Friday, December 04, 2009

A Meeting of the Minds

Every good cause needs a strong adversary. And Dean Bubley has kept me on my toes the past few years with his UMA bashing. It’s nice to finally be on the same side of the fence with our support for VoLGA.

Dean wrote a lively (as expected) blog post about VoLGA to correspond with his whitepaper focusing on the pitfalls of CS Fallback as an alternative to VoLGA.

Dean first wrote about VoLGA when the VoLGA Forum launched, and he expressed his belief that the technology could work. Here’s to hoping others in the marketplace sit up and take notice.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Breathe Easy with Wi-Fi

“I use my nose to breathe, but when I am feeling aggressive or excited, I need to use my mouth to breathe as well. Wi-Fi is the mouth – it helps you breathe better.” So said SoftBank Mobile Corp.'s Chairman and CEO Masayoshi Son (pictured below) in a keynote speech at the Mobile Asia Congress. (As quoted in Telecoms Europe.)

“Over 50% of our data traffic happens at home during peak hours, and smartphones have driven our data traffic up ten times,” he said. “We need Wi-Fi to serve that traffic and give our customers a rich media experience.”

And so he says LTE isn’t fast enough for SoftBank. Other highlights of his presentation, as per Telecoms Europe:

  • Mobile data usage in Japan is already generating enough ARPUs to offset voice ARPU declines. But current HSPA connectivity isn’t enough bandwidth to serve existing usage, and migrating to LTE alone won’t help.

  • Softbank intends to migrate to LTE, but it’s not good enough to support customers when they use mobile Internet at home.

  • By 2024, he claims smartphone-like devices will hold 32TB of storage capacity.

Softbank is already selling a line of Wi-Fi enabled handsets, including the iPhone and owns a fixed broadband network that would supply the backhaul for home Wi-Fi users.

This past summer, ABI Research reported Wi-Fi in smartphones will grow from a 45% attach rate in 2009 to a 90% attach rate in 2014. In-Stat recently forecast the percent of handsets with embedded Wi-Fi will more than double during the next two years and said there were 121 models of cellular/Wi-Fi handsets introduced in the first half of 2009, almost as many as were introduced in all of 2008.

Clearly, there are lots of powerful Wi-Fi proponents. The question is, how will operators respond and stay ahead of the curve?

Monday, November 02, 2009

Dual Mode is “In”

Dual mode is one of the cool kids; part of the ‘in’ crowd. So says In-Stat in its research report, “Wi-Fi in Mobile Phones: Dual Mode Becomes the In Thing.”

Being driven in large part by the Apple iPhone (as we all know), Wi-Fi handset shipments increased by more than 50% from 2007-2008, and keeps climbing.

In-Stat’s research found the following:
• Wi-Fi/cellular handsets are driving hotspot usage. For example, AT&T recently announced that sixty percent of all AT&T Wi-Fi connections in the third quarter of 2009 were made from smart phones and other integrated devices, up from 49 percent in the second quarter.
• The potential for voice over Wi-Fi is gaining popularity, as cellular/Wi-Fi phones become more pervasive and consumer familiarity with VoIP increases.
• The percent of handsets with embedded Wi-Fi will more than double during the next two years.
• There were 121 models of cellular/Wi-Fi handsets introduced in the first half of 2009, almost as many as were introduced in all of 2008.

Victoria Fodale, In-Stat analyst, explained:

“Wi-Fi’s popularity as a compatible cellular technology is tied to its ability to improve the user experience and also help maintain the quality of the cellular network. A Wi-Fi-enabled cell phone allows for free access to data, and it improves performance.”

I hate to say I told you so, but I told you so here, here and here. Read back through this blog; I’m sure you’ll find plenty more.

Friday, October 23, 2009

ATT working on making Wi-Fi a ‘more seamless experience’

As reported by Ed Gubbins from Telephony Online, AT&T’s John Stankey commented that the company is “starting down the path” of making Wi-Fi and licensed spectrum a “more seamless experience for customers.”

Sounds like UMA to me.

I think Mr. Stankey sees that Wi-Fi can be a quick (huge installed base) and low-cost (consumers already paid for Wi-Fi APs) way to increase capacity in the mobile network (by getting iPhones off macro) as well as improve coverage.

This would be a perfect complement to AT&T’s femtocell strategy as well.

Monday, October 19, 2009

More Femto Optimism

I’ve been buckled down recently and haven’t come up for much blog air. But this seemed like an important thing to highlight...

Promising news from Infonetics for those with a vested interest in the femtocell market. In an October FMC and femtocell report, the research firm says that combined, sales of FMC network element equipment and femtocell equipment are forecast to grow to $7.4 billion worldwide by 2013. The report also stated the number of 2G/3G femtocells is expected to increase five-fold from 2009 to 2010.


"So far, we have found no evidence of the economic downturn having a major impact on the pace of FMC rollouts, and it has had only a mild effect on the femtocell space,” said Stéphane Téral, principal analyst for mobile and FMC infrastructure at Infonetics Research and co-author of the report. “In the first half of 2009, we saw unabated UMA rollouts at T-Mobile USA, Orange, and Rogers Wireless in Canada, with Turk Telekom joining the bandwagon more recently."

Co-author Richard Webb, directing analyst for WiMAX, microwave, and mobile devices at Infonetics, added: “As for the femtocell market…..We expect at least a dozen major operators to launch in 2010, giving this market a kick-start.”

You can read the report highlights on Infonetics.com.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Bringing U-Verse to the iPhone

Here's an issue I’ve been puzzling over for some time.

U-Verse, AT&T’s slick new IP TV service, is available in my neighborhood. Unfortunately, I’m too far from the distribution point to get it at my house. But many of my neighbors have and love it.

And like in many suburban neighborhoods, iPhones are sprouting up like crazy.

So, I have often puzzled: why can’t one watch U-Verse TV on one's iPhone?

This is the one mobile TV service that makes sense to me. Not random programming at random times, and not 'video shorts;' actual content I select, available to me, when I want.

Let’s look at the problems and what the answers might be.

First, if there ever was a phone for watching TV, it’s the iPhone. It’s got a great screen with brilliant colors, and the landscape display with 16:9 aspect ratio is ideal for HD TV.

Next, if there ever was a service provider to deliver on the ‘three screen’ vision, it’s AT&T. They are the sole quad-play provider in my neighborhood, delivering voice, broadband, mobile and now TV via U-Verse. And it’s not just any TV. It’s a full streaming IP TV service.

AT&T is particularly proud of its ‘whole house’ DVR, where a single box can stream video to different TVs throughout the home. Surely with this advanced capability, it would be possible to stream the shows stored on the DVR to a ‘third screen’ (e.g. an iPhone).

So what’s the hold up?

I don’t work for Apple or AT&T, so I have no inside knowledge. But clearly the iPhone is capable of displaying a TV service. So perhaps the problem is getting the service to the iPhone. I refer to a paragraph in this article on Digital Trends:

“AT&T does say that, due to network congestion concerns, it does not want television signals traversing its cellular network to iPhones…”

Given the trouble AT&T has had with network congestion, this makes a lot of sense. But this is a paid TV service, not YouTube. There is distinct value in bringing the three screen vision to life for AT&T subscribers.

So what if the U-Verse service was delivered to the iPhone over Wi-Fi?

The U-Verse controller has built-in Wi-Fi, so by definition, homes with U-Verse are homes with Wi-Fi. Plus, using Wi-Fi would keep the TV congestion off the 3G network. Finally, people are likely to watch TV when they are stationary (at least in the US), so that covers places like the home, office and hotspots.

It’s probably more complicated that simply ‘streaming U-Verse over Wi-Fi.’ So what are some of the likely requirements for AT&T to deliver the U-Verse service over Wi-Fi?

  • User authentication. Just setting a ‘user name/password’ over the Wi-Fi network doesn’t provide enough authentication for a service as valuable as streaming TV. An ideal solution would validate the user based on the SIM credentials of the iPhone against AT&T’s database of U-Verse subscribers to ensure that members of a specific U-Verse household are actually the ones accessing the service.
  • Security. Delivering U-Verse over Wi-Fi means delivering it over the public Internet. Therefore, a true security solution must be employed.
  • Location. Undoubtedly there are would be location restrictions on where a user could actually watch their U-Verse service, probably within the US. Thus the service must be able to accurately identify the iPhone’s location (not too hard).

Well, as you might have guessed, there is already a 3GPP approved specification for solving this problem. The GAN specification was designed by mobile operators specifically to address the problems associated with delivering services over the public internet.

The 3GPP GAN standard provides:

  • SIM-based user authentication over Wi-Fi. A GAN client in the iPhone would use the iPhone’s SIM credentials to authenticate the device against AT&T’s HLR and establish a secure connection over the Internet (nice transition …).
  • IPSec VPN secure tunnel. GAN transports voice and packet (U-Verse) services between the iPhone and the AT&T network encapsulated in an IPSec VPN to ensure a secure connection.
  • Operator managed location access. With the iPhone, there are many ways to access and monitor the location, via cellular, Wi-Fi and GPS. When establishing the GAN connection, the operator (AT&T) is presented with all the data needed to decide to enable (or reject) service based on the current location of the handset.

There are so many datapoints, it’s absolutely a no-brainer for AT&T to add GAN to the iPhone.

There is no doubt that other operators with iPhones and their own streaming IP TV service (actually nearly any incumbent mobile/video provider) would benefit as well. If we get started now, maybe we can have it in time for Christmas.


PS - I blatantly copied an image and imitated prose from Dr. Suess's "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." This is one of my family's favorite Christmas books. I can identify with it because I often find that "...my puzzler is sore..." too.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Mobile VoIP Client Drives Vonage Stock

Vonage, a pioneer in the fixed line VoIP market, recently announced it was developing a downloadable client for the iPhone. Reuters reports the stock is up 35%. (CORRECTION: On Aug 17th, Vonage closed at $0.38, on Aug 27th, it closed at $1.99, it's up more than 500%).

There is growing interest in downloadable VoIP clients for mobile phones. Skype, the undisputed VoIP leader, developed a client for the iPhone which has been downloaded more than 4 million times.

Unfortunately, mobile operators typically have not been able to respond in kind. Therefore, high-value customers are putting these mobile VoIP clients on Wi-Fi-enabled smartphones and bypassing high international calling rates, and/or using the clients to bypass roaming rates when traveling abroad.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

“Mobile VoIP’s an Unstoppable Train”

I read Dan Jones’ Unstrung column this morning and was inspired to click through to the Unstrung Insider report, “Mobile VoIP: A Disruptive Service Goes Mainstream.”

We are hearing more and more about mobile VoIP, and it is becoming increasingly important to operators who realize they need services to compete with over-the-top providers, such as Skype, Google Voice, Truphone and others. Operators can choose to allow subscribers to download VoIP clients, or they can ban them, as AT&T has done with Google Voice, about which many are up in arms. Seemingly, this is not the way to go.

“But mobile VoIP is an unstoppable train due to consumer demand for less-expensive mobile services, enterprise demand for fixed/mobile convergence (FMC), and the transformation of the network to an all-IP architecture,” writes Research Analyst John Blau in the Unstrung Insider. “Operators will eventually jump on the mobile VoIP bandwagon – if just to gain some experience ahead of all-IP 4G.”

Operators must respond to consumer demand for lower cost mobile services. This is a song I’ve been singing for years now. Clearly, there are many approaches to accomplish this, and mobile VoIP is fast rising to the top of the list.

“Mobile VoIP represents a promising and natural step forward in the continued evolution of the industry,” Blau writes. “At the end of the day, neither consumers nor business people want to think about the data services they use. They simply want to reach into their pocket, pull out a device, and have near-instant access to friends and customers via voice and chat, as well as the ability to surf the Internet.”

It’s up to the operators to decide how subscribers will get what they demand.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Wi-Fi in Smartphones Growing

ABI Research’s latest FMC report forecasts handset voice connections for business customers will rise from 6.3 million in 2009 to more than 27 million by 2014. FMC voice connections include Wi-Fi FMC connections as well as cellular FMC connections using picocells and femtocells

As reported by Fierce Wireless, practice director Dan Shey said: "While femtocells have been all the rage, dual-mode cellular/Wi-Fi phones will also increase enterprise FMC voice access."

The report also stated Wi-Fi in smartphones will grow from a 45% attach rate in 2009 to a 90% attach rate in 2014. Business customers are the primary adopters of smartphones and with increased penetration of Wi-Fi smartphones, this change levels the playing field between cellular and Wi-Fi FMC.

A number of analyst firms have issued positive forecasts for the FMC market in recent months, including Infonetics.

The flood of smartphones on the market is enabling business customers to have their pick of exciting devices, features and apps, and there’s still lots of room to grow.

Buy the full report here.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Uncovering the Motorola Morrison

You’ve just got to love the mobile handset diehards who dig through FCC filings to see what the next big thing is going to be. The team over at Cell Phone Signal uncovered the scoop on the Motorola Morrisson, the first Android phone from Motorola. It has both 3G and WiFi, and is expected to be UMA ready for T-Mobile US' @Home service.
Per Cell Phone Signal, here are some specs:
* Tri band WCDMA/ HSDPA/ HSUPA 900/1700/2100
* Quad band GSM/EDGE 850/900/1800/1900
* Wi-Fi
* HandsFree Speaker
* Photo and Video Camera
* Video Player
* Stereo Bluetooth
* Music Player
* HTML Browser
* Android OS

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Pull up a chair, Wi-Fi

There’s a place for Wi-Fi at the table. So say mobile operators, who used to believe Wi-Fi was a major threat to their bottom lines, according to a recent article in Fierce Wireless.

“Fast-forward to 2009 and the number of connections on AT&T's 20,000-some domestic hotspots totaled 10.5 million in the first quarter. By next year, In-Stat predicts 20 percent of all WiFi chipsets will reside in mobile phones. And BlackBerry maker Research In Motion has promised to include WiFi in its flagship CDMA BlackBerry starting next year, a move that CCS Insight handset analyst John Jackson describes as "seminal."

CDMA is coming to the Wi-Fi game much later than GSM, but it appears to be jumping in with both feet. Qualcomm is currently embedding 802.11 on chipsets, and the demand, they say, is coming from the operators.

When reviewing the benefits of Wi-Fi, well that’s where offload becomes a key consideration for operators in that it can help them offload some of the data traffic from the mobile network. In the end, it provides a better user experience.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Sony Ericsson Dominates User Survey

In an informal survey on UMAToday.com, 48% of web site visitors who voted selected the Sony Ericsson G705u as the best UMA handset, as compared to the LG KF-757 with 26.27% and Samsung’s P270 with 25.33%.

Sony Ericsson launched its G705u in September 2008. Us UMA enthusiasts rejoiced because, not only was this Sony Ericsson's first UMA devices, it was one of the first 3G/UMA devices ever. Orange was the first to grab the phone for its Unik customers.

The G705u features include a 2.4-inch display with automatic screen rotation courtesy of an accelerometer, aGPS with Google Maps for Mobile, 1GB included M2 memory, built-in FM radio, RSS reader, and full HTML browser. It also features a 3.2 megapixel cam that can capture video and then upload directly to YouTube under a new partnership with Google.

There’s a new survey at UMAToday.com now. Let us know what you think about femtocells.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

What Are You Gonna Do Now, Mr. Operator?

Google Voice is coming out of beta, and the blogosphere is buzzing. Unfortunately for mobile operators, this is yet another over-the-top competitor that threatens to take over.

GigaOm’s Om Malik doesn’t mince words when he states:

“The Google Voice app essentially reduces the cell phone carrier to a dumb pipe.”

Google recently announced it will soon make its voice service widely available to users in the U.S. Mobile versions will allow users to manage Google Voice connections accessing and playing back voice mails, sending and receiving SMS messages and reading message transcripts, as well as making local and long distance calls from mobile phones. The apps will be fully integrated with contacts on the phone, so you can call via Google Voice straight from your address book.

Here's a screenshot from GigaOm:


In a Fierce Wireless article, Mike Dano purports that "[Google Voice] should give entrenched wireless operators pause. They've based their businesses on providing voice calling to millions, and if they can't at least stay on top of the innovations in that segment, what hope do they have of remaining relevant in a mobile broadband future?”

While FMC services like UMA and femtocells don’t provide all the bells and whistles of Google Voice, these services can go a long way for operators when competing with over-the-top services. One of the key features continues to be discounted international calling, and operators can bill calls made over Wi-Fi and/or femtocells at a dramatically reduced cost per minute, attacking one of the most important consumer issues.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

UMA Workaround?

When will we get UMA on the Android? I’m not the only one lamenting this sad state. Chatter on the Android Forums is chock full of techies hoping for a workaround or that T-Mobile will add it. Consumer demand is there, it’s time to get UMA on these new Android products.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Sprint Embraces Wi-Fi

Sprint in the US is not and has never been a UMA operator. Still, I’ve written about the company before. Now, Sprint is making things a little more interesting for the dual-mode handset market.

"Sprint is embracing WiFi in all its major devices going forward," Jeff Clemow, the carrier's director of business product marketing, was quoted in a recent article in Fierce Wireless.


"It is now a requirement for all our PDA equipment suppliers to include WiFi," Clemow said, pointing to the new Palm Pre, which sports Wi-Fi, as evidence of the carrier's new position. "Several quarters ago we made a conscious decision to require all of our PDA suppliers to support Wi-Fi."

We have to say it. Sprint is behind the eight-ball on this whole “Wi-Fi is the way thing.” RIM has been leading the device market with Wi-Fi (and UMA-enabled) BlackBerries for some time, and spoke about how it was inevitable back in May 2008. The whole European market’s been bullish on Wi-Fi for some time now. In a study published in summer 2008, the European Union reported that within the EU27, 46% of households with internet access have Wi-Fi.

Even with a femtocell service, Sprint is realizing the best way to provide offload is with Wi-Fi. Now let’s talk about UMA…

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A UMA-Enabled iPhone?!

Someone is making a compelling case for a UMA-enabled iPhone, and, surprisingly, it’s not me.

In a recent article in PC World, IT Manager Michael Scalisi writes that he likes the new iPhone 3GS; Apple did a good job. However, it doesn’t quite cut it for business users.

"...However, the lack of a keyboard, UMA and better battery features allows the competition an edge with business users.”

Michael proposes the 3GS ‘B’ – another version of the much-loved iPhone. The B stands for business. That, he says, is what will cut into RIM’s ‘remaining share of the smartphone pie.” And, it’s a good business decision for Apple.

Michael makes a compelling case. It’s what I’ve been dreaming of for quite some time.

The argument is simple and a win-win for Apple and business users. Michael sums it up:

“A business model iPhone with a full QWERTY keyboard, UMA and a longer battery life would eliminate some of the last reasons for BlackBerry users to abstain from switching to an iPhone.”

Monday, July 13, 2009

VoLGA Webinar Redux

Did you get a chance to listen in live to the webinar the VoLGA Forum sponsored with Light Reading? If not, the replay is available now.

The topic was "Solving the Voice & SMS over LTE Problem." The focus was on understanding the issues from an operator's perspective. The concept of VoLGA, or Voice over LTE via the existing 3GPP UMA/GAN standard, is to “elevate” voice and SMS services to become packet applications over LTE. Today there is no viable mechanism to support SMS over LTE. VoLGA can be used to deliver SMS over LTE and solve this immediate issue facing service deployment.

Gabriel Brown, a senior analyst with Heavy Reading who covers the LTE landscape, introduced the topic and discussed the current landscape. The bulk of the presentation was by Franz Seiser, head of core network architecture with Deutsche Telekom (formerly T-Mobile International).

Listen to it at your leisure. Interested in more about VoLGA? Visit the VoLGA Forum site and VoiceoverLTE.com.

Friday, June 26, 2009

T-Mobile's VoLGA Webinar

On Wednesday July 1, Franz Seiser, T-Mobile Germany’s head of core network technology, will present the company’s views on VoLGA.

You may have seen a snippet of Franz from the LTE World Summit last month in Berlin where is talked about the importance of SMS for data-only LTE deployments.

The webinar will be a good opportunity to understand what problems T-Mobile uncovered with the existing voice over LTE options and why the company is working within the VoLGA Forum to develop a new approach.

See you there.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

FMC in the UK: Game On!

Today Vodafone announced, during a presentation at the Femtocell World Summit, a new femtocell product for the UK market available July 1. No actual press release yet, but there are several reports from the event.

Details of the offer a bit sketchy, but according to the Register (and other insiders), the Vodafone Access Gateway will cost t £160 as a one-off price. Alternatively there are bundled options with specific phones which run a monthly fee of £15 – £30. There may also be an option for subscribers with high-tariff packages to receive a femtocell for free.

It’s not clear what subscribers get in return. Most obviously, a femto offers excellent indoor coverage. Perhaps users will also get some type of discounted calling when attached to the femtocell.

Of course, Orange has offered it’s Unique service, based on Wi-Fi, in the UK for some time now. While there has never been nation-wide promotion of Unique, it’s estimated the company has sold between 250,000 and 500,000 Unique-enabled devices.

This leaves T-Mobile and O2/Telefonica as the two operators in the UK without some type of Home Zone service bundle. Looks like it’s Game On! for FMC in the UK.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Nokia's VoIP Aspirations

Nokia’s lack of support for UMA in handsets, exacerbated by the latest research that they are 50% of the market for dual-mode Wi-Fi phones , has long been a frustration for the UMA community.

On the other hand, Nokia actively pushes their SIP client in devices, with a table listing devices and discussion framework.

The difference is that UMA/GAN is a technology which route VoIP calls to (and through) the mobile operator.

Whereas SIP is used by everyone but the mobile operator, primarily third party VoIP companies like Fring and Truphone.

Clearly Nokia believes in Mobile VoIP, but just not mobile VoIP for their primary customer base, the mobile operators.

All this got me thinking, why would Nokia work so hard to put SIP into their handsets when SIP isn’t used by any mobile operator today?

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Why SMS is critical for LTE datacards

There’s a good post on the Voice over LTE blog about the critical need to support SMS with LTE datacards and netbooks. While we often think of SMS as a consumer service, in reality, it was originally developed as an operational control channel for the mobile network to communicate with devices in the field.

The lack of a traditional SMS channel in LTE will hamper LTE datacards and netbooks. According to the post, there are many, many operator systems which rely on SMS to provide customer care, management and provisioning messages to the datacards, and the lack of SMS support in LTE is a serious issue.

Look for VoLGA to step up and meet this need.

Qualcomm get aggressive on Wi-Fi

There are several articles out today talk about Qualcomm’s new 802.11n chipsets. It appears there is one chip for the home router/gateway market, and a second targeting the embedded handset market. Glenn Fleishman comments that the products are timed right to support multiple HD TV streams in the home.

It’s good to see Qualcomm getting aggressive with Wi-Fi.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Mi-Fi

Having spent a week in Germany hearing about the need for speed and ubiquitous connectivity via LTE, I was intrigued by the headline “Will your mobile phone become a Wi-Fi hotspot?”

Several presentations during the LTE Conference focused on potentially billions of Internet connected devices (GSMA prediction was 50 billion), presumably enabled by low-cost, high speed mobile (LTE) access. The question, or problem, with this scenario is a natural need to separate a subscription from access. I might want my refrigerator on the Internet, but I don’t want to put a SIM in it or have it tied to my mobile service provider.

This is the beauty of Wi-Fi. I pay for a subscription, in the form of DSL service (and presumable LTE in the future), and any device with Wi-Fi/IP connectivity can use it.

Skip ahead to Mi-Fi, a new technology concept pioneered by chip-maker Atheros. The idea is that your mobile phone uses mobile data service (HSPA, LTE) on the WAN, and the Wi-Fi radio on the phone can set up a localized HotSpot. Now Wi-Fi enabled devices within proximity of your phone can get access to the Internet via the mobile broadband subscription.

Very clever.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Medium

During my trip to Berlin this week, I was faced with the question which has confounded American diners in Europe forever:

Do I want water that is ‘still’ or ‘with gas’?

Any time I’m at dinner and that question comes up, everyone glances around the table, wondering who will answer.

Yet on this trip, it was clear some entrepreneur spotted an opportunity in the confusion. For when the waiter saw the puzzled look on our faces, he offered “medium”.

Who new there was lightly carbonated water? A cross between still and sparkling. I wonder if they keep it around just for the Americans.

LTE World Summit

I’m just back from Berlin at Informa’s LTE World Summit event. There is no doubt that voice was a hot topic. Voice over LTE permeated all three days of the conference.

While IMS remains most operator’s long term voice strategy, it’s clear that a more immediate solution is required. To date a technology called CS Fallback has emerged as the primary ‘competition’ to VoLGA.

Marc Fossier, vice president for Orange/FT Group, articulated the general perception of CS Fallback, when he said in his presentation that “…2G/3G fallback is not a very nice solution, but it could be usable. That’s a vote of confidence!

Later in the conference, Franz Seiser with T-Mobile presented VoLGA. Mr. Seiser articulated the drivers for T-Mobile to push VoLGA. T-Mobile requirements for voice over LTE include:

  • Provide a good customer experience
  • Use the LTE radio
  • Build upon the existing Rel-4 CS network and investment
  • “do not touch the MSC”
  • Build upon fully 3GPP compliant Rel-8 EPC/LTE network
  • Reuse existing CS roaming/interconnect regime
  • Minimize impact on handset, especially the UI

For this, T-Mobile has ruled out CS Fallback. After this conference, I suspect other operators will as well.

CS Fallback

The primary alternative to VoLGA for voice over LTE is an approach known as CS Fallback. Defined in 3GPP release 8, CS Fallback is widely accepted as an interim solution to solving the voice over LTE ‘problem’.

As the name implies, CS Fallback ‘falls back’ from the LTE network to use the Circuit Services inherent in the 2G and 3G network to make and receive voice calls.

If this sounds counter-intuitive, that’s because it is.

LTE is the fastest, lowest cost access mobile access network the world has ever developed. Why would an operator deploy LTE and then *not* put its primary revenue generating service (voice) on it? Even worse: devise a system that forces users back to the previous network. It doesn’t make any sense.

With CS Fallback there are implications on the user experience with LTE. First, there is undoubtedly an additional delay in making a phone call. Switching networks takes time, and that’s added time the user is waiting to make or receive a phone call.

Switching networks is also when call drops tend to happen. So when’s the best time to hand over to another network? The exact moment the user knows they have a call coming in? Probably not.

Next, the phone needs to stop what it is doing on LTE (streaming a video? Internet radio? …) and re-connect to the 2G or 3G network. As a user, you need to decide to cancel your data session to answer the phone. Not exactly ideal if you bought the phone for high speed data. The data session may be able to hand back to the 3G network, but certainly all is lost if the phone falls back to 2G.

Thinking of using LTE for combinatorial services (voice and video)? Good luck. No voice, no combinatorial services on LTE. Everything will have to be on 3G.

Then there is the cost. To support CS Fallback, a new interface must be developed on the MSC. If there’s one thing mobile operators don’t want to do, it’s change the MSC. Not only are MSC upgrades expensive, they require a fair bit of testing and validation. The MSC is the heart of the core voice service so any change is approached cautiously.

As an interim solution, it’s clear that CS Fallback falls short.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Congratulations, Orange! Orange continues its successful service. The company’s Unik (UMA-based) service was awarded Best WiFi Product or Service from Wireless Broadband Innovation (WBI).

Unik was one of four finalists in its category and was selected as the winner by a panel of independent judges.

Orange has proven itself to be a big winner. Most recently, it received a Global Telecom Business Innovation Awards.

The UMA-based Unik service offers a low-cost, high-performance service at home. Orange was one of the first operators globally to bring UMA technology to its customers. Today, Orange continues to expand its offerings based on Unik, including offering multimedia services with its new 3G UMA platform. Unik has generated a 19€/month ARPU increase per household; and household traffic has increased 50 percent, while mobile calls from home have tripled.

Monday, May 18, 2009

VoLGA Forum Keeps its Nose to the Grindstone

The VoLGA-Forum continues its quiet preparation. Late last week on its site, the group published a draft of the Stage 2 / Architecture specifications.

This is the latest spec publication from a group comprised of leaders in the wireless industry seeking to enable mobile operators to deliver mobile voice and messaging services over LTE access networks based on the existing 3GPP GAN standard.

The group’s next step is to finalize these specs and move them from the draft category to final.

Friday, May 08, 2009

VoLGA = Operator’s response to Mobile VoIP

The ‘skype-hype’ is reaching a new level, and for good reason. By some accounts, Skype (through Skype Out or point to point) now accounts for 30% of the massive international calling market today.

And now VoIP is going mobile. Gartner just released a report suggesting that in the next 10 years, more than half of mobile voice traffic will be VoIP based, with much of that enabled through the introduction of LTE. It seems to me that launching an LTE service without voice is inviting mobile VoIP into your network.

This is why the voice over LTE ‘problem’ is so critical for mobile operators, and why more and more operators are investigating VoLGA.

VoLGA lets mobile operators leverage the voice infrastructure already in place to compete directly with Mobile VoIP. With VoLGA, mobile operators can weave their voice service into the myriad of Web 2.0 applications, leveraging the unbridled innovation of the Internet while embedding their core revenue generating service.

In addition, VoLGA lets mobile operators take their voice service beyond handsets, turning it into a VoIP object which can be downloaded to laptops, ultra-mobile PCs, mobile internet devices, or embedded into LTE home gateways.

From the beginning, the power of the UMA/GAN specification has been to extend the mobile operator’s core service to the internet. Now more than ever, mobile operators are turning to UMA/GAN to solve this problem.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Free UMA Service For Enterprises

As reported by Xchange magazine just a few minutes ago, T-Mobile is making some significant changes to its enterprise service offer.

First, enterprises with 100 or more lines of service from T-Mobile can receive free nationwide Wi-Fi calling with UMA-enabled Blackberries. No more $10/month for service.

In addition, T-Mobile is adding Research In Motion’s MVS product to its portfolio. MVS extends the PBX desk phone to Blackberries.

This is a significant step towards FMS in the enterprise. Employees can get a UMA-enabled Blackberry and receive free unlimited calling in North America, along with email service and potentially MVS. Sit at your desk, roam the halls, work from home, it's free calling when attached to Wi-Fi. Very compelling.

I'm sure the Yankee Group, who recently published a story about their move to enteprise UMA, is happy to hear about this development.

It looks like Enteprise UMA is picking up.



Is UMA Today Prophetic?

Stephen Lawson of IDG News Service wrote an article recently that was picked up by Network World and a few other publications. The article, IPhone Skype May Be Tip of the Iceberg for Carriers, delves into the challenges mobile operators are currently facing by the proliferation of over-the-top mobile VoIP services. For example, Skype, now available on the iPhone, has been downloaded more than 2 million times.

Flash back to the first UMA Today newspaper (now magazine) we published in January 2006. Look at this cartoon we drew up to illustrate the major hazard VoIP poses for mobile operators. So have we come full circle, have we not advanced at all, or is UMA Today simply a prophet?
All good questions, but the answer is not quite so mysterious. VoIP service providers have been and continue to be a key source of competition for operators. Some, like 3 UK, have chosen to give up their voice service to Skype, while others are using UMA to combat mobile VoIP.

UMA was originally envisioned as the operator’s response to Skype. Provide a VoIP service integrated with the mobile service, provide features that other VoIP services don’t have, and give consumers the best mobile experience for a great price over the Internet. It’s a story that doesn’t get old.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Sonus has a VAN (Controller)

A few weeks back, Sonus Networks announced that it had joined the VoLGA Forum. Keen UMA Today readers recall that the VoLGA is a voice over LTE technology based on the existing 3GPP GAN standards.

Joining a forum isn't that exciting, but there was a nugget in the release that I missed. In the announcement, Sonus actually announced that it’s MobilEdge product (part of its MobilEvolution strategy) can be used as a VoLGA Access Network Controller, or VAN-Controller.

Sonus MobilEvolution architecture supports joint interworking of packet and circuit-switched network elements, enabling mobile network operators to initially combine a circuit-switched core network for legacy services with an IP-based access and core network for multimedia services. The Sonus MobilEdge can be used as a VANC (VoLGA Access Network Controller) as defined through the VoLGA forum. The VoLGA forum has been set up to facilitate the delivery of voice and SMS services within the LTE environment from initial development.

I believe this is the first confirmed product announcement supporting VoLGA. It’s good to see vendors pledging support to the technology.

Monday, April 27, 2009

AT&T continues to roll with Wi-Fi

One of my favorite topics is AT&T and their Wi-Fi opportunity. AT&T has quickly become the largest Wi-Fi provider in the US. Today was another story.

FierceWireless reported that AT&T’s connections at its 20,000+ hotspot network were 10.5m for Q1 2009. That’s up from 3.4 million connections in Q1 2008.

Where are all these new connections coming from? Laptops? Maybe, AT&T does offer free Wi-Fi hotspot access to AT&T DSL subscribers as well as 3G/HSPA subscribers.

But more likely is that this was from iPhones, which now receive free Wi-Fi access hotspots.

It would be so easy to add UMA to all those Wi-Fi enabled devices…

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

UMA dominates, reports Infonetics

Infonetics releases fairly regular reports on the FMC market. In October 2008, Infonetics principal analyst Stéphane Téral, wrote that “UMA continues to dominate the worldwide seamless FMC market.”

In the latest March 2009 report, Stéphane is reporting much of the same. He wrote:

“…Orange and T-Mobile and [now] Rogers Wireless are driving the UMA market and do not plan to slow down their deployments; in fact, they see the slowdown as an opportunity to lure more FMC subscribers."


Infonetics also reported:

  • The FMC and femtocell equipment markets will thrive during the current economic downturn.
  • Combined, sales of FMC network element equipment and femtocell equipment are expected to grow at a healthy rate through the economic downturn and really take off in 2011, reaching nearly $8 billion worldwide by 2013.
  • Worldwide UMA network controller (UNC) revenue is forecast to grow at a 44% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) from 2008 to 2013.
  • The number of seamless FMC subscribers jumped 413% to 8.6 million worldwide in 2008 and is forecast to grow nearly 10-fold to 82 million by 2013.

Personally, I appreciate and second Stephane’s optimism about the UMA and FMC markets and think he’s right on track.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Lusting after UMA

Is HTC on a roll with UMA devices? First there was the Shadow, then the new Touch 3G. And now, rumors are circulating about the Snap, aka S522.

As usual, Engadget.com broke news of the phone, catching it in the FCC shuffle. Now, others are beginning to dream about it.

“What would make this really lustful interesting is if the T-Mobile version supported UMA, or Unlicensed Mobile Access,” wrote JKontherun. It’s certainly a possibility. It looks like device will support AT&T’s 3G network and also T-Mobile’s 1700MHz band.

We’re keeping our fingers crossed. The list of UMA-enabled devices is growing by leaps and bounds.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Yankee Group Saves with UMA

It was like music to my ears to hear consulting firm Yankee Group raving to BMighty.com about the cost benefits and other advantages of its recent switch to T-Mobile for all its corporate mobile phone usage. It’s nice to hear about the benefits of UMA from a third-party, completely objective source.

Yankee Group decided to take control of its disparate wireless plans and selected T-Mobile's service, with one of the key advantages being the potential for cost savings with using Wi-Fi, particularly during international travel (the other being coverage on the 27th floor of the Prudential Tower in Boston).

The company chose T-Mobile 8320 BlackBerry Curves that “support unlicensed mobile access (UMA) calling over Wi-Fi, so employees traveling abroad can avoid outrageous international roaming rates."

They decided to standardize on Blackberries for all employees, while benefitting from the UMA capabilities on that device. The money saved on international calling far outweighs the device expenditures.

Beware of international calling and international roaming charges, Yankee Group recommends. “These charges can be enormous. Use Wi-Fi whenever possible.”

It’s just like I’ve been saying.

It’s true, Yankee switched to T-Mobile for a variety of reasons, and the company experienced tremendous savings in many areas. If you’re still not sure how UMA can work in the enterprise, read this article for some good ideas.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Rumored Blackberry Devices In The Works

Today, the BoyGenius reported on a few new RIM BlackBerry products that may be in the works. It seems that RIM continues to be bullish on UMA, along with Wi-Fi. There is even rumor of a version of the Bold with UMA.

There is always more to look forward to with RIM! The company has provided plenty of fodder for our news machine in the past.
In my Mobile World Congress wrap-up post, I lamented the fact that HTC did not launch its ‘Jade’ at the show, as many had predicted they would. Never fear, the HTC Touch 3G (aka Jade) is finally here.

Today, Orange is offering it to subscribers, and I’m sure other operators are waiting in the wings.

Engadget was right on track when it reported on the phone way back in September 2008. It’s a quad-band, UMA-enabled, 3G smartphone that features the next-generation TouchFLO™, HTC’s touch-responsive interface. It has integrated GPS and a 3 megapixel camera. It measures 102x53x14mm and weighs 96 grams. It supports video, has a USB connection, 6.5 hours of battery talk time and comes in a variety of fun colors.

These UMA-enabled devices….they just keep coming.

VoLGA Quietly Posts Stage 1 Requirements Document

It appears that the VoLGA-Forum has quietly posted the first document in a set of VoLGA specifications. Check it out here.

It looks as though Architecture (Stage 2) and Protocol (Stage 3) documents will be forthcoming shortly.

VoLGA, which stands for Voice over LTE via Generic Access, looks to use the existing 3GPP UMA/GAN specification as the basis for resolving the problems associated with delivering voice over LTE.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

AT&T's Plan to Drive Economic Growth

On March 10th, AT&T announced its plan to rescue the US economy… I mean “to drive economic growth” through increased investment in their network.

According to the press release, “AT&T plans to invest $17 billion to $18 billion in 2009, in line with its 2007 capital expenditures of $17.7 billion and expected to exceed the planned investment of any other U.S. telecom company.”

Wow.

So, what’s AT&T going to spend on? They list four items:

  • Expanding 3G service
  • Increasing HSPA data rates
  • Customer trials leading toward general availability of 3G femtocells
  • Continued expansion of AT&Ts leading Wi-Fi footprint

So the company is going to invest in two in-building wireless technologies? Wi-Fi and Femtocells.

Followers of this blog know that I often wonder why AT&T doesn’t just use their enormous presence in Wi-Fi (already in U-verse, ships with 2Wire DSL modems, AT&T DSL subscribers already get free access to +20,000 HotSpots from Wayport/ Starbucks / McDonalds and more) to do a simple UMA dual-mode phone service.

Not that femtocells are bad, but when probably 50% of AT&T’s 15 million DSL households already have Wi-Fi, and they are the biggest Wi-Fi hotspot provider in the US, and they have an exclusive on the most popular Wi-Fi enabled phone ever, it just makes sense.

Monday, March 23, 2009

UMA Today Q&A: RIM on its strategic vision for Wi-Fi and UMA

RIM has maintained a long-term commitment to UMA technology and today, and supports UMA and WiFi in a wide range of industry-leading products for both consumers and business users. Even when Wi-Fi was considered by some to be a threat to the mobile operator, RIM saw an opportunity to focus on offerings that benefit both end users and wireless carriers. Below is an excerpt of a recent interview in UMA Today Magazine with Mike McAndrews, RIM’s VP of product marketing, who shares his insights on how Wi-Fi and UMA fit into the company’s strategic vision for the future…

UMA Today: Have operators’ opinions towards Wi-Fi changed?

McAndrews: I’ve seen a definite trend in the last few years towards Wi-Fi adoption by many wireless carriers around the world. This trend is fueled by 3 things:
1) Wi-Fi popularity with end users
2) Increasing smartphone functionality, which leads to greater wireless data usage
3) Many carriers now see Wi-Fi as an enabler to their overall strategy. As a result, Wi-Fi is being increasingly requested by wireless carriers in new BlackBerry smartphones…

Some of our carriers have created compelling voice service plans built around UMA. Other carriers have focused on bundling convenient hotspot access as part of a BlackBerry service plan.

UMA Today: How does UMA technology fit into RIM’s strategy?

McAndrews: UMA is a natural extension of what we’ve been doing with Wi-Fi. While Wi-Fi support makes it possible for customers to access their BlackBerry data, the addition of UMA support gives customers access to voice calling over Wi-Fi as well.

UMA is a technology that benefits both mobile operators and end users alike, and we’re glad to support it. To date, we’ve seen enthusiastic support for UMA from some of our carrier partners, including Rogers Wireless, T-Mobile US and Orange.

UMA Today: What is RIM’s outlook for Wi-Fi and UMA in handsets in the future?

McAndrews: Wi-Fi is an important part of our product roadmap – its proven to be a technology that benefits both our carrier partners and end users. Wi-Fi is popular with both business users and consumers. While Wi-Fi cannot replace the wide area coverage provided by a mobile network, it is becoming more commonplace….

RIM’s Wi-Fi architecture is designed to allow the handset to connect to the best network available – either the mobile network or Wi-Fi – with no user intervention required…This seamless connectivity is an important element of making Wi-Fi truly easy to use.

RIM remains committed to UMA, and there are certainly more products on the horizon.


To read UMA Today’s full interview with RIM’s McAndrews, click here.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Guest Blogger: Peter Jarich, Current Analysis

Today, I'm pleased to introduce our guest blogger, one of our industry's leading analysts.
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Guest Blogger: Peter Jarich
Research Director, Telecom Infrastructure, Mobile Networks and Carrier Core with Current Analysis

Sizing up the VoLGA

Emerson said, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” In my case, it’s just a way to get through my job. With new technologies and technology initiatives emerging on a weekly basis, analytical crutches are one of the few ways I can figure out what makes sense. Take a few of my favorite questions.

Does it Meet Real Operator Demands?
There’s no shortage of new (and old) technologies being sold as telecom “solutions.” Likewise, there’s no shortage of operators willing to explain their network and service pain points. It’s not too difficult to line these up against one another and figure out which technologies are solutions in search of a problem.

Do Vendors Support It Against Their Strategic Interests?
This is really a subset of the last question. Anytime a vendor endorses something that runs contrary to its core business objectives – think macro network RAN vendors selling femtocells or most any vendor supporting TD-SCDMA – you know there’s a clear operator requirement forcing them in that direction.

Does It Have a Cool Name?
We all know a cool name can carry a mediocre product. Who doesn’t think that Apple’s iPhone would have sold millions even it wasn’t so cool? At the other end of the spectrum, technologies that can overcome the curse of a bad name (DSL, HSPA, most Nokia phones) must be doing something right.

So, where does the new VoLGA initiative fit in?
Based on all the conversations at Mobile World Congress, voice over LTE is a clear operator hot button; given the money voice earns for them, that’s not too surprising. And, based on the fact that key VoLGA supporters have been trying to sell IMS for years, it’s fair to say that their support is likely being driven by more than a heartfelt love of GAN. And the name? An acronym with an embedded acronym recalling a Russian river? That fact that any operators can get past the name is a testament to its importance.

All joking aside, there can be no question that any operator planning an LTE rollout has the question of voice support on their mind; even if voice can be relegated to legacy 2G and 3G networks, an ideal world involves operators converging multiple services on one network. And while a single voice-over-LTE solution would best support scale, the fact remains the diversity of cellcos demands a diversity of LTE voice solutions – including solutions deliver consistent voice services based on a current, proven switching investments.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A Ringing Endorsement for UMA

I’m not sure there is a more respected endorsement to be had.

Technology evangelist and on-line news pioneer Om Malik is the founder and visionary behind the GigaOM Network of sites which (according to their site) provides one of the leading daily online news reads for the key influencers in the emerging technology market place.

On Monday, while I was busy with the VoLGA Forum announcement, Om wrote a personal piece about his RIM Blackberry 8900 on T-Mobile. He didn’t have to do it, even though I’m sure he’s asked millions of times what phone he uses. But it was interesting to read his assessment.

I agree with his position that the 8900 is “arguably the best BlackBerry on the market today.” But Om also takes time to point out that he appreciates the UMA support, and gives the 8900 an overall ranking of 8 out of 10 as a phone.

I believe there is a very strong UMA following in the market. I see it in the comments, even in the GigaOM post, of people talking passionately about UMA, Wi-Fi and T-Mobile.

UMA Jumps Into LTE

On Monday, the UMA/GAN standard moved into its next phase with the announcement that the ‘VoLGA Forum’ is basing its work on the spec . The forum states that it is “comprised of leaders in the wireless industry seeking to enable mobile operators to deliver mobile voice and messaging services over LTE access networks based on the existing 3GPP GAN standard.”

I say GAN has moved into its next phase because, as a technology, this is nothing new. GAN has been delivering ‘voice and messaging services’ (and more) over fixed-line IP access networks for some time. The forum’s announcement simply acknowledges that there is a viable mobile IP access network in the form of LTE requiring a similar service.

While the technology is similar, the actual application is quite different. Whereas traditional UMA services like dual-mode phones and femtocells address the FMC segment of the market, the concept of VoLGA is to have a VoLGA client on every LTE phone.

Basically VoLGA is the enabler for making phone calls over LTE.

Based on posts by Martin Sauter and my good buddy Dean Bubley, it’s clear there is a problem with the ‘status quo’ approach for voice over LTE. Martin Sauter’s comment:

Over the past two years I've written numerous posts about different proposed options on how to do voice calls over LTE and the lack of a simple and straight voice solution. This is, in my opinion, a serious threat to the success of LTE if not resolved soon.

I’m sure we have not heard the last of the VoLGA Forum.



Wednesday, March 04, 2009

UMA + RCS

In the early days of the UMA Today blog, there was much time and energy spent on articulating how IMS for applications other than telephony is actually complementary to UMA.

IMS, of course, means a lot of things to a lot of people, but for mobile operators today (UMA’s target audience), IMS is typically viewed as a means to deliver new revenue generating services above and beyond standard voice and SMS.

In response to this, leading operators and vendors intent on IMS tried to pare down the ‘Immense Menacing Squid’ as some used to refer to it, into pre-packaged set of applications that could be quickly and easily digested by a mobile operator.

The result is RCS, or the Rich Communications Suite. Announced about 6 months ago, RCS looks to wrap up IMS-based ‘rich call’ services, ‘rich’ instant messaging and enhanced address book services together into a single client that can be used on handsets today.

The implication of *today* is that it must be able to run over today’s 3G network, which in turn implies that it will use the existing circuit services network for voice, not a new IMS/SIP based telephony (a la MMTel). It stands to reason that if RCS works with standard 3G telephony, then it should work fine with UMA.

So what does all this pre-amble lead too?

I was on the GSMA site checking out the RCS section, when I happened across the release 1 specifications. I downloaded the “Technical Realisation v1.0” document and was quite surprised to see this:

Along with this text in section 2:

Note about Generic Access Network (GAN)

Generic Access to A/Gb interface provides a secure mechanism, using the SIM credentials, to access the mobile operator core network (both packet and circuit switched) using any unlicensed spectrum technology via a generic IP network. In fact, access to mobile operator core network via GAN is fully transparent from RCS perspective, and as such it does not lead to any particular limitation or impact from service point of view.

As a consequence, from access network perspective, this [GAN] technology is fully part of the scope of RCS, whatever Release is addressed, irrespective of the release.

Hey! Someone has seen the light. There is now proof from the GSMA that UMA and IMS are complementary, not competitive, technologies, at least when it comes to new service delivery.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Skype on N97: No Thanks.

When I first saw the announcement that Nokia was going to bundle Skype into the N97, I was a bit surprised.

If you recall, it was barely 6 months ago Nokia said they were pulling the VoIP hooks out of the S60 OS.

And now they are going to actually put a full Skype client bundled into the device? Wow.

I think mobile operators have barely tolerated the fact that users may be able to download a VoIP client onto an open platform phone. But when a major vendor comes out and says they are going to wrap a competing voice service...I think the FierceVoIP headline says it best: “Skype on Nokia N97 invokes wrath of carriers.”

What is going on in Finland? These seem like the moves of a desperate company that can’t decide on a strategy. Typically, Nokia charts a course and executes it. But when it comes to VoIP, it seems like they can’t decide in what direction to go.

I know I’m a bit biased, but this seems easy to me:

Nokia, your bread gets its butter from mobile service providers. In turn, the primary revenue for mobile service providers is voice and SMS. Bundling a service onto your product that directly competes with your customers' primary revenue generating service (or even providing the hooks for it) seems like a bad idea.

If only there was a VoIP service that was designed BY mobile operators FOR mobile operators. Hummm… what was the name of it again???? It’s starts with a U…

Rather than fighting against the wishes of the mobile operators, why don’t you give them what they want? Put UMA on all those cool N and E phones that already have Wi-Fi.

SIDE NOTE:

In a discussion I had at MWC on this very topic, an analyst told me they thought Nokia’s long-term secret plan is to use its service portal Ovi as a VoIP hub, basically competing directly with its customers.