Tuesday 26 June 2018

Drones, UAVs, LTE & 5G

Its been nearly couple of years since I was involved with EE/BT for their Airmasts project. Details here with some good links in that post too. Since then many other operators have been involved with something or other to do with drones, blimps, balloons, etc.

Here are a few recent ones that I found interesting

KT has unveiled its 5G emergency network service called Skyship that uses airship drones to search for survivors in the aftermath of disasters.

KT collaborated with local drone maker Metismake to design the helium gas-based airship, which has an attached pod with propellant, network module, high-resolution camera, and a trunk that can deploy smaller drones to the ground.

It was designed in NACA airfoil and can maintain stable flight in 13 metre-per-second winds. It has a maximum speed of 80 kilometers per hour and can fly up to six hours.

More details on ZDNet here.

KDDI announced today that it has successfully completed a live 4K video transmission test using a drone that leverages 5G technology. The test was carried out in an effort to realize consumer services that can benefit hugely from drones, such as public safety and surveillance, agriculture monitoring and disaster response. The test, the first of its kind to have taken place in Japan, was carried out in cooperation with Nakao Research Laboratory of the University of Tokyo, TripodWorks and Prodrone. 

The test area was set up in the university's Kashiwa campus using Samsung Electronics' 5G end-to-end solutions including 5G AU, 5G core and 5G tablet, and for video streaming 28GHz frequency were used. Using a 5G supporting device, the video shot in the air using the 4K camera mounted on the drone was uploaded in real time.

More details on Netmanias here.

Looking at Drone communications over LTE / 5G, Sequans communications have recently published a white paper looking at how LTE would be a communication technology of choice for drone communications over long distances. There are some issues to resolve including how to get reliable signal in the drones as they fly above the typical coverage zone of an LTE antenna.

Details here: http://lteanddrones.com/

Ericsson had done some similar study and published a whitepaper on this topic last year. Details available here but the video below is worth a watch too.

Wednesday 20 June 2018

Huawei's RuralStar: Taking the fight to low cost small cell vendors

Last year, Huawei announced their small cell / mini-macro product for rural and urban areas. The following is from their initial announcement:

Huawei’s RuralStar base station can reduce the time to recover the investment to less than five years, compared with more than ten years for traditional rural sites Zhang said. The new site cuts power consumption by 85 per cent and lowers total costs by 70 per cent, the company said.

The vendor is having discussions with a number of operators in Africa and Asia about deploying RuralStar sites. Zhang is optimistic there will be strong demand, but noted the new site won’t represent a large percentage of total base station production.

The Huawei executive said urban areas also face many challenges in deploying base stations including high rental fees, difficulty in finding appropriate sites and slow deployments, which can take at least one month.

To overcome these, Huawei developed PoleStar, which can be installed on lamp posts and a variety of other locations in a matter of hours. Zhang said operators can take advantage of more than 1 billion lamp posts, 10 million bus stops and 10 million phone booths around the world to deploy new base stations more cost effectively.

A PoleStar deployment in Thailand using existing traffic and light posts significantly reduced the site footprint, which led to a 66 per cent cut in rental costs. 

It soon became RuralStar 2.0:

Huawei released RuralStar2.0, an innovative site solution in terms of transmission, infrastructure, base station design, and energy. This solution addresses increasing demands for voice and data services from the unconnected and increases operator ROI for rural network deployment. This solution fulfills the following rural MBB requirements: 2G, 3G, or 4G rural MBB networks providing rates of over 10 Mbit/s at cell edges and cell coverage of 5 km; Extended 2G and 3G coverage at a maximum distance of 60 km from the nearest tower-mounted site, providing voice and data (over 1 Mbit/s at cell edges) services and cell coverage of 5 km.

In terms of transmission, RuralStar2.0 adopts non line of sight (NLOS) wireless backhaul, which eliminates rental costs of transmission equipment and significantly reduces OPEX compared with satellite or microwave transmission. NLOS wireless backhaul supports multi-hop backhaul, which allows for a maximum distance of over 60 km from the donor base station, extending network coverage. In terms of infrastructure, NLOS wireless backhaul switches high-rise towers used in traditional rural networks to low-rise poles, reducing site infrastructure costs by 70%. As for energy, low-power base stations and transmission equipment do not require diesel generators for power generation and require fewer solar panels and batteries, which slashes CAPEX by 70%. Using pure solar energy saves O&M costs, in turn greatly reducing OPEX.

Omnidirectional antennas are used to achieve targeted omnidirectional coverage in a single cell at low cost. For cells with insufficient coverage, innovative 90° high-gain antennas can be used to deploy the butterfly site solution. This solution reduces the number of sectors from three to two, the number of antennas and RRUs by 1/3, and total power consumption by 30% as well as the CAPEX and OPEX compared with traditional sites. For a given population in a target area, RuralStar2.0's innovations in these aspects reduce TCO by more than 50% compared with traditional site solutions.

RuralStar has been commercially deployed in many countries, including Ghana, Thailand, Algeria, and Nigeria. Mobile network coverage boosts local economic development and improves local people's lives.

At MWC, Huawei’s RuralStar solution has won GSMA’s "Best Mobile Innovation for Emerging Markets" award.

In Ghana, local villagers used to climb to rooftops and trees, or even ride a dozen kilometers to find telephone signals. RuralStar has addressed these issues. They can now use WhatsApp to communicate and share pictures at home. Transferring money and recharging call fees through Mobile Money have also become common in daily life.

RuralStar enables three transformations, transforming microwave or satellite transmission in traditional solutions to Relay, substituting simple poles for towers, and enabling a move from diesel generators for power supply to solar power. This shortens the return on investment (ROI) period for mobile communications in remote rural areas. Operators can then lower the threshold of profitability by 50%, which is a great help for emerging markets to bridge the digital divide.

There is also a user experience story from Ghana on a village that was transformed with the help of connectivity:

Over the past week, Afryea's friends were receiving more and more messages from her over WhatsApp - and all thanks to the installation of an amazing “wooden pole”.

Afryea is a teacher in a village located in a rural region of Ghana. Having had the privilege of studying in cities, Afryea is used to using WhatsApp, Snapchat and Instagram. However, she explains that it took her an inordinate amount of time to readjust to the life without these Apps after she returned to this village, as it rarely has any signal.

Afryea is now delighted to deliver the news to her friends that mobile services are becoming increasingly accessible for a surprisingly long list of devices in her village.

Nyakpoo, the village chief, explained to Afryea why people simply couldn't access the network: the nearest base station was more than 20 kilometers from here, so achieving signal reception was no easy task. Before the “wooden pole” base station was installed, the village chief himself often needed to ride his motorcycle a few miles to get closer to a base station in order to use Mobile Money.  "Since our village suffered from a lack of electricity and fibre optic cables, there was simply no other way to build a base station. I am amazed that all these issues can be solved with a simple piece of wood."

The RuralStar solution changes this. The solution uses a Relay based on 4G technology to realise data transmission, rather than expensive satellite or microwave. Relay transmission does not have the same line of sight (LOS) constraints, allowing a base station to be constructed on a simple wooden telegraph pole instead of a 30m dedicated tower. With low power consumption, RuralStar can be powered just by using six solar panels.

Afryea’s village was chosen as one of the first to implement RuralStar. The wooden pole to accommodate the base station is prepared locally in the village. The base station deployment was completed in just one week, with total costs reduced by around 70%, and the pole is now helping to deliver mobile services. Even with such a small population, the operator can expect to recoup the investment in just three years.

While I commend Huawei for developing a low cost solution for rural deployment, they are competing with several other small cell vendors competing for the same chunk of the market. It is also often of interest to the mobile operators to bring new vendors in rural areas where the requirement to meet KPIs is much lower. This way they can make sure that all the interfaces from their existing vendors are open and standards compliant too.

Finally, I have to mention that while the articles talks about power reduction, it is compared to the Huawei's macro products. Other small cell vendors may have even lower power and different innovations which may make them attractive for other scenarios.

Finally, Nokia has a similar solution for rural deployments. I blogged about the Nokia Kuha here.

Further Reading:

Sunday 10 June 2018

Small Cells growing fast, just not in Europe

Small Cell Forum held a workshop in Beijing, China last month to gain an understanding of China’s perspective on densification on the path to 5G. Complete report is available here. From the report:

APAC leads the world in network densification, as is clear from recent market data and forecasts out to 2025. New deployments in South East Asia alone are set to be greater than the sum total of those in the rest of the world until 2025. APAC can be characterized as experiencing two phases of growth, with a small plateau from 2019-2021 as 5GNR small cells are being commercialized. Our survey of MNOs reveals that densification in APAC is primarily capacity driven, to ensure data services maintain their quality of experience as mobile traffic volumes continue to grow. CMRI (China Mobile Research Institute) predicted its data traffic would grow 8x from 2016-2020 and 119x from 2016-2030. Ericsson predicted 8x global growth from 2016-2022, and others cited Cisco VNI’s 7x global growth 2016-2021, dominated by APAC.

A summary presentation from the event is embedded at the end.

As per Mobile World Live's report from Small Cells World Summit last month in London:

Kicking off the event, David Orloff, chair of the Small Cell Forum said: “Small cells are integral for 5G, and the reality is that there are capacity needs, there are latency needs, and both of these aspects can be driven through integration with small cells.”

He observed: “Europe is lagging. We need a new mindset, we need to look at different ways on this – in the 5G era we do have densification needs in the entire global industry, and we need to work [out] solutions to ensure the framework is there and the foundations are there. We need to think differently.”

Speaking about the global rollout of small cell technology, he continued: “We see global synergies and global barriers, but we also see regional barriers that are delaying densification. A good example in the US is cell siting; in India there is a cost target that has to be met; in China there’s mindsets around operations; and in Europe there is a question around the business case and whether it is profitable to do densification.”

“Asia is cranking, North America is doing well, really preparing that framework and foundation and starting to deploy cells that are NR capable, so that we have a structure in place so that we can turn on 5G, working on mmWave. Europe is pretty far down.”

Notwithstanding this lag, Small Cell Forum forecasts an increase in the number of non-resident small cells deployed in Europe from 52,000 in 2017 to 310,000 in 2022. But mobile operator deployments are not the only game in town: enterprises are an important driving force due to quality of service and IoT requirements, and technologies including MulteFire and CBRS are easing the way for new players.

According to Crown Castle, in a report in Fierce Wireless:

The small cell market continues to expand, and Crown Castle’s Mike Kavanagh pointed to two big factors as evidence: Small cell buildouts are starting to happen in smaller, tier 2 markets, and some small cell locations are now serving more than one carrier.

Small cells are “a big part of every big carrier’s build,” he said. “It’s a good time to be in the space.”

In the early days of small cells half a dozen years ago, Kavanagh said that a major installation would cover 50 nodes in a city. Today that number is reaching 2,000—and in some dense markets it can grow to 7,000. “You’re utilizing small cells as a much bigger element of the network build,” he said. “You’ve got to have that tower layer. And you’ve got to have small cells.”

He said in some deployments Crown Castle is seeing 2 to 4 small cells per mile, and in some dense, urban areas that number grows to 7 to 12 per mile. Kavanagh, the company’s SVP of sales and its chief commercial officer, said that Verizon kicked off the push toward small cells, but today all of the nation’s largest wireless operators are embarking on major small cell deployments.

And a big driver of revenues for Crown Castle is the growing trend toward multitenant small cells, which Crown Castle calls “leasing up.” Essentially, Crown Castle typically builds a small cell for one carrier’s equipment, but increasingly the company is adding equipment for a second carrier to that location, thus deriving more revenues per small cell site. Such site sharing is typical in the macro tower business.

Finally, here is summary of presentation from SCF looking at APAC in detail with regards to drivers and barriers for densification.

Monday 4 June 2018

Internet para todos: Telefonica and Parallel Wireless on a mission to connect 100 Million Unconnected

According to GSMA Intelligence report, 'The Mobile Economy Latin America and the Caribbean 2017':

Latin America has seen rapid growth in the number of mobile internet subscribers over recent years, with a total of nearly 350 million, registering growth of almost 10% since the start of 2016. Of these subscribers, more than two thirds connect to the internet via mobile broadband (3G or 4G) networks. As the importance of digital access and engagement increases, so this figure will continue to grow strongly, to reach about 420 million by 2020.

Despite the growth to date, only slightly more than half of the population currently ha0ve a mobile internet subscription, well below the developed market average of two thirds – though some lowerincome groups may connect using Wi-Fi only.

As a result, around 300 million people are digitally excluded and unable to enjoy the socioeconomic benefits that mobile internet can bring. By 2020, nearly two thirds of the population will be connected, still well behind the developed market average but in line with the global average. However, nearly 250 million people across the region will still be digitally excluded. There remain significant barriers to adoption, particularly for underserved population groups (rural, women, low income and youth).

Mobile internet penetration also varies significantly across the region. Chile had the highest penetration as at the end of 2016, with Argentina only slightly behind. In contrast, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala and Haiti have mobile internet penetration rates of one third or less (Cuba has among the lowest levels of mobile internet penetration globally, at 3% of the population). 

At MWC 2018, Telef贸nica announced “Internet para todos”, a collaborative project to connect the unconnected in Latin America. The Initiative is aimed at connecting the more than 100 million people in Latin America with no internet access. Telef贸nica also expanded its collaboration with Facebook on key technological and commercial innovations and collaboration with multiple stakeholders: rural operators, technology firms and regulators.

For those who are wondering what “Internet para todos” means, it means “Internet for all. Here is a good video on the initiative.

You can read all about it here. One of the vendors mentioned in this press release is Parallel Wireless (*). Their announcement on this is available here.

Embedded below is an indepth presentation on this topic by Patrick Lopez, VP, networks innovation at Telef贸nica.

And here is the video of above for anyone interested:

In the recent Small Cell Forum awards, 'Internet Para Todos' won the Social Impact award – Promoting Small Cells for Social/Economic/Environmental Development.

Hopefully we will see many more similar initiatives from other operators and TIP to connect the unconnected.

*Full Disclosure: I work for Parallel Wireless as a Senior Director in Strategic Marketing. This blog is maintained in my personal capacity and expresses my own views, not the views of my employer or anyone else. Anyone who knows me well would know this.