Friday, February 17, 2006

Dean Bubley: 3GSM Wrap-up and Indoor Coverage

Dean Bubley assesses the recently concluded 3GSM in barcelona at his Disruptive Wireless blog. Bubley writes that overall "there was a great deal of pragmatism and reality, once the marketing guff has been stripped away. I have not been "surprised" at all this week, either positively or negatively. I've had lots of opinions reinforced, with a couple of subtle "ah-ha!" moments at best."

One area that Bubley has been focusing on recently is indoor coverage. He writes that "historically, most carriers have viewed indoor solutions as "special projects" - important, but not really strategic." He says this approach is changing, because of a these factors:

  • the higher the frequency, the worse the in-building penetration, generally. This tends to mean that current 3G is worse than 2G... and anything in 2.5GHz or 3.5GHz range (step forward WiMAX) is worse still
  • people tend to use high-bandwidth applications (video, browsing, email attachment downloads etc) when they're stationary, or even sitting down. Which tends to be indoors. HSDPA is a particular nightmare.
  • operators' expectations of achieving the "mobile premium" for cellular calls is looking increasingly untenable indoors. Not only are you not "mobile" when at home/work, but there's a fixed phone available as an alternative... and increasingly a fixed-VoIP phone which is even cheaper or free.
  • WiFi's rapid adoption and evolution has pointed out just what can be achieved with indoor wireless if well-funded innovation and fast standards evolution is possible.
  • it is getting ever more difficult to get outdoor sites for cellular base stations approved under local planning regulations
  • WCDMA operators are having to learn that the "CDMA" bit means they're network planning differs substantially from their older GSM/GPRS networks (cell breathing etc.) and indoor coverage poses particular issues
  • landlords and enterprises are looking to offer facilities to their employees or visitors... and potentially monetise them as well
  • for residential customers, there are all sorts of benefits from triple-play, quad-play and so forth. Add to this the possibility of getting users to pay for their own radi0-network backhaul (via a DSL/cable connection) and home cellular solutions start to look increasingly interesting
  • Net result? 3GSM was full of a plethora of innovative Indoor Wireless and Fixed-Mobile Convergence infrastructure. Picocells, microcells, femtocells, remote radio-heads, repeaters, distributed antennas, UMA, WiFi/cellular SIP, dedicated chipsets, in-plane and maritime solutions and so on....
Bubley then mentions some of the companies working in this area. He does point out an "alternative emerging to in-building infrastructure, however: lower frequencies for normal deployments. Many vendors (and possibly operators) view recycling older 900MHz GSM spectrum for 3G as an urgent priority, as it would solve much of the problem using traditional "outside-in" approaches to coverage and capacity. Expect much lobbying of regulators in the next few years....."

Bubley concludes with:
Overall, I don't think anyone would ever describe in-building wireless as an exciting part of the industry. The mobile content companies' parties are much more fun. But this is, arguably, one of the most important aspects to deploying mobile and wireless broadband and multimedia services and applications.