Friday 27 May 2022

London Underground Mobile Network Infrastructure

Earlier we made a tutorial on Infrastructure required for bringing connectivity to underground rail network. So it was good to see Nick Hudson, Director of Global Partners & Programmes at BAI Communications share some pictures of Mobile Network Infrastructure on London Underground network on his LinkedIn post.

Back in June 2021, BAI Communications (BAI) was awarded a 20-year concession by Transport for London (TfL) to deliver high-speed mobile connectivity across the capital in the most advanced and largest infrastructure project of its type in the world. The press release said:

BAI’s partnership with TfL will establish a long-awaited backbone of connectivity with a city-wide integrated communications network delivering multi-carrier cellular, Wi-Fi, and fibre connectivity services. The 4G-enabled and 5G-ready communications network that BAI will build and operate as a neutral host for fixed and mobile operators will fast-track London’s evolution as a smart city. BAI will also help to create a safer, smarter London by building and operating critical communications infrastructure that will support police, fire, and ambulance services.

The first phase of the project will see the rollout of modern multi-carrier infrastructure. This will allow fixed and mobile operators to immediately provide continuous 4G coverage to their customers across the London Underground stations and tunnels. The new wireless infrastructure will also be 5G ready. Work on the project will begin immediately, with all stations and tunnels due to have mobile coverage in four years.

Additionally, a new high-capacity fibre network running throughout the London Underground will enable fibre service providers to provide full fibre connectivity to premises across the city. The network will connect to buildings and street assets housing small cells to leverage the power of 5G and the IoT, and deliver improvements in areas like traffic congestion, public safety, and city planning.

Through this concession, BAI will help the transport authority support London’s post-covid recovery as travel resumes, delivering seamless 5G ready connectivity that will enable people to move around the city more efficiently, safely, and securely. More specifically, this project will enable TfL to reduce overcrowding and manage station flow, while improving safety with real-time information and reliable ‘from anywhere’ communications.

BAI was awarded the concession after a competitive tender process. The company has proven experience deploying mission critical communications networks in highly dense urban environments, including the underground rail networks in New York, Toronto, and Hong Kong. This project supports BAI’s strategic intent to sustainably accelerate growth globally. This is achieved through our work deploying outdoor neutral host infrastructure and developing 5G-driven offerings that introduce and scale connectivity solutions for emerging services and fresh revenue opportunities. Ultimately, our work supports our customers by delivering better connectivity and enhanced customer experiences. BAI’s ambitious plans include expanding its wireless infrastructure business across the public transport sector and growing its private network services portfolio.

Last month, BAI announced that they have completed the first milestone of its rollout of high-speed mobile coverage across the London Underground as it launches a permanent 4G service on the eastern section of the Jubilee Line. The press release said:

Customers of Three and EE are the first to be confirmed to have permanent access to 4G and 5G-ready communications between Westminster and Canning Town. The connectivity has been available as part of a pilot service since March 2020. This follows agreements made last year by both mobile operators to join BAI’s network, making them the first to cement their commitment to providing coverage to London Underground passengers.

Whilst on this section of the Jubilee Line, customers will continue to be able to check the latest travel information, keep on top of their emails, catch up on social media, live stream videos wherever they are on the Underground.

Cities all over the world are improving connectivity for subways and metros. With London already a centre of mobile connectivity, it's surprising that getting coverage in the Tube took so long.

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Friday 20 May 2022

Vodafone Explains Mobile Phone Mast

Questions related to what does a mobile phone mast consist of keeps popping up time and again. I looked at it some years back but it doesn't stop people asking additional questions. 

When the UK MNOs started their Shared Rural Network journey, Vodafone put together a nice primer on what does a mobile network mast consist of. Here is an extract from the article:

What do all the bits of a mast actually do?

  1. Antenna: Antennas send calls, texts and internet data to your smartphone using radio waves and in turn receive radio waves from it. The higher up an antenna is, the more likely it is that you’ll get a strong and reliable mobile signal from it. Most masts will have at least three antennas to provide coverage in every direction. Masts that need to serve more people, because they’re located in more heavily populated areas, will have more antennas.
  2. Radio unit: The radio unit generates the radio waves transmitted by the antennas. Traditionally, the radio unit was installed at ground level. Nowadays, they’re more likely to be installed higher up the mast closer to the antenna to help improve performance.
  3. Transmission/backhaul: Cables, traditionally copper but now far more likely to be fibre optic, are used to connect the mast with other masts and the rest of the Vodafone network in the UK. These are usually buried in the ground. In a few cases, a microwave dish is used instead.
  4. Cabin/cabinets: Located at ground level, these contain computers which communicate with other masts in the network. Additional equipment, such as a battery backup in case of power failure and connectors for the transmission/backhaul, are also stored here.
  5. Power: Most masts will draw their power from the National Grid; some will have their own renewable power source on-site. In a handful of cases, such as with temporary masts, power will instead be provided by a diesel generator.
  6. Microwave dish: In some locations, such as remote rural areas, a microwave satellite dish is used instead of fibre optic cables to act as transmission/backhaul, connecting the mast to the rest of Vodafone’s network. To do so, the dish must be within line of sight of a dish on another mast.

Why can’t you build it somewhere else?

Not all sites are suitable. To provide the strongest mobile signal to as wide an area as possible, there can’t be too many neighbouring buildings, trees or other geographical features in the way. These tend to block the mast’s signal.

Masts also need their own power and what’s known as “backhaul” – data connections to the rest of the network. To meet soaring demand for faster speeds, that backhaul often consists of fibre optic cables under the ground – it’s a common misconception that most of Vodafone UK’s masts communicate wirelessly with the rest of the network.

And to run these power and data lines to a mast, we have to negotiate with the owners of the land, and quite often, with the owners of land adjacent to it. Those negotiations aren’t just about how much rent we will pay, but how easily we can access those sites for construction, maintenance and repairs.

These so-called “wayleave” negotiations can take time – and sometimes break down completely – setting back mast construction by several months.

Why can’t you just build a shorter, less conspicuous mast?

The taller the mast, the wider the area it can cover and the more people it can provide with a fast and reliable mobile signal. Under current rules, most UK masts are around 25m (82ft) tall. But in fact 50m masts would provide a better, more far-reaching signal in many areas.

Update April 2021 – the UK Government has proposed rule changes that would allow new and existing masts to be up to five metres taller and two metres wider than they currently can be. This would not only help increase the range of their wireless signal, it would also make it easier for masts to be potentially shared with other mobile network operators, as more equipment can be fitted onto taller masts.

Who decides where masts are built?

Our engineers pick sites that best meet the technical, logistical and economic requirements for hosting a mast, but the local council has to grant planning permission for the building works to go ahead. So councils hold public consultations before making their decision and residents can have their say.

You can read the complete article here.

The old video of cell tower construction site is worth a watch and is embedded below:

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Friday 6 May 2022

Comba Telecom Helps Bring Open RAN to New Markets

Comba Telecom is a global leading wireless solutions provider with their own R&D facilities, manufacturing base, and sales and service teams. The company offers a comprehensive suite of products and services including wireless access, wireless enhancement, antenna and subsystems and wireless transmission to its global customers. Comba's core product portfolio includes antennas and subsystems and network products (DAS, Small Cells, Repeater, RRU, etc.), offering turnkey solutions for indoor and outdoor 2G/3G/4G/Wifi/5G to their global customers.

Last year, Comba announced the launch of the industry's first Open RAN multi-RAT, multi-band Remote Radio Unit (“RRU”) that supports 1800MHz and 2100MHz, promoting widespread adoption of emerging open standards in the globe. The announcement says:

The RRU is designed to minimize the total cost of ownership (“TCO”) for operators and neutral hosts in macro deployments through fast and easy deployment, energy savings, improved coverage and throughput, smaller footprint and easy maintenance. Engineered for efficient high power (320W) operation, the multi-RAT multi-band 4T4R RRU minimizes the environmental footprint and reduces the energy spend for the operator. 

As a first in the Open RAN industry the GSM/UMTS/LTE/5G NR multi-mode operation makes it ideal for simple upgrades of legacy sites without compromises. The 4T4R radio supports two LTE/5G NR carriers per band and Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (“DSS”). This enables operators to serve arising 5G traffic demand without additional spectrum or removing LTE service.

Comba has a long-standing collaboration with major industry partners and alliances and has participated in the initial Open RAN trials and lab projects in different regions. With all in-house expertise in interoperability and optimizing radio designs for market specific criteria, Comba enables mobile operators to accelerate time to market, and mitigate the overall technology risk when adopting to Open RAN strategy in their next generation of RAN. 

A recent video looks at these Open RAN Multi-band RRUs

While most Open RAN RUs are focused on 4G & 5G, Comba's radios work on 2G & 3G as well. This has allowed them to bring Open RAN solutions to many different parts of the world that may not be ready for 5G yet. Some of these include announcements with their software partner Parallel Wireless in Latin America and Indonesia. Another recent standalone announcement included one with Turkcell in Turkey.

Telefonica also listed them as one of the partners in a presentation at MWC

Telecom Infra Project's TIP Exchange features quite a few radios from Comba which you can see here.

If you are interested in learning more, what the Comba keynote and Panel Discussion on Maturity of Open RAN Adoption at MWC22 Open RAN Summit below:

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