Tag Archives: mobile broadband

Truth is the first casualty of small cell deployments

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Mobile broadband companies are increasingly getting it when it comes to aesthetics, but pledges made on the front end aren’t always fulfilled by construction and operations staff or backed up by management. Wireless lobbyists and public relations people understand that they need to speak the right words to massage away concerns about how small cell installations will look as they proliferate along urban and suburban streets. But those oh-so-sincere promises, accompanied by beautifully rendered conceptual drawings, don’t always survive the descent into contract language, let alone appear on poles.

The City of Santa Rosa learned this lesson from Verizon – the hard way, according to an article by Christi Warren in the Press Democrate

The equipment — including large metal in-ground utility boxes about 5 feet tall — varies greatly in design from anything the city was previously shown by Verizon, the wireless provider installing the antennas, said Eric McHenry, director of Santa Rosa’s Information Technology Department.

While the city had no role in the equipment design, Santa Rosa officials went through a significant amount of back-and-forth with representatives of the wireless carrier on what the units would look like on city-owned streetlights, McHenry said. Officials took pains to make sure the antennas would be as unobtrusive as possible, he said.

“We frankly as a city were also surprised by what these first ones looked like,” he said, referring to the units Verizon is installing on utility poles. “They look nothing like what we had discussed with Verizon for our city streetlights or even the pictures that we shared with the council (of the installations) on wooden poles.”

The mobile companies have figured out that talking a good aesthetics game is tactically wise, but it’s a position that changes rapidly as rhetorical fights cool down. And once burned, city governments are very reluctant to make the same mistake twice.

That means there’s very little trust between cities and mobile companies, with good reason: the truth can be in short supply. The people tasked with making the case for wireless facilities might just be repeating what the boss said to say. City staff and policy makers can’t assume that companies will ultimately keep those promises because, as Santa Rosa found out, they often don’t.

Is it time for mobile carriers to scrap unlimited plans and bring back caps?

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Pricing has a major impact on mobile data usage, and when marginal bits are free – as with unlimited plans – traffic jumps significantly. That’s the conclusion of a study by NPD Group, a market research firm that covers a number of industries, including telecommunications.

Subscribers with unlimited plans use 67% more mobile data than subs who have caps. Interestingly, though, people with capped plans consume 8% more data overall, when WiFi offloading is factored in. The press release about the study doesn’t offer much detail – presumably, that’s what you’d get in a paid report – but it does offer one interesting data point: more and more data, particularly video, is streaming through smartphones, one way or the other…

The average U.S. smartphone user consumes a total of 31.4 GB of data on a monthly basis (including Wi-Fi and cellular consumption). This is up 25 percent from one year prior, when the total monthly data consumption averaged 25.2 GB per user…

Streaming video remains the number one driver of cellular and Wi-Fi data consumption on mobile and fixed networks, accounting for 83 percent of the total data used by smartphone owners. In Q3 2017, 67 percent of all smartphone users reported accessing video content via an app at least once a month, up from 57 percent in Q2 2017.

For the sake of playing around with numbers, take Ericsson’s estimate that the average North American smartphone currently consumes 7 GB of data a month and egregiously assume that there’s a 50/50 split between unlimited and capped plans in the market. In very round numbers, that implies that people with capped plans use about 5 GB a month and those with unlimited plans burn through 9 GB a month.

Whether those are the actual numbers or not, it’s an illustration of the dilemma facing mobile carriers. Do they stick with unlimited plans and hope that they can increase base rates quickly enough to pay for added capacity to meet demand – Ericsson predicts average North American consumption will be 48 GB by 2023 – or try to limit it with usage based pricing and reduce the need for capital spending on network expansion?

5G mobile tech finally moves from marketing hype to a hard standard

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A formal, implementable set of specifications for 5G mobile broadband technology and service is now final. The international organisation responsible for the standard – 3GPP – reached agreement on an initial set of specs at a meeting in Portugal on Thursday.

That means that equipment manufacturers can start making gear – first fixed, because that’s easiest, and then mobile – that meets an agreed upon 5G standard. Carriers can implement pilot projects that won’t be orphaned as the technology develops. Superseded perhaps, but not rendered useless from either a technological or a network management perspective.

All four of the big U.S. mobile carriers signed on, along with most of the world’s other heavyweights

AT&T, BT, China Mobile, China Telecom, China Unicom, Deutsche Telekom, Ericsson, Fujitsu, Huawei, Intel, KT Corporation, LG Electronics, LG Uplus, MediaTek Inc., NEC Corporation, Nokia, NTT DOCOMO, Orange, Qualcomm Technologies, Inc., Samsung Electronics, SK Telecom, Sony Mobile Communications Inc., Sprint, TIM, Telefonica, Telia Company, T-Mobile USA, Verizon, Vodafone, and ZTE have made a statement that the completion of the first 5G NR standard has set the stage for the global mobile industry to start full-scale development of 5G NR for large-scale trials and commercial deployments as early as in 2019.

It’s significant from a broadband development perspective because there is now a firm, widely – virtually universally – standard to measure claims of 5G technology against. It keeps us out of the trap we fell into a decade ago when 4G services were coming to market. Because 4G could mean LTE, which became the de facto standard, or WiMAX, or whatever the marketing department said it was, there was no easy way to debunk false claims of 4G service made by mobile Internet service providers. 5G will be different because there is a commonly accepted standard.

That won’t stop mobile carriers from making false claims. But they’ll only be able to get away with it if we let them.

App challenge: what if you knew an earthquake will hit 5 seconds from now?

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The biggest natural disaster threat to Californians comes from earthquakes, wild fires notwithstanding. One quake can take out more homes, businesses and infrastructure in a few seconds than all of this year’s fires combined. There’s no scientifically valid way of predicting earthquakes, so most people assume they strike without warning.

Not so. Earthquakes run for many seconds, even minutes. The first vibrations that ripple out are called P-waves, which seldom do damage but carry critical information about location and intensity several seconds ahead of the big shake. The U.S. Geological Survey and west coast research universities have a pilot program in place to monitor P-waves, and send out alerts. It’s in the early stages right now, and only a few agencies are connected. BART, for example, is using it to slow down trains before the main force of an earthquake hits.

The next step is to figure out how to push that information out to the public in time for it to be useful. The City of Los Angeles has a request for proposals out, looking for a developer who can develop a mobile app that’ll deliver meaningful and useful information to the public within ten seconds of the first alert from the USGS system. The first step will be to develop an app that can beta tested by city employees. It’s intended to be an open source project. The code has to be published on GitHub and published on an open source platform.

The technical work is the easy part. The harder question is, what will people do with the information? USGS says that “the warning time would range from a few seconds to a few tens of seconds”. If ten seconds or more are eaten up processing and delivering the alert, and a few more seconds are needed for people to pick up and read their phones, there’s not much time to react and take useful action. Solving that problem will be the truly difficult, and interesting, challenge.

City of Los Angeles Informal Procurement: Los Angeles Earthquake Early Warning Mobile Application

Mobile industry group calls for less 5G hype while standards are established

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A European trade group wants more 5G coordination and less marketing misdirection, while at the same time AT&T is running as fast as it can in the opposite direction. On the one hand, it’s an interesting contrast between the technocratic central planning that European telecoms companies often take comfort in (and often ignore, when it suits them), and the Wild West, grab-it-while-you-can ethic of the U.S. mobile industry.

On the other, it’s a useful reminder that the overheated press releases and aggressive lobbying by U.S. mobile companies, and AT&T in particular, does more than just confuse consumers and policy makers. It also creates needless distractions and delays for technology and infrastructure that relies on international standards and a global supply chain.

The 5G Infrastructure Association is a creature of the European Commission, one of the main governing branches of the European Union. It’s job is to coordinate development, trials and, eventually, full roll out of 5G mobile technology and networks across Europe. It released its latest road map earlier this week, showing true commercialisation of 5G technology coming sometime after 2020, and warning carriers that “it is very important to avoid premature ‘5G’ launch announcements and the subsequent potential fragmentation among the different countries, which would hurt both industry and consumers”.

It’s no shock that an E.U.-sponsored group is calling for more coordination and consumer protection – it’s what they do. Nor is it a surprise that AT&T is completely ignoring them – it’s what they do. The tension between the two helps maintain a balance between innovation and cooperation, both of which are indispensable to the telecommunications industry.

What’s not necessary, though, is misleading hype. More industry groups should follow the 5G Infrastructure Association’s lead and insist on clarity and truth in labelling. Facts are important.

Mobile data traffic forecast says seven-times growth in six years

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Mobile data traffic growth will continue on a hockey stick trajectory, according to Ericsson’s latest Mobility Report. North American smartphone users will, on average, be consuming 7 gigabytes of data per month by the end of this year, and by 2023 will be burning through 48 GB per month, the most of any region.

This growth is the reason that mobile carriers are pushing hard to increase the density, and consequently the capacity, of their networks. Equipment upgrades – from 4G to 5G technology – will help, but the big gains will come from putting more and more cells into a given space. At least in urban and suburban areas with sufficient return on investment potential.

Video is still the killer app – literally, given the impact traffic growth will have on 4G networks. Ericsson estimates that video will account for about 75% of usage in 2023 – that’s about 36 GB per month, more than a gigabyte a day, for North American smartphone users. Smartphones will increasingly be the device of choice for video viewing, at higher and higher levels of resolution…

The emergence of new applications and changes in consumer behavior can shift the forecast relative traffic volumes. Streaming videos in different resolutions can impact data traffic consumption to a high degree. Watching HD video (1080p) rather than video at a standard resolution (480p) typically increases the data traffic volume by around 4 times. An emerging trend with increased streaming of immersive video formats, such as 360-degree video, would also impact data traffic consumption. For example, a YouTube 360-degree video consumes 4 to 5 times as much bandwidth as a normal YouTube video at the same resolution.

Another driver is an increasing preference among consumers for on-demand and catch-up TV over scheduled linear TV viewing. Consumer research indicates that as early as 2020, half of all TV and video viewing will be done on a mobile screen.

Worldwide, total mobile data traffic will grow from 14 exabytes to 110 EB per month by 2023 (an exabyte is one billion gigabytes), and from 2.6 EB to 18 EB in North America alone, a seven-fold increase.

AT&T turns good 4G tech into bad 5G hype and worse public policy

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Minneapolis is AT&T’s latest case study in deceptive, but well-lawyered, public statements. According to a company press release, AT&T is rolling out something that a casual reader might think is 5G…

Minneapolis is one of 20 markets where we plan to bring AT&T 5G Evolution by the end of the year, with this technology already available in parts of Austin and Indianapolis today. 5G Evolution offers customers a taste of the future of entertainment and connectivity on their devices.

In 5G Evolution markets, we upgrade cell towers with network upgrades that include ultra-fast LTE Advanced features like 256 QAM, 4×4 MIMO, and 3-way carrier aggregation.

If you didn’t know that LTE Advanced is 4G technology, you might think that 5G Evolution gets you 5G service on a 5G network. It doesn’t. As AT&T is careful to note, “5G standards are still being finalized”.

It’s a bit of misdirection that’s in line with AT&T’s marketing and lobbying style, similar to its fiber umbrella branding and mislabeling copper-based DSL as fiber-to-the-home service.

The research and development work, including field trials like the one in Minneapolis, that AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint are doing is critical to the eventual deployment of 5G networks. They need room to expand their 4G networks right now. But they also need to be called out when they deliberately try to confuse the two in order to stampede policy makers into giving away publicly-owned property, abandoning responsible management of public right of ways and ignoring valid community standards.

AT&T and the other mobile carriers have a legitimate claim to use public assets to expand and upgrade their networks as market demand continues to increase. They also have a responsibility to be honest about it. Conflating 5G R&D with 4G upgrades is deliberately misleading and should not be rewarded by policy makers.

The hunt is on for a “balanced solution” to preemption of local wireless discretion

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Preemption of municipal ownership of street lights and other vertical infrastructure failed in Sacramento this year because of overreach, not because there’s fundamental opposition to the concept. Mobile carriers and other telecoms companies will deploy bus loads of lobbyists armed with bags of cash sincerely worded nonsense arguments to push it through again next year.

The California legislature approved senate bill 649 by a slim, but sufficient, margin. Governor Jerry Brown finally nixed it, but said in his veto message that “there is something of real value in having a process that results in extending this innovative technology rapidly and efficiently”.

It’ll be back. The question is what will it look like?

One clue comes from a senate committee hearing this past May. After flying through the senate energy, utilities and communications committee – chaired by the bill’s author, Ben Hueso (D – San Diego) – SB 649 landed in the governance and finance committee. It’s supposed to look after concerns of local governments, and at least some senators – Mike McGuire (D – Sonoma County) chief among them – took that responsibility seriously.

A somewhat less one-sided version was negotiated with lobbyists for mobile carriers, and then approved by the governance and finance committee. It wasn’t enough to bring city and county associations on board, but it does offer a clue as to what might qualify as the “more balanced solution” Brown wants. One key provision allowed local agencies to charge $850 a year for wireless equipment attachments to street lights, traffic signals and other vertical assets, instead of the $250 annual lease payment that was eventually approved.

In some Californian cities, $850 would still be below market rates, but statewide it wouldn’t be the complete gift to wireless companies that SB 649 eventually became. Combined with more generous allowances for cities and counties to hold particular assets off the market for their own reasons, it might be just enough tip the balance.

Wireless lobbyists will keep swinging in the California legislature

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By Fcb981 (Own work) [GFDL (https://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

Senate bill 649 is dead, following a late night veto by California governor Jerry Brown. In his veto message, he was sympathetic to the needs of mobile carriers and other wireless providers, but called for a better balance with the interests local governments have in managing the public right of way.

Translation: try again next year, with something that’s not quite so one-sided.

It’s a sure bet that wireless carriers and their lobbying fronts will be back, along with cable companies, wireline telcos and their lobbyists looking for their slice of the bacon. It won’t be hard to find a biddable legislator – several come to mind – who will simply regurgitate whatever nonsense he’s given. Or she, but so far it’s been the guys who have carried the major local preemption bills at the behest of wireless carriers.

This year it was Ben Hueso (D – San Diego), the chair of the senate energy, utilities and communication committee, who “authored” SB 649, and vigorously, if not always coherently, defended it.

Last year it was assemblyman Mike Gatto (D – Los Angeles), likewise chair of a key committee – what was then the assembly utilities and commerce committee. He waited until the middle of the session to gut and amend an unrelated bill – AB 2788 – and turn it into something that looked a lot like what SB 649 became. Gatto didn’t have the mojo to get it passed; AB 2788 withered away in the senate without a vote.

In 2015, assemblyman Bill Quirk carried AB 57, which rolled back local discretion over wireless siting, and put deemed approved teeth into federal “shot clocks”. It was signed into law by Brown, and now cities and counties have three to five months to approve wireless site applications, with some allowance for brief pauses. Otherwise, those applications are automatically granted. Quirk was also a principal co-author of SB 649 and successfully carried AB 1145 this year. That bill gave cable companies access to public money usually reserved for public utilities, but without the corresponding obligations.

Gatto left the legislature last year, but is considered likely to be running for something next year, perhaps a statewide office. Hueso and Quirk will be back, though.

The U.S. mobile broadband market is competitve, says FCC

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The Federal Communications Commission has made a case for declaring that the mobile broadband market in the U.S. is broadly competitive, in a qualitative, preponderance of the evidence sort of way. Looking at a number of different metrics, including usage (see chart above), pricing, advertising, investment coverage, the FCC decided that when it was all added up, the result was “there is effective competition in the marketplace for mobile wireless services”.

One key indicator – half statistical, half anecdote – was the way the four major nationwide carriers responded to each other when unlimited data plans were reintroduced…

One significant trend that has developed recently is the return of “unlimited” data plans. In January 2016, AT&T introduced the AT&T Unlimited Plan for DIRECTV (or U-Verse). While that plan was made available only to DIRECTV subscribers, it signaled a shift towards service providers again offering unlimited data plans. In August 2016, T-Mobile launched the T-Mobile ONE Plan offering unlimited voice, text and high-speed 4G LTE smartphone data. The next day, Sprint introduced its Unlimited Freedom plan, which offered two lines of unlimited talk, text and data for $100 a month. In February 2017, Verizon launched its Unlimited Data Plan offering unlimited data on smartphones and tablets for $80 a month. AT&T then introduced the Unlimited Choice plan, which offered unlimited data for $60 per month for a single line ($155 for four lines). In late February 2017, U.S. Cellular introduced its own unlimited data offering.

Three caveats should be kept in mind, though. For the past eight years, the FCC used a wide definition of the mobile marketplace, including sectors such as consumer devices and industry infrastructure. This latest finding focuses much more narrowly on consumer services.

Then there’s the question of rural versus urban. Although 98% of people living in suburban and urban areas have access to at least four mobile service providers, only 71% of those in rural areas do. A competitive mobile marketplace might exist for the U.S. as a whole, but it’s not evenly distributed.

Finally, there’s the question of defining what “effective competition” means. In this report, which was approved by commissioners on a party line vote, the question is largely sidestepped, relying instead, as commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel wrote in her dissent, on an “I know it when I see it” standard.