Tuesday, May 26, 2009


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


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.