Monday, December 15, 2008

ST-NXP sees "strong demand" for 3G/UMA

In an article released today at EE Times Europe, Dan Rabinovitsj, senior vice president and general manager of cellular systems for ST-NXP said the company sees strong demand from device manufacturers and operators for 3G/UMA devices.

ST-NXP, the new combined entity of ST Microelectronics and NXP which merged in April, 2008, brings a lot of strength in UMA technology with NXP, an early innovator and supporter of UMA.

Mr. Rabinovitsj continues:

"With the Cellular System Solution 7210 UMA, we are able to deliver high-quality streaming video and fast download speeds. In a Wi-Fi hotspot, consumers will notice the difference in speed when accessing popular social networking sites, and the smooth video quality when watching their favorite clips online. This brings to consumers the broadband speed they typically enjoy on the PC, through a UMTS feature phone."

We have already seen a number of 3G/UMA phones on the market, and it appears that there are many more on the horizon.

UMA, and Wi-Fi technology, is an ideal complementary technology to 3G. Both deliver high-speed broadband access for mobile services, while UMA/Wi-Fi can augment 3G coverage in the places where consumers spend the most of their time, at home and in the office.

Friday, December 05, 2008

A true story

I was out the other night with some buddies for drinks. One friend has an iPhone and LOVES it. Frankly, everyone I know with an iPhone loves it, but that’s another story.

We got into a disagreement about the directions to our next establishment. I suggested to my friend he pull up Google Maps to chart our course. It takes him a little while and I ask what’s taking so long:

“I just attached to a Wi-Fi access point,” he says.

“Why,” I ask, “that’s a 3G iPhone, right?”

“3G is too slow, it’s much faster to use Wi-Fi.”

iMS

The other day I was involved in an interesting discussion regarding IMS. Certainly the original vision of IMS as a platform for delivering new IP based services has been slow to materialize. Per it’s Wikipedia page, IMS is intended “to aid the access of multimedia and voice applications from wireless… terminals”.

This got us thinking… The concept sounds quite familiar. Isn’t there already a tool to aid the access of multimedia and voice applications from wireless terminals? It sounds a lot like Apple’s wildly successful AppStore.

Could AppStore actually be the new iMS?

Consider the idea for a minute. The vision of IMS was to develop a platform where new applications could be made available to users on their phones. Rather than monolithic systems which pushed out one or two new services a year, IMS was to unleash the power of millions of developers to create thousands of applications to address the ‘long tail’ of user interests.

Apple’s AppStore has thousands of applications and literally millions of downloads. Certainly very few of the applications relate directly to mobile phones, but that’s the point, right? Give users access to a world of new applications which make the mobile phone (or iPhone) indispensible.

There are actual telephony applications like Fring, and Truphone as well, along with dozens of social networking applications with presence and instant messaging.

Of course AppStore by itself isn't enough. The industry needed a handset that consumers wanted and provided a platform for developers to work from. In that iPhone has certainly succeeded.

Apple isn’t the only one. Nokia has Ovi which offers a similar experience to the AppStore.

Could it be that the future of IMS is actually iMS?



Thursday, December 04, 2008

The “Secret” is out – LG first 3G UMA phone

The new LG KF-757 is nearly identical to the already popular KF750, but added Wi-Fi and UMA support to be LG’s first 3G UMA handset.

The phone was announced by Orange in conjunction with their HDTV service in November. It scores high on the ‘cool’ factor with a sleek, glossy shell, a large quality display, 5 megapixel camera and the very cool ‘accelerometer’.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

EU Issues Power Consumption Guidelines

The EU continues to lead in environmental and ecologically friendly regulations. This month, an EU commission published a report titled “Code of Conduct on Energy Consumption of Broadband Equipment”.

The report sets out guidelines for power consumption for a range of broadband equipment in the home. The report suggests there is a ‘low power’ state along with an ‘on’ state for devices to save power, and recommends a decrease in power usage over time.

The report recommends that femtocells use less than 9.0/9.0 watts (standby/on) in the first phase through 2010, dropping to 7.0/8.0 watts in 2011.

Ironically, the report suggests 802.11 b/g interfaces draw 1.0/2.0 watts initially, dropping to 0.7/2.0 in 2011. Talk about a green technology…

UMA expands to HDTV

Building on their 3G announcement from September, Orange has added a new HDTV service to their Unik lineup.

The service is designed to take advantage of the high-speed, low latency access available with Wi-Fi via Unik.

According to Roaul Roverato, executive vice president in charge of the new growth businesses division of Orange:

“Our proximity to the customer and our understanding of their expectations means we are able to react more quickly to their changing needs. For example in France, 40% of mobile TV usage is enjoyed at home* and this trend is growing, with over 58% of customers accessing video on demand (VoD) services and 32% watching live TV when at home** . By providing better handsets with bigger screens, seamless network access and exciting, high-quality content, Orange is shaping the future of mobile TV.”


I think it’s amazing they find 40% of mobile TV usage is at home, where people already have Wi-Fi coverage. Highlighting once again that Wi-Fi is a perfect offload opportunity.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

China Mobile: Voice over LTE... via UMA/GAN?

As covered by Michelle Donegan at Unstrung, China Mobile is prepping their network for LTE, and voice will be an important element.

Bill Huang, general manager of China Mobile Research Institute, said that the company is well prepared to move to LTE, and stressed the importance of supporting voice. Mr. Haung went on to say that one option for Voice over LTE was the UMA/GAN protocol.

“We could carry voice over UMA” said Mr. Huang. “We will have an LTE network that supports voice…”. To clarify, what Mr. Huang is referring to is not the traditional ‘home zone’ UMA deployment involving Wi-Fi or femtocells.

The 3GPP UMA/GAN (Generic Access Network) standard provides a generic method for extending 2G and 3G circuit (and packet) services over any broadband access network. Until now, the standard had been used to enable mobile operators to extend their services over fixed broadband networks (DSL, cable,…). However, now with a high-speed, low latency *mobile* broadband network, GAN can be used to extend existing mobile services (like telephony) over LTE.

Clearly for the mobile operator, this is a very low-risk, low-cost method of bringing their voice services (and revenues) to their LTE network deployments.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

UMA spotted on an iPhone

Well, here it is. Apparently this is an undoctored photo of blogger Pat Phelan’s O2 iPhone used in the US. [Ed Note: my mistake, thought it was being used in the UK].

Check out the upper left corner where the network display reads UMA.

If I were to guess, I’d say that T-Mobile’s HotSpot network has a “UMA” SSID. The phone has attached to that Wi-Fi access point and is displaying the SSID.

But clearly the phone is ready, the Wi-Fi network is ready, now we just need to get the UMA protocol stack into the phone. Then people can get better coverage and lower cost calling when attached to Wi-Fi with their iPhone.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

FMC market remains hot

In a recent report, Infonetics Research projects that FMC network equipment will grow 82% in 2008, and that the FMC phone market reached $7.6 billion in 2008.

“UMA continues to dominate the worldwide seamless FMC market,” said Infonetics principal analyst Stéphane Téral. “We expect all the phone and equipment segments in the niche FMC market to grow rapidly, with the economic downturn actually making T-Mobile USA’s offer more attractive to stretched consumer.”

At UMA Today, we completely agree.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Verizon preps femtocell service

According to reports from Engadget and Gadget.com, Verizon Wireless plans a launch of its own femtocell service based on Samsung’s Ubicell. We all know this is the same product used in Sprint’s Airave service.

For those following the Home Zone/FMC market, this amounts to an ‘I told you so’ moment. T-Mobile kicked things off. Next was Sprint, now Verizon. It looks like the FMC market in the US is really heating up. We told you home zones were hot.

This all stems from T-Mobile’s “Unlimited HotSpot Calling” (formerly known as ‘HotSpot@Home’), the Wi-Fi based Home Zone service T-Mobile launched about a year ago.

At the time, the UHC service provided something totally different than any of the other mobile operators in the US could deliver: a location specific ‘service zone’. T-Mobile could identify that subscribers were in their homes, and offer an unlimited, flat rate calling plan only when on Wi-Fi.

T-Mobile also got the added benefit of improving coverage in the home or office by using the Wi-Fi that already exists in those locations.

In response, Sprint launched Airave in September, 2008. It has been pointed out in this blog that while GSM operators have a choice of Wi-Fi or femto technology, CDMA-based operators are unfortunately limited to femtocells.

Without the ability to segment subscribers into specific locations, ATT and Verizon, launched unlimited MOBILE calling for $100. While all the majors eventually followed suit, this move immediately devalued the outdoor macro network, setting a ceiling on services at $100. Why not create a home zone offer, and limit unlimited calling to specific locations?

Yet Sprint and T-Mobile still had the upper hand, with unlimited calling when attached to Wi-Fi or the femtocell for just $10/month.

So now today we see Verizon realizing that a home zone service is different. In the US, it appears that a home zone service is now a competitive requirement.

AT&T, as a GSM operator, has a choice. They can do a femtocell service, or do Wi-Fi/UMA, or, I suppose, do nothing. It will be interesting to see what happens next.

Friday, October 10, 2008

College students choose Wi-Fi over beer

The Wi-Fi Alliance, always looking to show how much consumers rely on un-tethered high-speed internet access, commissioned another survey on the subject.

In this latest addition, apparently 90% of college students surveyed said that Wi-Fi was as essential as classrooms and computers. If forced to choose, almost half would give up beer before Wi-Fi.

At UMA Today, we prefer the ‘and’ option versus an ‘or’ option.


UMA is Secure

Well, UMA is secure at least according to the recommendations of this consultancy. In an article on Unstrung, Global Secure Systems, a value-added IT security firm, reports that the WPA and WPA2 Wi-Fi security codes are no longer enough to protect wireless data.

By using a special purpose NVidia graphics cards, a Russian-based firm was able to accelerate cracking the WPA/WPA2 encryption by 10,000 percent. Wow.

In response, GSS now recommends its clients use a VPN on top of WPA/WPA2.

Hey… That’s how UMA already works.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Wi-Fi to 1 billion

Analyst firm In-stat recently updated its market forecast for Wi-Fi chips, projecting nearly a billion Wi-Fi enabled consumer devices by 2012. Most interesting for us at UMA Today is the claim that by 2011, cellular/Wi-Fi handsets will become the largest category of Wi-Fi enabled products.

No surprise here. Wi-Fi is now friendly for mobile operators. The benefits of improved coverage, mobile network offload, and home zone services are clear.

But it was the comment in the CNET article by Marguerite Reardon that hit the mark.

“Over the past few years, prices on Wi-Fi hardware have come way down. And the battery life for devices using Wi-Fi has improved dramatically, making it possible to embed Wi-Fi in handheld devices like cell phones.”

Poor battery life is a myth that has perpetuated too long in the dual-mode market. As with most technologies, market demand also demands innovation. UMA and Wi-Fi in handsets requires innovation over Wi-Fi embedded in a laptop. Several vendors have stepped up to make dramatic improvements in Wi-Fi, optimizing it for a handset environment.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Hey GSMA: Got Voice?

Yesterday the GSMA announced a marketing program to promote and develop ‘always connected’ mobile broadband services in a wide range of consumer products.

While the momentum has been building for some time, the GSMA is looking to highlight the growing trend of HSPA devices (laptops, MIDs,…) which offer consumers a mobile broadband experience.

At UMA Today, our first thought was: Got Voice?


Giving consumers an ‘always connected’ mobile broadband experience is great… especially for VoIP providers like Skype and Vonage. These companies have traditionally been tethered to fixed broadband connections in the home or office.

Now mobile operators are providing them a high speed, low latency, always on mobile broadband network from which to deliver a mobile VoIP service.

While data services are certainly a booming growth area for mobile operators, this service amounts to a ‘dumb pipe’ approach. The fundamental revenue-generating application for the mobile operators, telephony, is conspicuously absent.

It’s clear why. Mobile operators don’t want to invest in a SIP/IMS core simply to provide their own VoIP service. The investment is too great, and the return is minimal.

What operators need is a way to leverage their existing voice service core (MSCs).

This is what UMA technology is all about: extending the mobile operator’s existing services over broadband.

There are several UMA-based softphone mobile clients available today. These products can easily be bundled with an HSPA service. Now when a user connects to the mobile broadband network, they can have the operators own a mobile VoIP application running on the laptop.

It could be that Orange is one of the first to recognize the opportunity.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Nanoradio Turns On UMA

Nanoradio is a Swedish-based fabless semiconductor supplier that has developed a unique WLAN chipset which features ultra-low power consumption, the smallest package (their claim) and ‘unique’ support for audio applications.

If you think this would be perfect for a UMA-enabled handset, apparently you’re not alone.

Today Nanoradio issued a press release stating its technology is in the world’s first 3G UMA handset. At first I thought they meant the Sony Ericsson G705u, but in fact they were talking about the Samsung P270, quietly announced in Orange’s press release about expanding Unik to support 3G devices.

In a follow-on article, the company refers to an as yet unannounced UMA device, the Samsung P250. Excellent.

The article also mentioned that the Nanoradio ‘…Wi-Fi solution doubles the standby and talktime...’ when in UMA. Not bad, considering UMA already outperforms cellular for some RIM devices.

From the company’s web site, Nanoradio suggests its WLAN chip uses just 6mW in a voice call, compared with 37mW for Bluetooth 1.2 and 50 mW for Bluetooth 2.0. Very impressive.

It’s clear that Nanoradio is dispelling the myths about Wi-Fi being power hungry. With ABI Research predicting more than 300 million dual-mode phones in the coming years, the future looks very bright.

Mobile Usage Skyrockets In the Home

While it’s no surprise to anyone, Informa has taken the important step of quantifying what we already know: the majority mobile data traffic will be generated in the home.

In research released by Informa a couple of months ago and re-introduced this week, Informa estimates that 40% of mobile data usage happens in the home today, growing to 58% of traffic in 2013. It’s much cheaper and easier to offload that traffic onto the user’s own broadband network via Wi-Fi or femtocell than carry it over the macro RAN.

The research also notes that mobile voice usage in the home should rise to 49% of a subscriber’s total minutes in 2013, up from 42% today. Add in the estimated 30% of calls which happen in the office, and a whooping 70% of mobile voice usage happens indoors.

With more than half of all voice and data traffic being generated indoors, Wi-Fi or femto-based Home Zone services should be mandatory from operators in the near future.

Home zones do it all:

  • Offload the macro network
  • Backhaul voice/data traffic over the internet
  • Create ‘home zone’ specific voice/data services and applications

Monday, September 22, 2008

NEC Turns Up Femtocells


Two announcements today from NEC in the femto market.

First, the company announced it received an order from Softbank in Japan for it’s IMS-based femtocell system. The system does require an IMS infrastructure, which can be troublesome for many existing mobile operators. Softbank’s goal is to be commercial in January 2009.

I believe this is the first commercial announcement/award for 3G femtocells.

Second, NEC made a strategic investment in Kineto Wireless, it’s supplier for RAN gateway-based femtocell solutions. The undisclosed investment was NEC’s first in the femtocell market.

With a win in the IMS approach and an investment in the RAN gateway approach, it appears that NEC is well positioned in the femtocell market moving forward.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Orange Wins... Again

Congratulations, Orange! Its Unik services was the winner of the “Fixed Mobile Convergence” award at this week’s Global Telecom Business Innovation Awards ceremony in London.

RIM Flips with New UMA-enabled Pearl

Yes, the new RIM Blackberry Pearl (8220) is the first flip phone for the company, and continues their tradition of UMA and Wi-Fi.

The US market is famously fickled for flip phones. RIM is addressing the need.

For those of us who weren’t there, RIM co-CEO and friend of UMA Today Jim Balsillie had a keynote presentation at yesterday’s CTIA event in San Francisco. The good people at Crackberry.com covered it with a ‘real time blog’.

The presentation shows RIM really stepping up the push into the consumer market. While RIM has 54% of the US smartphone market, consumers now account for 34% of RIM’s customer base. There was a slide on the ‘four screens’, which oddly enough includes a reference to the fixed line home phone.


The list of consumer/entertainment features on the device is staggering:




-Email (of course)
-IM (MSN, Yahoo, Google, AIM, Lotus,…)
-Social networking (Facebook, myspace, quickr,…)
-Photo Sharing (flickr,...)
-Content relationships (MLB.com, NFL.com, …)
-Streaming audio (Slacker,...)
-Home media synch with iTunes, Windows Media
-Tivo controls and media playback


and the list goes on.

Below is a video clip from Crackberry.com introducing the Pearl. Very cool.






The phone will be exclusive to T-Mobile starting this fall. We can’t wait.




Wednesday, September 10, 2008

3G UMA "...at the heart of our convergence strategy"

Today Orange announced the expansion of its UMA-based Unik service to include support for 3G devices and network services. In addition, the company announced two new UMA-enabled 3G handsets, industry firsts, from Sony Ericsson and Samsung.

Orange continues to innovate on its UMA service. By extending Unik to include 3G, Orange is able to complement its macro 3G network with Wi-Fi indoors. Wi-Fi can offload the macro network, deliver high speed mobile data rates, and overcome 3G coverage/performance issues when the subscriber is in the home or office.

With this announcement, Orange now effectively turns all the LiveBoxes in France into unlicensed femtocells. That’s an installed base of over 4 million units.

I think the quote from Mr. Penalvar, senior executive vice president of strategy, says it best: “…UMA is at the heart of our convergence strategy.”

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Sony Ericsson's #1

Well, a slight grammatical play here, what I meant to say is that today Sony Ericsson announced its first UMA-enabled handset, and it looks like a winner.

Today Engadget covered the new ‘powerhouse’ G705u device. It supports a UMA, along with a full complement of traditional RAN radios including quad-band 2G, and UMTS/HSUPA 850/1900/2100. That’s right, it’s also one of the first UMA/3G devices on the market today. Sony Ericsson’s first, in two categories!

In addition, the phone comes with aGPS, an RSS reader, a full HTML browser and a 3.2 mega pixel camera with direct uploads to YouTube. Very cool.

The first roll-out is Orange in Europe, but a US version is in the works.

UMA Today can now say that the top handset vendors support UMA: Nokia, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, Motorola, LG Electronics and RIM. Now about that HTC phone

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Wi-Fi Gets Roaming


A long awaited (at least from UMA Today’s perspective) Wi-Fi specification was finally ratified by the IEEE last week. The 802.11r specification lets Wi-Fi devices roam quickly between Wi-Fi access points within a network.

Officially known as ‘fast basic service set transition’, the concept behind 802.11r is to enable a device to establish access to and qualifications of a neighbor Wi-Fi access point before transitioning from the current AP.

For a dual-mode handset call, this capability is critical. Because UMA relies on an IPSec tunnel anchored on the handset, the phone must receive the same IP address from the new AP as it currently has from the current AP before it can roam. Without a constant IP address, the IPSec tunnel fails and the call transitions back to the macro RAN (not a tragedy, but a hassle).

The 802.11r spec has been in the works since 2005 and finally crossed the finish line. Look for it in devices and APs shortly.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Mind the gap

As mobile data usage explodes, mobile operators are noticing a growing gap between bytes delivered and revenue generated.

With voice traffic, each additional minute of traffic typically generates an equal amount of revenues.

Today, data revenues have jumped from per byte to flat rate and usage is exploding, generating a traffic/revenue gap.

With estimates indicating as much as 50% of mobile traffic is generated in the home, a home zone service offer, based on low-power in-home radios like femtocells or Wi-Fi, are helping mobile operators ‘mind the gap.’ With a home zone service offer, operators are able to offload bandwidth intensive media-rich applications onto the user’s own fixed- broadband network. The result is a win-win situation for operators and users. Operators collect the flat rate fee, even for traffic not carried on their network, whereas users receive high quality broadband access on their mobile phones.

Nokia Drops VoIP Support from new N Series?

As reported at GigaOm this weekend, apparently Nokia has dropped support for its VoIP applications on some new N series products going forward.

What appears to have happened is that some, but not all, of Nokia’s embedded SIP/VoIP stack has been removed. Some view this as an opportunity for more third party VoIP developers to jump in and innovate. Others view this as Nokia capitulating to the demands of mobile operators who see third-party VoIP apps cannibalizing high-margin international voice traffic.

Regardless, it re-opens the discussion about Nokia supporting a UMA client in the N and potentially E series devices. Nokia is the largest supplier of Wi-Fi-enabled devices today, and the lack of support for UMA in their N series products continues to be puzzling.

Capabilities such as ‘internet offload’, a dynamic routing capability in the handset which sends (for example) GSM voice traffic through the UMA tunnel but routes third party SIP/VoIP traffic directly to the internet, make it even easier for Nokia to support UMA and SIP/VoIP concurrently.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Smartphones: The new 'hot spot' for Wi-Fi?

According to a recent report from industry researcher Canalys, a whooping 58% of smartphones now ship with Wi-Fi. This underscores something we at UMAToday have believed for some time, that in this category of device, Wi-Fi is more than a feature, it’s a requirement.

As flat rate data plans proliferate, mobile operators are viewing Wi-Fi as a complementary technology. With Wi-Fi penetration in European ‘internet connected’ households at nearly 50%, mobile operators are looking to use low cost, high performance Wi-Fi to offload media-rich data traffic.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Psst... Want a free femtocell?

In my continuing fascination with the Sprint femtocell service Airave, I’ve been following articles and blogs about the service. From the comments on-line, it’s clear the product is a hit. By making it a ‘2G’ product, Sprint has assured compatibility with all the handsets in the field. While there are minor issues, for people with little or no coverage (a far to common occurrence in the US), this is the wireless equivalent of ‘pennies from heaven’.

The one complain seems to be the pricing. Not much of a surprise there. A one time fee of $99.00 and then $4.95 a month to get five bars of coverage in your home seems a bit steep for something one expects from their mobile provider.

But if you don’t want to pay for it, perhaps there’s another way:

In this article from the San Francisco Chronicle, Sprint representatives said that on a case-by-case basis, some customers in problem areas with bad reception might be eligible for a free or discounted Airave or waived monthly fees.

Several of the bloggers who are ‘raving about Airave’ indicate they received the unit at no charge after complaining to Sprint customer service.

I have blogged about this as a face-off between two ‘home zone’ service offers, the other being T-Mobile’s “Unlimited Mobile Calling” (aka HotSpot@Home). I viewed Sprint’s push as a competitive response to T-Mobile’s Wi-Fi-based offer.

But perhaps Sprint has a more pressing need for the femtocell. An analysis of Q2 08 operating performance for the ‘big four’ mobile operators in the US showed negative trends for Sprint in nearly every category. Especially troubling is the 4% decline in the total subscriber base.

One way to stop subscribers from leaving, especially those with coverage issues, is to give them a femtocell.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Rumor Mill: Blackberry Javelin

Engadget today offered a look at the new Blackberry Javelin, suggesting it is a replacement for the Curve. It also looks like RIM is trying to beat out Samsung for the most UMA-enabled handsets. The future looks bright.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Blackberry 'Kickstart' Coming to Rogers


Several rumor sources today regarding a new clam-shell RIM Blackberry called the 'Kickstart'. According to Boy Genius, the Kickstart will appear at Rogers with support for their UMA service. RIM continues to be bullish on UMA.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Will Consumers Pay for Coverage?

If there was ever a place in the world to explore consumer’s reaction to paying for coverage, it’s the US. While coverage undoubtedly improves year after year, the ads and tag lines from AT&T (more bars in more places) and Verizon (America’s most reliable network) tell the story that coverage is an important issue for American consumers.

So it is with great interest that we watch Sprint’s Airave femtocell service launch. Engadget reported today that consumers across the US can now order the Airave service.

The upfront price of the femtocell has increased to $99.99 from $49.99 in the initial service trial (Indianapolis and Denver). In addition, consumers must pay $4.99/month for the privilege of putting a CDMA (2G) base station in their homes to improve coverage. It costs $10/month for unlimited flat rate calling.

While some might question the logic of using a 2G/CDMA radio in the Airave (slower data service indoors, anyone?), it does ensure that the service will work with 100% of its deployed base of handsets, rather than the fraction of subscribers with 3G (EV-DO) phones.

Of course, T-Mobile’s HotSpot @Home service is the incumbent ‘home zone’ service offer in the US. There is no charge for using Wi-Fi to improve coverage. Subscribers can use existing Wi-Fi access points anywhere in the world to increase signal strength indoors. Consumers need a UMA-enabled phone, typically free or less than $100 with a two year service contract.

So it looks like the game is on for US consumers and mobile service providers. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Sagem makes it 3

sagemmy519xSagem's latest dual-mode handset, my519X, is now on the market and available to subscribers of Orange's unik service. The new tri-band phone music phone has an MP3 player and is 108 x 48 x 11mm, weighing only 89g.

The my519x is Sagem's third dual-mode handset to be sold by Orange for customers of its UMA-based service. The company also offers the Sagem my419x and my429x, which was added just a few months ago. .

With the addition of this new phone, Orange continues to drive its goal of offering more than 20 dual-mode handsets by the end of 2008.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

T-Mobile's Home Phone Service

The other night I stopped by my local T-Mobile store. My buddy Jessica the sales rep was there. This time she knew to stay out of the way of the camera.

Here's some video of the visit. Jessica said there had been pretty strong demand. Well, why not, $10/month for home phone service. It's quite a deal.



Thursday, July 03, 2008

Wi-Fi Stays Strong

The EU recently finished a study of telecom in the EU27 countries. The full study is published here in PDF.

One interesting statistic is the penetration of Wi-Fi into households with internet access. Within the EU27, 46% of households with internet access have Wi-Fi. As one would expect, the number actually goes up to nearly half (48%) when looking at just the EU15.

Topping the list in terms of penetration is Spain (68%) and France (67%), with Luxembourg at the top with 75% of internet enabled households using Wi-Fi.

It’s no wonder that Berg Insight projected Wi-Fi in handsets to grow at a CAGR of 71% over the next four years. By 2012, Berg projects 400 million handsets with Wi-Fi. The primary drivers are high speed interent access in the home/office, and ‘connected home’ applications.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

US Market Heats Up


If the rumors are true, things in the home zone market are about to get very interesting in the US.

Yesterday, there was a flurry of rumors that Sprint will launch their femtocell-based Airave service nationwide July 15th. The service has been in limited commercial trial for more than 6 months in the US.

Market watchers (like me) like to compare the service offers. According to the rumors Sprint will offer the Airave femtocell to subscribers for an upfront fee of $99 and $15/month (or $30/month for families). In return consumers get unlimited nationwide calling when attached to the femtocell, and improved coverage.

T-Mobile’s Wi-Fi based offer, HotSpot @Home, lets consumers use Wi-Fi access points already in the home or get new ‘optimized’ Wi-Fi routers from T-Mobile, which are free with a two year contract. Consumers can use Wi-Fi to improve coverage for their existing mobile plan. Or for an additional $10/month ($20/mos for families), subscribers can an add unlimited nationwide calling option when attached to Wi-Fi.

Interestingly, in a video interview from the Avren femtocell conference, Lauren Town, head of marketing at Orange for Wi-Fi-based home service Unik, noted that the value proposition articulated for femtocell home zones during the conference was nearly identical to their existing service.

It’s not clear if Sprint’s rate will come down to $10/month to match the T-Mobile offer. One clear advantage is that Sprint’s femtocell is 1xRTT (or ‘2G’ in CDMA parlance), which means that it will work with the entire installed base of Sprint handsets. T-Mobile's advantage? The service works on Wi-Fi anywhere in the world (enterprise, outside US,...) rather than just one femtocell.

Like many new offers, Sprint service has faced some growing pains during the initial trial phase. Presumably these issues have been worked out.

If anything, the pressure is increasing for AT&T and Verizon. Neither company has a ‘home zone’ offer, which means neither company has the ability to create a location specific service offer like ‘unlimited flat rate calling from home’.

PS – I just noticed this. The address used to be http://airave.sprint.com. But that address now redirects to http://www.sprintenterprise.com/airave/ Hummm…

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

An unlicensed femtocell

The market is catching on to the benefits of home zone services, where consumers get mobile services that work better and cost less. For operators, the ability to offload the macro network and increase the performance of mobile services indoors, coupled with the ability to develop location specific home or enterprise services has driven increased interest in this market opportunity.

Typically we talk about the need for home zone services, irrespective of the underlying radio technology (Wi-Fi or femtocell). For consumer and service providers, the benefits are nearly identical.

But an interesting trend has emerged in the press. Recently there have been several references to the ‘unlicensed femtocell’, perhaps known by the more common name of Wi-Fi.

The comparison makes sense. Femtocells have a couple of generic properties. One is a low power radio designed for use in-building CPE. Second is the ability for these devices to be deployed as consumer without operator intervention. Third, they are ‘self organizing’, meaning they determine their environment and adjust the capabilities accordingly. Forth, the term femtocell is actually radio agnostic. ‘Femtocell’ is applied to CDMA, UMTS, EV-DO, GSM, LTE, even WiMAX. While the one thing these have in common is that the frequencies are licensed, why not add 802.11 b/g to the list?

Now before you think this is something I made up, there have been several references of late:

This article in DigiTimes (“Tecom Ships UMA Femtocells”) refers to ‘UMA femtocells’ being shipped to T-Mobile. Clearly not the classic definition, these were in fact Wi-Fi terminal adaptors.

This article in The Register (“Femto Forum Gets Big Ideas”) comments that “In the USA T-Mobile is already deploying 2G femtocells to provide coverage in customers’ homes.” True, but it is an 802.11 b/g femtocell.

This last one is perhaps the most interesting. Ozzie Diaz, Chief Technologies for HP's wireless business, comments on his blog (“Wireless Operators Getting the Runaround”) about the importance of local radios:

One operator who does seem to have a clue on making use of these non-cellular radios in handsets is T-Mobile USA in their Hotspot@Home with unlimited calling while at home connected over their WiFi access point connected back to the T-Mobile core network. In essence a “femtocell” without the pain of the frequency planning or spectrum management. But taking the same advantage of femtocells and using the customers Internet access link at home for “free” backhaul to the core network…FABULOUS model of eliminating a BIG CAPEX problem for themselves.

It just gets you thinking about what a femtocell really is, a tool for making mobile services work better and cost less.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

A Home Zone is a Home Zone

This week ABI Research released the results of a survey conducted on behalf of Motorola. The article states that while “…the majority of consumers have never heard of femtocells…”, “…more than 40% of European mobile and internet users plan to purchase femtocells in the next 12 months.”

It’s easy to conclude then, that the questions focused not on the wireless technology to be used in the home (e.g. a ‘femtocell’), but on the benefits of having a “Home Zone” service, where the key factors were better in-home mobile coverage and lower costs.

Demand was highest in Poland, Spain and Italy, with moderate demand in France and the UK. Germany had the lowest demand of the six countries surveyed.

We at UMA Today thought this sounded a bit familiar. Through the magic of the web, we were able to recall a similar announcement from Motorola in August, 2005. Three years ago, Motorola announced the results of a survey of 1,000 consumers in six countries on the demand for a dual-mode handset service. This time the countries were France, Germany, Spain, Sweden, Italy and the UK.

And the results??? About the same.

Demand was highest in Sweden, Spain and Italy, moderate demand in France, lower demand in the UK and Germany.

I think there are some very interesting data-points from both surveys:

  • Clearly there is continued demand for home zone services, regardless of the technology.
  • I find it ironic that Italy continues to show strong demand, showing me that Telecom Italia Mobile’s Unica service was a victim of regulatory roadblocks rather than consumer interest.
  • Orange’s plans for its Unik/Unique service are in UK, Spain, and Poland, three countries with strong demand for Home Zone services.

UMA Today continues to be a strong supporter of Home Zone services, and this is simply confirms that there is market demand from consumers for a thoughtful, value-oriented service offer.

The Mobile Operator's Triple Play

Mobile operators have had a unique influence on personal communications. The rise of mobile services has put a phone into nearly everyone’s hand. Yet as a network-based service, the mobile has been largely disconnected from our most personal location: the home.

Over the past few years, mobile service providers have started to reach into the home by acquiring broadband service providers. The attraction is easy to see. Consumers buy mobile, consumers buy broadband, why not get broadband service from your mobile provider?

In addition, Universal Mobile Access technologies enable mobile providers to deliver mobile services over the broadband network through Wi-Fi and femtocell radios in the home. This ‘double-play’ service opportunity is building, with operators trialing and deploying ‘Home Zone’ services in the market today.

But yesterday’s announcement of T-Mobile’s fixed line home service, a VoIP offer from a mobile provider, suddenly opens up the mobile operator’s triple play: mobile, broadband and fixed.

In all fairness, mobile operators have tried to offer fixed line VoIP services in the past. But rather than using the existing mobile voice switches (MSCs), mobile operators were forced to buy new VoIP switches. Because these switches were separate from the MSCs providing the mobile voice service, there was a ‘disconnect’ to the offer.

There was a significant amount of work to integrate the bill from the VoIP switch into the bill for the mobile switch (in some cases, consumers received two bills…). With a new switch, a different provisioning system needed to be established to enable the VoIP service. Because mobile calls are anchored on the MSC and calls on the fixed network are anchored on the VoIP switch, there is no easy way to provide combinational services like dual ring and single voice mail.

With the advent of the UMA terminal adaptor, now mobile operators can seamlessly integrate fixed line home phone service directly into their existing mobile switching infrastructure, billing and provisioning systems. Calls on the fixed line appear simply as a second line within a subscriber’s existing service.

The market is already on the trajectory of a “Home Zone Triple Play”. Clearly the Linksys product, which supports a UMA terminal adaptor and Wi-Fi, is ideal for an operator to bring together dual-mode service, home phone service and broadband.

Within the femtocell community, there is a tremendous push to move into integrated femtocell products. Many companies have announced ‘integrated’ femtocell platforms to support DSL, Wi-Fi, and fixed line VoIP.

Looks like mobile operators are starting to attack the home.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

T-Mobile's Fixed-line Home Phone Service To Go Nationwide

The now re-named “T-Mobile @Home” fixed line VoIP service looks set for a nationwide launch. I’ll be heading to my local T-Mobile store this week to check it out.

The service, which has been in limited commercial release in Dallas and Seattle, looks to be an enormous success. The article states that a whopping “…45 percent of users of the service … switched from other mobile operators”. Unbelievable!!!!!!

The offer is an incredible value, so I guess it makes sense. T-Mobile @Home offers consumers unlimited flat rate calling for $10/month from their fixed phone line. Comcast, my cable company, keeps telling me I can get the same service for $40.

Britt Wehrman, director of product development for T-Mobile, explains that many households maintain a fixed line home phone for convenience and ease of use. This service is addressing the segment of the market

The “T-Mobile @Home” service is separate from T-Mobile’s dual-mode service “HotSpot @Home”.

If you recall on June 13th there was an article in DigiTimes titled “Tecom gears up shipments of UMA femtocell base stations”. The article goes on to estimate that Tecom will ship 1 million units by the end of 2008.

Clearly there was a typo with the title, as there are no femtocell deployments with these types of volumes anywhere in the world yet. However, it looks like the Tecom product could be at the heart of the T-Mobile @Home service. If T-Mobile (45% inbound churn) and Tecom (1 m units in 2008) are correct, this is going to be a huge success.

Monday, June 23, 2008

T-Mobile Expands


Today T-Mobile added the Nokia 6301 and Samsung T339 dual-mode phones to their line-up for the HotSpot @Home service.

With 8 HS@H phones available today, T-Mobile has most of the bases covered. The much anticipated HTC Shadow II will fill in the Windows Mobile 6.1 hole and round out the portfolio for T-Mobile.

Looks like T-Mobile will make good on their goal of adding ten new handsets this year.


Friday, June 20, 2008

iCall: Opportunity or Threat

A couple weeks ago there was news about a new application for the iPhone called iCall. In the clever video demo below, the founders describe iCall as an application for the iPhone which enables users to make calls for free over any Wi-Fi access point. The video how theiCall application works:

  1. User starts call on GSM
  2. User goes into Wi-Fi
  3. Phone detected/attaches to Wi-Fi
  4. iCall application asks the user if they would like to switch the call to Wi-Fi
  5. Phone switches networks

If it sounds a lot like a UMA-based dual-mode handset service, it is. The only difference between iCall and T-Mobile’s HotSpot @Home service is step 4: User intervention.





So, is this an opportunity or a threat for the mobile operator? (Ed note: UMA Today’s position is always from the viewpoint of the mobile operator, UMA is for mobile operators)

There is a threshold for subscribers between ‘actions’ and ‘cost’. At what point does a user change their actions to save on costs? (Ed note: Here in San Jose, it’s when gas hits $4.60/gallon...)

Will users actually stop a call, press a button, and switch it to Wi-Fi to save money?

Or would users rather have a call that automatically switches to Wi-Fi and saves money? If so, then T-Mobile, Rogers, Orange, Cincinnati Bell, Telia and others already have this covered.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Connected Home Heats Up

Just in time for summer, there is a lot of activity in making the handset part of the Connected Home.

For those who don’t know, there is a vision of a connected home where devices develop an ad-hoc network and can communicate. Standardizing this has been the domain of UPnP and more recently DLNA.

While there are a growing number of devices (TVs, DVRs, Printers, …) which support Connected Home, the mobile phone has been consistently out of the picture. Now two different approaches are helping to pull the phone into the connection.

First is Nokia with the N95, using Wi-Fi as the transport to communication with other devices in the home.



But clearly there is only a small number of Wi-Fi enabled handsets, and so femtocell vendor ip.Access has put together his clever demonstration on how a 3G phone could be proxied into the connected home through a femtocell.



While there are some questions about how this works, it's a powerful vision of bringing mobile phones into the connected home.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Rush to Support Iu-h

There has been a lot of fervor surrounding the 3GPP's activities to develop a new Home Node B (aka femtocell) standard.

I came across the blog post the other day with the clever title "Supporting Iu-h, why the rush?"

The author has a pretty good take on the situation.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

RAN Gateway wins again

I have spent some time considering the pros and cons of the new 3GPP HNB femtocell architecture. It’s too early to call it a standard, but for now, the basic building blocks are in place for putting the spec together.

One of the fundamental building blocks of the HNB effort is a ‘RAN Gateway’ style architecture. In this case, the RAN gateway network element sits ‘parallel’ to an RNC or BSC, and connects into the mobile core network via existing, well defined circuit interfaces (Iu-CS) and packet interfaces (Iu-PS).

Operators evaluating femtocells and femto architectures immediately grasped the benefits of using a RAN gateway approach:

  • All existing circuit and packet services are supported through the femtocell access network as they are supported through the macro RAN network. This is because the RAN gateway uses the same service interfaces as the RNC.
  • A ‘RAN’ gateway is located in the RAN, with a clear demark point into the mobile core network. For operators, they did not need to change the MSC or the service core in any dramatic fashion.

For all the rhetoric and posturing around the benefits of SIP and IMS, operators quickly understood that the most pragmatic approach for femtocell service delivery was through a RAN gateway architecture. In fact, one of the things that the proposals from Huawei, NSN, Alcatel/Lucent and Kineto/NEC/Motorola (ie UMA/GAN) all had in common was a RAN gateway.

From a UMA perspective, one important outcome of the HNB specification is a validation of the RAN gateway architecture operators and vendors alike.

UMA/GAN is, of course, the original RAN gateway architecture.

I harken back to the early days of dual-mode handsets (DMH). The debate raged: IMS/SIP/VCC vs UMA/GAN. It’s taken 3 years for this to sort itself out in the market. Today, it’s clear that UMA/GAN and the RAN gateway architecture is the (only?) choice.

In the last 12 months, the debate started again, this time for femtocells. But just as quickly, a winner was declared: RAN gateway for HNB (a la GAN).

Friday, June 06, 2008

Softmobile client from Gemalto

A UMA-enabled softmobile client is an application which has been on the drawing board for some time. There has been interest, but it’s been slow in coming.

For those who don’t know, the UMA-enabled softmobile client is a mobile telephony interface application which runs on a laptop and connects to the mobile core network via UMA.

The application is ideal for operators to offer their subscribers another way to use their services, especially when traveling outside the home country. Typically when I travel to Europe, I connect my laptop at the hotel and fire up Skype. But if I were to have a softmobile client from my GSM provider T-Mobile, I could use it instead.

Back at MWC 08, technology supplier Vitendo announced they had developed a UMA-based soft mobile. In addition, Gemalto announced that Orange has selected their UpTEQ Smart Dongle. But the announcement said nothing about UMA.

Now on their web site, the UpTeq Smart Dongle lists support for UMA.

This week, Orange UK announced plans to ratchet up their services and alluded to, among other things, a “…new ‘totally connected’ product line – including laptops, to build on fixed and mobile broadband capabilities”

We’ll have to keep an eye out to see if Orange UK becomes the launch pad for the softmobile application.