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.”


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.
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


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.


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.


First, I’d like to apologize for my utter lack of blogging over the past couple of weeks (months…?). It has been a bit hectic getting ready for Mobile World Congress, as well as for some other cool things we have in the works (yes... that's a teaser).

At MWC, UMA was certainly not as hot a topic as femtocells, but it continues to be a successful service offer for the providers offering it. There are so many companies with UMA products that the community's become a 'who's who' of the mobile industry.

Orange was a major supporter of UMA and its own Unik service at MWC. Executive Vice President Yves Tyrode spoke during the "Mobile and the Converging World" session on Tuesday and reinforced important messages about Unik:

  • Unik generates higher household ARPUs
  • Unik subscribers churn less than average

But he also took the time to talk about why UMA is key for the company's mobile TV service. The service was launched with two new 3G UMA phones, the Sony Ericsson G705u and LG Secret KF-757.

  • UMA provides a seamless experience, switching the streaming TV signal from 3G to Wi-Fi.
  • UMA and Wi-Fi complement the 3G macro network with high bandwidth and a strong signal indoors.
  • UMA, with it’s SIM-based authentication, satisfies DRM requirements for delivery over Wi-Fi.
  • There are an increasing number of high-end multimedia phones with UMA.

In addition to the presentation, Orange hosted the 2nd Annual UMA Innovation Awards with an elegant affair on their stand. The awards recognized innovation and excellence in UMA-enabled handsets.

A highlight of the awards program was the Innovator's Award, presented to the company which has demonstrated unique innovation in UMA over the past year. This year’s winner was T-Mobile US for its highly successful fixed-line VoIP service based on UMA.

In wandering the Orange stand, the handsets on display were primarily Unik/UMA devices, again reinforcing the company's commitment to UMA.

One announcement the UMA community was hoping for was an unveiling of the HTC Jade, a phone rumored to have UMA support. Unfortunately, no such announcement was forthcoming. But CTIA is just around the corner…

Of course the Kineto stand had its regular display of all UMA-enabled products. With 24 handsets, three terminal adaptors and five handset platforms on display, it’s clear UMA devices are abundant.

There were plenty of rumors about Telia’s re-launch of their UMA service, as well as Orange’s push into the UK, Spain and Poland. There were even rumors about new UMA-enabled devices from Nokia, perhaps even N series phones.

In retrospect, 2008 was an excellent year for UMA. And all indications show that 2009 will, once again, exceed expectations.