My Retrospective of Mobile World Congress
I set myself the almost impossible challenge of elaborating on only three takeaways from the CableLabs member tour of MWC 2016.
After more than six years from the introduction of 4G LTE, there are still major improvements to be made in speed. I saw 1 Gbps demonstrated with three carrier aggregation (20 MHz) and 4x4 MIMO in a smart phone. It is now possible to integrate four antennas into large form factor smart phones (particularly at higher mobile frequencies such as 3.5GHz where the wavelength is smaller). While in a real world situation of a fully loaded cell, this 1Gbps probably translates into user speeds of between 60 -100 Mbps and nevertheless represents speeds that are "good enough" for people who use only 10 Gbytes a month. Even a single carrier of 20 MHz can achieve circa 370 Mbps in a cell, which again probably translates to a real world speed of 22-37 Mbps per user. This is between 2-3x today's US average of the two faster LTE networks (12 Mbps). LTE is likely to be the basis of the future 5G network for the marco/micro cellular layers.
The second takeaway is how impressive 5G millimetric wave-band technology has become in just a few years from Professor Ted Rappaport's ground breaking characterization of a New York street small cell (CableLabs in its 5G research supports Ted's research center). Millimeter Wave allows us to liberate circa x25 the bandwidth currently used for mobile today, albeit in only small cells with radiuses of typically between 150-300m. This technology uses massive phase arrays of antennas, such as 512x512 MIMO demonstrated by Ericsson, which are possible because of the smaller wavelength of mm Wave compared with today's mobile. These steer pencil-like beams to individual users as they move around the small cell. The real challenge now is the cost reduction. However, it does mean that in 5G there will be a massive disparity between small cell bandwidths, with typically multi 10gbps per user, and the 5G macro/micro cellular layers with say a 100 Mbps. The evolving use cases will be key to the volume and hence potential cost reduction. Massive take up in cities would drive the case for fiber local loops in order to supply this demand! While the 1mS latency requirement in 5G is intriguing for new use cases, it alone could drive fixed-mobile convergence. All good news for cable. Find out more at the CableLabs Inform[ED] Wireless Conference in New York on April 13.
Third and Finally -
3.5 GHz shared access is rapidly progressing. With up to 150 MHz of free mobile spectrum, this is a godsend to fixed operators or MSO/MNOs who need to grow their wireless capacity of x1000 over the next decade. It supports 3GPP band 42&43 handsets, which will begin to become available in Asia later this year. Many companies such as Google are working hard to exploit 3.5GHz. This activity should help drive the development and deployment for handsets. The Wireless Innovation Forum, which CableLabs is a member, is driving 3.5 GHz shared access in the US. The rest of the world is watching us for this new model of spectrum use. There are great opportunities here for MSOs - the dawn of the age of the micro-mobile operator. Not to mention, there is great potential for MNO offload with neutral LTE spectrum!
And what for MWC 2017? Higher mobile speeds and early 5G deployments?
Impressions From Mobile World Congress
When I last left you at the end of my first day at Mobile World Congress, I had carried out a scouting tour.
We started Tuesday morning with four excellent presentations:
- From Qualcomm: Eduardo Esteves, VP of Product Management at Qualcomm, presented their silicon IC strategy. Their technology is at the heart of most of the world’s smart phones and wireless systems. Eduardo covered key developments in LTE-U, LAA and LWA which all use the 5GHz unlicensed spectrum with an anchor mobile carrier to carry the signalling traffic. This of course prevents a fixed operators from using any of these 3GPP mobile technologies. While both LAA and LWA use “listen before talk” which is a “good neighbor” to WiFi, LTE-U’s co-existence with WiFi is the subject of much debate where CableLabs represents the members’ interests here with the WFA. Clearly, Qualcomm’s new strategy is to develop new technologies which help fixed operators now with mobile technologies such as MuLTEfire, which uses LBT, and integrates the “LTE protocol,” without an anchor mobile carrier into the 5GHz band for smart phone use. This represents another major opportunity for MSOs for entry into mobile plays besides 3.5 GHz. The key here is the support from Qualcomm to help make this technology available in future handsets. In the afternoon, they launched the MuLTEfire alliance with key members such as Ruckus, Nokia and Intel. Qualcomm is also developing silicon in an alliance with Ruckus and Intel for 3.5GHz shared access with a range of strategic partners including Baicell, Google, Ruckus, and Netgear using USB dongle reference designs. See photograph below, where the white dongle is the 3.5 GHz eNodeB:
This demonstration shows how easy it to turn an existing device into a mobile base station.
Personally I find this photograph as one of the most important finds at MWC! It shows how fast technology can enable new business opportunities and models for fixed operators - The beginning of “micro-mobile operators.” Applications here are probably only 3+ years from commercialization.
2) From New Street Research: Spencer Kurn who is a founding partner of New Street Research presented a bullish strategy for the opportunities for the United States based MSOs in mobile which included both retail strategies and a wholesale play.
3) From Kumu: Joel Brand who is Vice President of Product Management presented the wireless equivalent of Full Duplex DOCSIS® technology based on original Stanford University research. They can double the capacity of mobile spectrum by implementing a complex algorithm that allows radios to both talk and listen at the same time using techniques similar to noise cancellation in headphones. It was great to see how this original research has lead to two key acheivements recently in both the cable and wireless domains for full duplex.
4) From Orange: David Baillergeau, who is head of Orange TV content strategy presented their plans around VR content and opportunities for next generation TV. This at a time where many vendors at MWC 2016 were demonstrating VR technologies. Our tour in the afternoon ended on the Samsung VR rollercoaster. Having recently been to Universal Studios, I found this VR simulation to be so close to the real thing that I was truly terrified!
The afternoon guided tour of MWC included visits to Qualcomm, Ericsson Huawei, Vodafone and Samsung. The first three majored on the consistent story of the march of mobile technologies from today’s 4G LTE toward 5G with aspirational 1Gbps speed in a cell to 10Gbps in millimetre 5G small cells as described yesterday.
Vodafone presented some very interesting applications of mobile technologies. I particularly liked how you can share a good 4G connection with your nearby neighbors who are in poorer reception by using a WiFi relay system. Vodafone uses an app you can download which does not affect your data allowance. They also extended this concept to the use of TDD spectrum for use in car mobile hot spots. The European 3G spectrum auctions of FDD spectrum also included a small amount of TDD. Modern smartphones now support these bands so why not use this ”free” TDD spectrum?
The tour ended at Samsung where we were shown the latest mobile devices which include the new Samsung Galaxy S7. Having been a life long Apple fan, I observed that Samsung may be winning the technology battle in almost every facet from the screen, to the camera, to waterproofing, to battery and applications. Their Samsung Pay looks remarkably like Apple Pay!
While focused on mobile technologies, many vendors such as Qualcomm and Intel were demonstrating WiGIG (802.11ad) which uses 60GHz millimeter wave technologies for short range transfers. It can achieve reliable download speeds of 3-4x faster than 802.11ac with the exhibitor demonstrating real transfers of HD content speeds of over 2 Gbps through wooden walls.
One last thing I achieved at MWC 2016 is fitness. I walked miles to see all the technologies in eight different halls each of which could house the whole US CTIA mobile show. I am looking forward to Day Three where the members will enjoy a session with the start-ups we identified. Scott Brown will cover the Up Ramp™ Fiterator™ accelerator while I have arranged a number of strategic vendors meetings in the mobile space for CableLabs’ mobile innovation strategy. Best keep that a secret for now!
First Impressions of the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona
CableLabs is hosting its first tour of Mobile World Congress (MWC) here in Barcelona, Spain. The MWC is the World’s largest mobile congress with attendance likely to top over one hundred thousand people from two hundred countries. It’s the place to be seen in the mobile world, which today is more than about handsets and networks. All the largest companies in telecom are here making major announcements.
I began the day scouting with the team to make sure that our tour would visit the best companies and technologies. It was an amazing day of observing technological breakthroughs that I would like to share.
Let’s first discuss speed. Many of the world's largest telecom vendors are presenting LTE technologies that will enable 1Gbps to your mobile phone - -that is if you are the only user in a cell close to the base station. To achieve these speeds, the headsets will need four antennas integrated into them. This is now possible with frequencies as low as 2.1 GHz in order to achieve 4x4 MIMO. It also means that you need to combine 3 mobile carriers with 256 QAM. What does that mean in a real world situation in a few years’ time? Well, the average speed today of LTE in the US of circa 10 MBps and these new technologies will take this to circa 60Mbps in a few years time with all the associated improvements in cellular backhaul. Qualcomm is making all this technology available in their new X16 Chip, which is being used by companies such as Ericsson, Nokia, Huawei and the rest - all here at MWC.
5G is based on the evolution of LTE with the use of millimeter waves to extend frequency operation of today’s wireless systems from sub-6GHz to 100GHz. Ericsson was demonstrating a 15GHz system with an 800Mhz channel bandwidth to support users with up to 20Gbps. Because of the smaller physical size of antennas at these millimeter wave frequencies, it is possible to build arrays of these for 256x256 MIMO and to steer these pencil-like beams to individual users. There are expectations of commercialization of this type of technology as early as 2020.
5G - IoT
5G is more than about speed. The evolution of LTE will support the aggregation of small channels for massive IoT applications which require relatively small bandwidths.
5G - 1mS Latency
One of the most exciting aspects of 5G is the requirement to support 1mS latency. Today’s mobile networks have latency of typically 60-100mS. Why is this new requirement important? The distance from the touch of an object to the sensation in your brain is approximately 1mS. With this target of low latency, it would be possible for people to see and react to events in real-time for critical control operations. Real-time control of cars driving at high speed would be possible across networks with no traffic lights!
It is not all 5G – WiFi 802.11ax
Qualcomm was demonstrating 802.11ax pre-standard WiFi. This takes the advances for LTE technology to WiFi to support multi-users in complex environments such as offices to maintain speeds in scheduled applications.
LTE coming to WiFi soon - MuLTEfire
Qualcomm is developing a new technology called MuLTEfire which will support LTE in the 5GHz WiFi with Listen Before Talk (LBT) as a good neighbor to WiFi. MSOs could then support LTE based services without the need of an anchor mobile carrier. Qualcomm has formed the MuLTEfire alliance for likeminded members to exploit LTE in the WiFi bands. Today this includes companies such as Intel and Ruckus.
3.5GHz mobile is on its way
The FCC is opening the 3.55-3,7GHz (LTE bands 42 and 43) within the next few years. People will be able to access up to 150MHz of free mobile spectrum for small cells. Qualcomm has formed an alliance with Ruckus to demonstrate a 3.5GHz LTE small cell base station in a dongle connected into what looked like a Google OnHub. 3.5GHz presents great opportunities for CableLabs MSO members seeking to become mobile operators.
If you told me as little as a few years ago that anyone could become a mobile operator in the near future, enjoying free spectrum with a base station on a dongle and a package core network on a laptop, or virtualized in the cloud, I would have not believed you. What I saw at MWC on the first day makes me feel that this well be real within the next 3+ years! CableLabs is uniquely positioned to work with our Members, some of who are gathered here, to drive innovation to make this happen.