Friday, February 29, 2008

TelecomTV Gets UMA/GAN

In a rather odd bit of coverage, TelecomTV today posted a piece on UMA/GAN. Remarkably, the post correctly positioned the technology as supportive of both ‘that dual-mode thing’ as well as femtocells.

Now that’s a refreshing surprise. I must say I’m getting sick and tired of the ‘UMA vs Femtocell’ articles. I thought by now everyone knew that UMA is the leading technology powering femtocells. If we need a comparison, let is be ‘Wi-Fi versus femtocells’.

To that end, I think the video interview TelecomTV did on Wi-Fi versus Femtocell was more interesting (in the clip titled ‘broadband down the toilet’, at the 2 min mark).

Anyhow, I suspect the piece came from the announcement that Iu mode was finalized in the GAN working group. But after reading the piece, I think the goal was point out that consumers don’t buy technology or acronyms. Okay then.

Friday, February 22, 2008

T-Mobile Goes VoIP!!!

In one of the worse kept secrets in the UMA industry, on Thursday T-Mobile US announced a new “Talk Forever” fixed line home phone service. The service uses the existing UMA network infrastructure to provide fixed line VoIP service in the home.

The application is similar to Vonage, where subscribers port their fixed-line number to a new provider (previously Vonage or now T-Mobile). The subscriber gets a terminal adaptor for the home. The terminal adaptor is used to connect to the existing fixed line/cordless phone in the home and route calls over IP and broadband.

For T-Mobile, this is an extremely low cost way to drive more fixed-mobile substitution (FMS). For a variety of reasons, there continues to be consumer preference for fixed line phones in the home. A mobile-only operator would typically be locked out of providing fixed line services. Now with the flexibility and investment protection of UMA, T-Mobile is able to extend their existing mobile core network to provide fixed line VoIP.

Certainly for Vonage, this is a bit concerning. Unlimited calling plans from Vonage are $25/month. T-Mobile is dramatically undercutting the market with a $10 offer. And just recently I signed up for a flat rate fixed line service from ATT for $40/month. Even Comcast, the ‘leader’ in fixed line VoIP in the US is offering an introductory rate of $29.99/month (normally $39.99).

As pointed out in several articles, T-Mobile now offers a LOT of calling for very little money. With a $40/month mobile plan (which offers 1,000 mobile minutes, plus unlimited nights/weekends), it is possible to add unlimited mobile calling from Wi-Fi (home, office, international) for $10 (HotSpot @Home). Or for $10 add unlimited fixed line calling from home. Or bundle it all together for $60 and get more calling than one person could ever use! Is this why AT&T and Verizon Wireless launched ‘unlimited’ mobile calling plans?

PS – the service uses the Linksys WRTU54G gateway/router.

PPS – will they add a UMA-based soft mobile client as well?

Congratulations T-Mobile.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

3G 'dual-mode' phones are on the way

As the dual-mode handset (DMH) market continues its explosive growth, the focus for devices in 2008 has started to shift. With nearly 20 UMA-based dual mode 2G phones, there’s now solid demand for UMA-based 3G devices.

One of the most exciting announcements at the Mobile World Congress this year was platform support for UMA-enabled 3G/2G/Wi-Fi handsets. I guess we can’t call them ‘dual-mode’, perhaps we’re going to have to move to ‘multi-mode’ devices.

There were two 3G platform announcements:

First, NXP, a long-time supporter of UMA-enabled platforms announced support for a 3G/UMTS version of their Nexperia product line. NXP is supplier to UMA-device powerhouse Samsung, so look for 3G handsets from them in the future.

Second was an announcement that Qualcomm and Kineto have developed a UMA-enabled version of their 72xx series platform. Qualcomm’s market position makes this a very strategic announcement, opening up the potential for UMA-enabled devices from many different handset manufacturers.

This is a 'rolls down hill' type of business. Operators decide what they need. They put pressure on their handset suppliers. The handset suppliers turn to their platform suppliers to get platforms to meet those requirements. The platform suppliers work with the component providers to develop sub-systems to meet the need.

It's clear that demand from the top continues to be strong for UMA-enabled handsets.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

UMA-based Femtos on Trial

One of the big news items of this year’s Mobile World Congress (MWC) was femtocells. As reported here, there was a ‘femto frenzy’ building in the market. Then on Monday, two UMA-based femtocell trial announcements hit the wire.

The first was O2, announcing they are trialing a femtocell system from NEC. This was on the heels of NEC announcing their femtocell solution.

Second Telia announced plans for a femtocell trial to complement their Home Free dual-mode handset service. I recommend clicking through on the link, it’s an excellent way to work on your Swedish. Telia has been very aggressive in rolling out Home Free across Telia properties and has used a UMA-based solution from Motorola for some time.

I think UMA is starting to have an effect on the femtocell market. Clearly operators see the advantages (fastest time to market, fastest time to standards, robust, proven, investment protection for new FMC applications) and I’m certain there will be more UMA-based femtocell announcements to come.

Motorola #2

The rumored Motorola ‘Marco’ handset has come to life! Now known as the Z6w, this is the second UMA-enabled Motorola handset. No word yet on which operator will be the first to put it into commercial deployment, but T-Mobile is a good guess.

This is a welcome development for UMA. Motorola has been languishing in the dual-mode/UMA market and this is a stylish offering. With any luck, there's more where this came from.

UMA Innovation Awards

One of the highlights of the Mobile World Congress was the UMA Today Innovation Awards. The response from the operator and vendor community was stronger than expected and really put the pressure on the judges to sort out the winners.

The program was sponsored by Orange and UMA Today. Orange further agreed to host the presentation ceremony on their stand at the MWC. Done with typical French flair, Orange made the event a classy affair with champagne, hors d’oeuvres (or was it cava and tapas?) and great hospitality.

Awards were presented to leaders in the UMA market. In the end, Orange was honored as “Most Influential Company”, and I can assure you it wasn’t simply because of the champagne!

Congratulations to all the winners. And for those who didn’t win or didn’t enter, don’t worry, there’s always the 2009 program.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Acme joins the UMA team

A trend in the industry is to integrate higher level security capabilities (VPN tunnels) into network interface points such as Session Boarder Controllers (SBCs). Picking up on this trend is Acme Packet who announced earlier this week a new line-up of products to meet the security needs of a UMA-enabled network. The products blend Acme's traditional SBC with the functionality of a UMA security gateway (SeGW).

Unfortunately, due to the late announcement, we weren’t able to get them on the list of UMA companies at MWC, but stop by to see them in Hall 4.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Femto's frenzy

In the drive up to Mobile World Congress, there has been ‘femto frenzy’ of press releases. A large chunk of the news has been from UMA-based femtocell players.

Sensing an opportunity to play a significant roll in the market, UMA-based femtocell manufacturers have been aggressive about making the case for UMA as the ‘most viable’ path to standardization of a RAN Gateway/ ‘Iu-over-IP’ architecture.

There are rumors that there may be some operator announcements at MWC regarding UMA-based femtocell trial activities. We’ll be sure to update the site as the news comes in.

  1. NEC and Kineto propose approach for rapid femtocell standardization
  2. Motorola announces a family of femtocell solutions
  3. NEC and NETGEAR team to develop an integrated 3G access point for femtocell solution
  4. Kineto ready to support commercial femtocell rollouts
  5. NETGEAR and Kineto to showcase 3G femto home access solution at MWC
  6. NEC announces trial of femtocell solution with mobile operators
  7. Kineto and Ubiquisys announce successful interoperability testing between Zonegate and UNC
  8. Femto Forum steps up drive for harmonized network integration

As one insider told me that only "...relentless evidence of practical deployments and practical challenges overcome" will convince the market that UMA is the most viable technology for a femtocell /network integration standard. This looks like the start of some relentless-ness.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Fusion fizzles

[UPDATE] As they say, the rumors of Fusion's demise were exaggerated, prompting a story titled "BT Forced to Defend Fusion" from Total Telcoms. I do believe that BT has some challenges related to Fusion, but I'm glad BT continues to work through them.

Two years ago I wrote a post called “Why Fusion hasn’t fused”.

Here we are, two years on, and it looks like BT is coming to a similar conclusion. As reported in the Daily Mail, BT will stop marketing Fusion to consumers.

Many will want to jump to the conclusion that this signals the demise of dual-mode handset (DMH) services in general. Absolutely not, DMH is on fire and continues to expand. I happen to think that this action simply confirms what we’ve all known, that DMH services which focus on the fixed network are doomed from the start.

Let me explain.

Fundamentally DMH is about fixed-to-mobile substitution (FMS). But as a fixed operator, what you really want is MFS, or to pull minutes *off* the mobile network and on to the fixed network. It's fighting the tide.

In the case of BT, any voice minute that moved onto the mobile network cost them more because it was carried through their Vodafone MVNO rather than their own discounted fixed line network.

The value proposition and the service objectives of DMH are completely mis-aligned for fixed operators. Another reason why VCC, primarily for fixed operators, will never get off the ground.

After that, there are several reasons why fixed operators in general will always have a very tough time with DMH:

- No retail presence. Who buys a phone today without first picking it up and touching it (I guess about 45,000 people in the UK!). Last year I think BT did develop a retail push with a UK outfit, but if you're not 'retail savvy' already, the mobile market is extremely competitive place to learn.

- Because they have 0% mobile market share, none of the handset manufacturers would do any custom/special work for them. Again a problem for all fixed operators (I'm thinking cable companies now, not so much a problem for an integrated operator like AT&T). Therefore, they never got leading edge handsets. Orange can push Nokia or Samsung to develop DMH product, but BT, no way.

- BT is not considered a 'mobile' company. But DMH is a mobile phone service. So they had a giant market perception problem to work through, trying to convince consumers that given the choice of getting mobile service from Vodafone, T-Mobile, Orange, O2 and BT, that good 'ole BT was the right choice. This is going against the grain of years of existing market perception, it's a billion $$ public relations campaign, not a couple of bill inserts and some print advertising.

I think these are all the same reasons why DT's T-One flopped. I think this is why we don't hear a word about Embarq's service in the US.

Notice none of the problems are attributed to technology. I think we all know UMA works.

I think any DMH service which caters to the fixed side of the house is doomed from the start. This is about FMS.

Unfortunate, but not surprising.