Monday, July 30, 2007

Orange goes FREE

One of the anticipated dual-mode handset commercial launches is Orange in the UK. They have trialed the service for some time now. Things looked quite promising when two week ago Blackberry announced the first operator for the UMA-enabled 8820 was to be Orange UK.

But after checking the web site last week, it looks like Orange has some more tricks up its sleeve.

When subscribers sign up for the ‘Unique’ offer, they receive ‘unlimited’ calling to Orange UK mobiles as well as fixed lines in the UK. In addition, they receive ‘unlimited’ calling to fixed lines in 25 countries in Europe plus the US.

The best part is, this is all FREE with any service plan above £30.

Simply ‘purchase’ a Unique enabled phone (which is also FREE with an 18 mos service commitment), and Orange UK subscribers automatically get calls the Orange UK mobiles, UK fixed lines, and calls to fixed lines in 25 other countries for FREE.

How can that be?

Certainly it’s no secret that the UK has an incredible competitive mobile market. Churn is a costly issue. In all fairness, in the Orange UK T&Cs, ‘unlimited’ actually means ‘fair use’ which is defined as 1,000/month of UK calling and 1,000/month of international calling. Still, that’s quite a bit of calling for no charge.

One can image that the Orange team struggled with how to inspire the UK consumer with something new and Unique? It’s a crowded market, how does one win new subscribers and hold on to existing customers? FREE is a word that gets people’s attention.

At the end of the day, Orange is really looking to lock up subscribers between their mobile and broadband service. But offering these types of incentives, Orange is looking to convert (or sign up new) broadband subscribers.

The rumor is that Orange will start a marketing push after the summer.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Samsung brings another... the P260

Samsung has announced several new phones this week including the P260, called the replacement for the early P200. It is my understanding that this device is based on the highly optimized NXP 5210 platform. This is the platform in T-Mobile T409 device.

It looks like Samsung/NXP have a hit with this platform combo and they will be extending it into as many devices as possible.

Other specs for Samsung P260 slider include:

  • 262K color 240×320 pixel display
  • 2 megapixel camera
  • 25MB internal and microSD memory card
  • MP3/MPEG4 media player with flight mode
  • Stereo Bluetooth and USB connectivity
  • 960 mAh Lion batter with 3h talk and 220 h stand-by
  • Dimensions: 101×50x17 mm
  • Weight: 119g

Look for this device in Europe initially. There are rumors of a US version of this slider phone coming to T-Mobile as well.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

EE Times on femtocells

This is a well done piece on femtocells by John Walko at EE Times.

Personally, I liked the fact that UMA was listed as one of three approaches for backhauling femtocells. The other two (Iu-B and SIP) are a struggle. For operators looking to trial in 2007 and deploy in 2008. UMA has many very clear advantages.

One odd comment in the article was...

“Femtocells represent the first real threat to the increasing dominance of Wi-Fi routers in the home...”

Given they operate at a frequency which is licensed, owned and managed, I’m not sure it’s really a ‘threat’ as much as a new way for mobile operators to use their spectrum. I think Bruno Dachary of Orange offers a different take:

"It is strange to hear people talking about femtocells as a consumer product similar to say a Wi-Fi router. This is not right… these are operator products as they use spectrum owned and managed by operators, and we will rent them to users to retain control," said Dachary.
There is a bit of foreshadowing in his comments. Also a vision that Wi-Fi and femtocells will be deployed and used different, perhaps side-by-side in the Orange network... Only time will tell.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Orange pulls the UMA RIM?

From the 'Mashup of Mayhem' blog in the UK:

Orange have announced that they will be launching the BlackBerry 8820 will be at the end of July which will replace the BlackBerry 8800 in Orange’s portfolio.

The 8820 is a revamped 8800 that offers all the functionality of the 8800 and combines it with UMA (The ability to use WiFi VoIP and Cellular in the same device). The 8820 therefor supports Orange’s Unique offering where home workers can roam onto Orange’s Unique VoIP service via the Internet through their Orange Broadband connection when in their home location.

Email on the go and UMA is a great feature, HP have combined the options in the iPAQ 514 Voice Communicator (still waiting HP!!) on the Windows Mobile 6 Platform so it’s good to see RIM following suite for those Blackberry users out there.

I'm not sure where Orange UK announced this, but if it's on a blog, it must be true. A quick check of the Orange UK/Unique site shows the Blackberry is not listed as a Unique phone yet, but perhaps it's on it's way.

And now that you mention it, where is that HP device? It's shaping up to be a good summer for UMA-enabled phones.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

RIM’s new Wi-Fi Blackberry

doesn’t support UMA yet...

In a story from Reuters, RIM announced the new 8820, its new Wi-Fi enabled Blackberry, will be available initially to AT&T subscribers 'later this summer'.

It’s too much to ask for that the device would come out for T-Mobile/HotSpot@Home first. But now that I think about it, it is ‘too much to ask’. AT&T probably doesn’t have much in the way of Wi-Fi requirements, whereas T-Mobile does.

After studying what it takes to deliver services over Wi-Fi, T-Mobile likely has a pretty extensive set of requirements for the device to ensure seamless mobility, optimal performance and stellar battery life. One example, T-Mobile uses APSD (auto-power save delivery, part of 802.11e) technology between the access point and device to extend battery life.

Because AT&T doesn’t use Wi-Fi for mobile service delivery (ie no UMA), they are likely to be happy with any old Wi-Fi implementation. T-Mobile knows what it takes to deliver a Wi-Fi experience consumers want.

While I’m disappointed that the 8820 is going AT&T first, it completely makes sense. RIM needs to do it right for T-Mobile.

PS - don't worry, we know the UMA version is coming...

Comments on HotSpot@Home

From the SciFi Tech blog comes a compilation of comments on T-Mobile’s service. Should we be worried that UMA is covered as a topic in a “Science Fiction” blog? It’s clear that cellular/Wi-Fi is not sci-fi any more.

I wanted to offer up some comments on the reviews:

"Unfortunately, the service needs some ironing out. Say I walk into a Starbucks. If the cellular signal remains strong, it can take up to three minutes for my phone to switch to Wi-Fi and stop consuming my calling plan minutes. That's because, in an effort to save battery power, the phone sniffs around for Wi-Fi connections only every once in a while… I also dislike the available handsets." , BusinessWeek

As Olga freely points out, there is a trade-off: save battery life, or save a minute of a phone call. Apparently when T-Mobile decided to save on battery, the result is a service that needs ‘ironing out’. Another reviewer called the battery performance on the t409 "absolutely stellar". Oddly enough, over the past years, the primary complaint about GSM/Wi-Fi devices is battery life.

PS - Billing doesn't change when you walk into (or out of) a hotspot. The call is billed at the start rate (cellular or Wi-Fi), regardless of where it finishes.

"Calls over the Wi-Fi network sounded exactly the same as GSM calls. True to their word, we [sic] didn't notice that our phone had switched from one to the other, except in one rare circumstance…. It isn't hard to find cell-phone users who have problems with reception, even in their own homes. With HotSpot@Home, not only is reception no longer a significant issue at home, with Wi-Fi networks at work and wherever users frequent, the service offers customers more control." , infoSync World

"Call quality was nothing extraordinary…. Overall, we're very pleased with the service. The GSM/Wi-Fi transition could be a lot smoother, and we wish that we could actually use the Wi-Fi to surf the Web (Web surfing is unfortunately stuck to EDGE speeds — a bummer)." , CNet

There is a common misconception here. When on Wi-Fi/UMA, using packet services, all the traffic goes through the EDGE/GRPS engine on the phone and in the network. So for now it looks like all packet data traffic goes through EDGE. It doesn’t, and with faster phones it will become clear this is a broadband experience.

"One benefit, which I didn't expect, was that calls made over Wi-Fi actually sounded clearer than those made using the cellular network…. The hype over the iPhone certainly drowned out T-Mobile's launch of HotSpot@Home, which was too bad. T-Mobile's new service is a revolutionary in its scope. ,

Calls sound clearer because they get onto the wired network faster, meaning less packet loss. I also believe is it “revolutionary in it’s scope.”

"[The two phones] sound terrific; over Wi-Fi, in fact, they produce the best-sounding cell-phone calls you've ever made. But the screens are small and coarse, and the features limited…. T-Mobile has found a way to embrace and exploit [Wi-Fi] to everyone's benefit. The result is a smartly implemented, technologically polished, incredibly inexpensive way to make over your phone lifestyle. , The New York Times
"...the best-sounding cell-phone calls you've ever made." Now that's a quote!

"My tests with this wireless network and its companion mobile phone were so underwhelming — when it worked — that I'd suggest anyone with even the tiniest bit of tech savvy wait for something better." , The Chicago Tribune

"The switch from Wi-Fi mode to cell-phone mode mid call is so smooth, it's shocking that this technology really works. If my cell-phone coverage at home was terrible, I'd say sign me up! The limited selection of phones is a major drawback. I can't imagine going back to a boring phone like the Samsung I tested." , The Orange County Register

I’m not sure how Eric at the Trib and Tamara at the OC could have such different experiences. Perhaps Eric was under-whelmed for the same reason Tamara was 'shocked'. It just works. Frankly, I can see how both sides of the coin apply. The key (and frankly boring) advantage of HotSpot@Home is that nothing dramatic happens. Seamless mobility means calls just switches networks, it’s boring. That's UMA, it's boring because it works.

"The big beneficiaries of this service will be International travelers. You can carry the phone with you, say to Rome. The phone will connect to a Wi-Fi network, and allow you to call home as if you were calling locally. The bad news is that if you have to call someone in Rome, then it becomes an international call." , GigaOm

Here’s another ‘it’s so good it’s bad’ comment. Yes, when you’re in Rome with a US phone and you need to call someone in Rome, it’s an international call. But that’s how your mobile phone works today. So that’s the ‘bad news’. Of course the good news is anyone you call in the US is still a local call, and when someone calls you from the US you pay US local rates. I think it makes things better.

"The promise of WiFi phones are great — bypass the slow cell-phone networks when you are near a Wi-Fi hotspot. But the realities of wireless computer networking — with closed networks, firewalls, and other incompatibilities — make them hard enough to log onto with a laptop, never mind a phone." , Business 2.0

From this review, I’m not sure if Eric got a phone to trial. The service is called HotSpot “@Home”. It’s not for attaching to any and all random Wi-Fi access points in the world. It’s for your home network. From the reviews above, apparently it is pretty easy to log in with a phone, let alone a laptop.

"I've been using T-Mobile's HotSpot@Home from Poland this week and I can honestly say that the service is a lifesaver if you're a frequent pond-hopper." , CrunchGear

Excellent news. T-Mobile did a great job keeping the service simple, unlimited calls over any Wi-Fi from anywhere in the world for just $10/month. No wonder the comments are good.

Monday, July 16, 2007

The Femtocell Conference

Avren, a boutique conference firm, hit a home run July 3-5 with the industry’s first femtocell event. Adding to the allure was the inaugural meeting of the new Femto Forum which resulted in a staggering 240 attendees all crammed into a hotel ball room at Heathrow to hear about femtocells.

I wanted to offer a couple of thoughts that we picked up from the event:

- The operators have consolidated around a 'RAN gateway' approach.

Early on there was talk of potentially using Iu-b or even SIP, but those have been largely dismissed by the operators. All major operators and vendors (NSN, Alcalu, Motorola, NEC, Ericsson) have proposed a RAN gateway (like a UNC) solution that provides an Iu connection to the mobile core.

This approach is low impact to the core and ensures full service transparency (all GSM/3G services are delivered over the femtocell), the same reasons why UMA defined a RAN gateway approach 2+ years ago. What's interesting is that rather than rallying around UMA, vendors are each defining their own proprietary approaches. Motorola and NEC are following the UMA path.

- Operators are *insisting* on an open interface

This makes sense. They want a robust, competitive market for femtocells, with many suppliers delivering products that meet a single, standardized interface. This achieves the economies of scale for femto manufacturers to drive costs down. Of course, UMA is already an open/published specification. NSN took the unusual step of stating they will publish their ‘vendor specific’ protocol for other femto vendors to build too. I’m sure the other vendors (ip.Access, Ericsson, Alcalu, NEC, Motorola, ...) can’t wait to build a femto that conforms to the Nokia/Siemens specification (or vice versa).

- The hype is high, but reality is starting to set in.

It was clear from the tone of the operators that femtocells are an exciting opportunity. But all realize there is a LOT of work to be done before the promise/hype meets up with the shelves of consumer electronics stores.

- A word on UMA

In all of this, UMA continues to be the only published, industry recognized standard for femtocell backhaul. The minor work to extend the current UMA specification to support Iu was kicked off in Oct 06 at the 3GPP.

Through its work with Dual-Mode Handsets, UMA already has the ability to integrate millions of devices into the mobile core, has the access control mechanisms to support consumer grade products, and a robust handover procedure. These capabilities are yet to be defined by the vendors scrambling to come up with their own RAN gateway protocols. UMA is the standardized RAN gateway approach.

Two other things UMA has going for it versus these ‘vendor specific’ approaches. One is that UMA supports dual-mode handset services as well as femtocells. While an operator may not be interested in a DMH service today, the future protection offered by a UMA infrastructure, with no price premium (UNCs are already deployed in volume around the world for DMH), is very compelling.

Second is that UMA supports 2G femtocells as well as 3G femtocells. If an operator is going to deploy a ‘combo’ AP, or is interested in 2G femtos, UMA is the only choice.

All in all, UMA is really proving why it is known as ‘GAN’, it is a generic access network technology, easily adaptable to new applications.