment block. In addition, Nokia AirFrame provided a commercial platform to enable the cloud RAN and support the transmission of streaming data.

  • Last December, Nokia announced that KDDI had deployed its Motive Service Management Platform (SMP) to enhance customer care by streamlining and speeding the resolution of issues for its mobile subscribers. Nokia Motive SMP enables KDDI to improve the detection, troubleshooting and resolution of issues when subscribers use online self-care tools. KDDI was to deploy Motive SMP across its service areas in Japan via Amazon Web Services (AWS).

Telenor selects NEC for Microwave Systems

NEC announced that it has signed a global frame agreement with global telco Telenor based in Norway covering the provision of microwave communications systems to the group's 13 telecom affiliates in Northern Europe, Eastern Europe and Asia.

Through this agreement, NEC will provide full support for the deployments, from the introduction of its ultra-compact microwave communications systems, iPASOLINK VR and iPASOLINK EX Advanced, to maintenance services over a period of five years.

Under the agreement, NEC will initially supply the iPASOLINK solution to Telenor Pakistan, before expanding the delivery of its products to the group's affiliates in other geographic areas. Telenor group has operations in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Hungary, Montenegro, Serbia, Bulgaria, Thailand, Malaysia, Bangladesh, India and Myanmar, as well as Pakistan.

NEC noted that it has a longstanding relationship with Telenor extending over decades, and has previously entered into a number of global frame agreements for microwave communications systems since 2006. NEC claims to be Telenor's largest supplier of microwave communications systems in terms of cumulative shipments.

  • In 2016 NEC and NEC Scandinavia announced it had been selected to provide routing, switching and security equipment and maintenance services to Telenor Norway and Telenor Sweden within the frame of the group's IP/MPLS network modernisation program (BRUT).
  • In 2015, NEC, together with Juniper Networks and Infinera, announced a global framework agreement with the Telenor Group under which it would act as a turnkey solution provider for Telenor with responsibility for delivering all major elements of the operator's transport network, including microwave, IP routers and optical equipment.

AT&T notes Streamlined rules for Small Cell Deployment in Iowa

AT&T announced that Iowa's governor Terry Branstad has signed into law a new measure designed to streamline and standardise rules and so accelerate the deployment of small cell technology to help support the next generation of high-speed wireless services in Iowa.

AT&T noted that small cell technology will be an integral building block for future 5G wireless broadband connectivity. The compact small cells are antennas that can be affixed to existing structures such as traffic signals, buildings and street lights. The size and flexibility of small cells can help target areas that require additional capacity in a cost-efficient way.

Small cells are designed to enable faster wireless Internet speeds, provide increased and more targeted network coverage to support demanding applications such as streaming content and provide the foundation for future technologies including 5G, smart cities and connected vehicles.

AT&T stated that it invested nearly $150 million in its Iowa wireless and wired networks from 2014-16 on upgrades to improve network reliability, coverage, speed and performance for consumer and business customers. In 2016, AT&T noted that it implemented over 350 wireless network upgrades in the state, including the addition of new cell sites and adding capacity on existing cell sites.

ZTE and China Mobile deploy 3D-MIMO

ZTE announced that working with China Mobile, China Mobile Zhejiang and the China Mobile Jiaxing Branch it has completed the commercial deployment and multi-scenario test verification of 3D-MIMO technology utilising its Pre5G Massive MIMO solution in Jiaxing.

China Mobile and ZTE jointly completed what was believe to be the first 3D-MIMO field verification in 2015. Subsequently, to enhance 4G network performance and the user experience, since December 2016 China Mobile and ZTE have been deploying a new generation of broadband 3D-MIMO base stations in Jiaxing. The partners have also conducted testing of the technology for scenarios such as high-traffic locations in universities and 3D coverage in high-rise residential buildings.

ZTE noted that universities may present high-traffic and high-interference scenarios, as well as demands in terms of single-user traffic, therefore China Mobile has conducted verification testing in such locations. 3D-MIMO can offer a solution to address this issue, and implementing 5G massive MIMO technology in 4G networks can maximise utilisation of existing spectrum and enhance 4G network speed and capacity.

By increasing downlink capacity by up to a claimed 3-5x and uplink capacity by up to 4-6x, the solution can deliver 5G-like performance on 4G LTE user equipment.

ZTE stated that for the 3D-MIMO site Jiaxing, using the three carriers on the 3D-MIMO site the downlink field rate reached 1 Gbit/s, around 3x that of macro base stations, while uplink performance has increased to provide a peak rate of 237 Mbit/s, 8x that of macro base stations. By sharing the traffic of super-busy cells, the 3D-MIMO site helps to reduce the resource occupancy of 8T macro-station cells and improve service throughput.

Test results for the Jiaxing 3D-MIMO site showed that, compared to co-frequency 8T macro stations providing the same coverage, the uplink and downlink spectrum efficiency of small-packet services (such as web page browsing and WeChat) can be increased by an average of 2-3x, while spectrum efficiency for large-packet services (such as file downloads) can be increased more than that. ZTE noted that up to 800 commercial users were in the cell during the tests.

In addition, ZTE stated that the results of previous verification testing in high-rise scenarios showed that, compared with 8T macro stations on the site, the 3D-MIMO base station can deliver vertical large-angle 3D coverage and enable both uplink and downlink rate gains in indoor weak/remote coverage points of up to 2-3x, while in weak coverage points at the cell edge the gains can be greater.

ZTE noted that in 2016 with China Mobile, 3D-MIMO pre-commercial verification was conducted in 29 provinces and 50 cities, with both companies working to advance the development of 3D-MIMO technology.

Brazil's Exceda introduces BALANCE multi-CDN Load Balancing

Exceda, a provider of content delivery network (CDN), security, and web intelligence services based in Brazil, announced the introduction of a CDN load balancing service that allows customers to leverage the performance of a multi-CDN strategy.

The new Exceda BALANCE service is designed to help customers add, configure, load balance and monitor multiple CDNs through a single managed service to help meet cost and performance requirements. Exceda BALANCE will be available from July 2017.

The new service will leverage Exceda's established capabilities in planning, integrating and managing customers' CDN solutions, and provide a single workflow to enable the management of multiple CDNs, monitored by the Exceda professional services team.

The BALANCE service will specifically utilise Real User Monitoring (RUM) and synthetic monitoring functionality, along with proprietary analysis tools, to enable balancing of web traffic between multiple CDNs in near-real time based on traffic load, cost and Internet conditions.
Exceda recently announced that its XCDN eCommerce-based CDN, currently available only to customers in the Americas region, would be expanded via collaborations with multiple CDN partners to enable the delivery of website content to and from locations worldwide.

Established in 2002 in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Exceda is a major Akamai channel partner providing CDN, DDoS, WAF, data analysis and professional services designed to help customers accelerate web performance while reducing their infrastructure costs.