First 15: your round up of the week’s mobile network news

LTE, small cells, optimisation, a policy acquisition, network security and emergency networks in refugee camps all feature in this round up of the week's news.

LTE: “HELL WITHOUT IT”

1. Ericsson: there were two bits of LTE contract news from the big E. The first a release celebrating its selection by MTS to supply LTE gear in the Siberian, Ural, Volga, and Southern Federal Districts of Russia. That all adds up to a 10,000 unit order from its RBS6000 series, along with the core network hardware.

The second Ericsson party was happening in Switzerland where the vendor’s Diameter signalling kit will be handling LTE roaming interconnect on behalf of Swisscom. Swisscom and Ericsson are surely right in thinking that LTE is going to drive a large increase in Diameter events on the network. Roaming’s a crucial use case, which is probably why Swisscom has taken the plunge here.

If you’re unsure about what Diameter control is and what its role is, read more here.

2. Although these LTE deals may seem to be coming along with increasing regularity, market-watcher Infonetics added a little cold water to the mix, by saying that even the large amounts of money flowing out of operators as they deploy LTE has not been enough not enough to lift the mobile infrastructure market in Q1 2013.

That said, Stephane Teral, principal analyst for mobile infrastructure and carrier economics at Infonetics Research, pointed out that, “Life without LTE would be hell!”

Infonetics found that in 1Q13, the worldwide 2G/3G/4G mobile infrastructure market totaled $9.8 billion, down 2% year-over-year. LTE revenue was $2.7 billion in 1Q13, an increase of 108% year-over-year. Big spenders included the Brazilian operators, and other members of the BRIC grouping (As per Russia’s MTS, above).

3. One company that needs no telling that LTE isn’t saving everyone’s bacon is Alcatel-Lucent, which this week released details of its renewed strategy. The company called the strategy The Shift Plan. Essentially, the company will invest its R&D in IP Networking, cloud technologies and Ultra-Broadband Access and go for growth in those areas.

LTE assets are also marked down as an investment priority, although legacy wireless businesses are going to be “managed for cash”. Much of the rest is going to be shipped out.

Reaction was broadly based on the “well they had to do something” viewpoint, with many pointing out that NSN is considerably further down the line in the game of, “identify the areas that actually make most profit, or might in the future, and concentrate on them.”

Although Al-Lu said it expected to make at least a billion Euros by selling off unwanted business units, there were those asking who would want the bits Al-Lu doesn’t? For instance, Ron Kline, principal network infrastructure analyst, at Ovum, put out a comment stating, “Exiting from legacy technologies markets is likely to prove to be difficult and finding a buyer for its Submarine Network Solutions division is likely to face regulatory hurdles.”

Here’s the rest of Kline’s rundown of how Al-Lu’s disposals might go:
“Ovum’s quarterly market share research shows Alcatel-Lucent’s IP and WDM products have performed pretty well for the company but rapidly declining revenues in SDH/SONET and DCS have led to lower margins and declining market share. Alcatel-Lucent is the third-ranked vendor in the switching and routing market with $2.1bn in revenues over the last 4 quarters up which was 2.3% year-over-year. Over the same time frame the company’s revenues in broadband access fell 2% to just over $1bn. The overall broadband access market is decline and much of the current growth is in China. Alcatel-Lucent’s optical networking equipment revenues dipped 28% over the last year despite strong 15% growth in converged packet optical (CPO) equipment and may pose the biggest challenge for the company. Given the extent of the installed base of legacy products and the relevant customers, accelerating an exit could prove difficult. Alcatel-Lucent faced a similar dilemma when it rationalised its products back in 2006 after the merger however customer protests made the company reverse its decision.”

OPTIMISATION
4. Sticking with LTE for the moment, Tektronix Communications, still hot on pushing its new Telecoms Intelligence Provider concept, which sees it leveraging its network-level tools and capabilities to become a trusted partner of mobile operators’ technology, service and product launches, announced the launch of a Professional Services Technology Consulting offering, designed to provide carriers with world-class optimisation solutions for the rollout of LTE networks.

The vendor pointed out that LTE brings with it complex architecture challenges such as circuit switch fall back (CSFB), success rate and setup time and inter-radio access technology issues for data services, as well as management of multiple network equipment vendors.

So the launch of the LTE-focussed consultancy will lean heavily on Tektronix’s optimisation capabilities to allow operators to gain insight into performance across the network as they meet these LTE-specific challenges. More here.

5. Also emphasising the “get LTE optimisation right or suffer” motif was Actix, who noted that there was “No safety net for operators launching LTE services.”

The speed of LTE adoption leaves little wriggle room for error, Actix said. There are a lot of LTE-ready handsets out there, and LTE activation will quickly lead to high adoption.

One crucial issue is identifying the key locations where traffic will spike – typically 5% of sites account for 50% of traffic, Actix said. That requires accurate RAN level data, which of course Actix is in the business of providing. More Here.

DOING GOOD
6. The Vodafone Foundation has undertaken to deploy a network in a refugee camp in South Sudan. A team from the Vodafone Foundation will travel from Kenya to set up the Instant Network – a mobile phone network which fits in to three suitcases, weighs less than 100kg and can be transported on commercial flights – in the Yida camp in Unity State.

The Instant Network has been already to provide communications during severe droughts in Kaikor, Northern Kenya and in Davao Oriental in the Philippines following Typhoon Bopha. In both cases, the equipment was set up within 40 minutes.

The Vodafone Foundation Instant Network deployment in South Sudan will operate in partnership with Vodafone Group’s mobile network partner Zain Group and will include the distribution of handsets and the provision of free airtime to aid workers across the 3,000-acre refugee camp for a period of six months.

Separately, Vodafone Group’s subsidiary in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Vodacom Congo, has today announced a commitment to support 17,000 refugees at the Mugunga Camp in North Kivu Province, Goma. Vodacom Congo has launched a text message donation service called Alerte Rouge in which funds will be raised to meet basic emergency needs such as the purchase of food, tents, blankets and mosquito nets. A team from the Vodafone Foundation is currently in the DRC exploring deploying the Instant Network in the Mugunga camp in the near-term and will assess the potential for setting up education programmes based on mobile devices.

USER TEST

7. Subscribers to our TMN Quarterly magazine will know that operators are in the midst of seeing themselves challenged on one of their core strengths, monitoring of the user experience.

Now test company Keynote has extended its “real user” monitoring services by opening new mobile monitoring locations in Italy, Spain, South Africa and Turkey, adding access to a variety of new operator networks. The new locations are being deployed with Keynote Mobile Web Perspective 7 that enables monitoring on 4G wireless networks, making it possible for content providers to measure, improve and trend the true end-user experience for their mobile content.

“We are in the middle of a Web to mobile transition which requires investments to provide the best quality mobile experience,” explained Thomas Gronbach, European director of marketing for Keynote. “Keynote is taking the lead to expand on its quality infrastructure for enterprises by adding real monitoring and mobile testing devices in Europe. Leading companies in Europe realise that mobile quality assurance helps their business. With these investments, Keynote continues to ready itself for mobile enterprise business across Europe.”

Today, the Keynote testing and monitoring network comprises over 7,000 measurement computers and mobile devices in over 275 global locations. The company also operators the DeviceAnywhere test system, which gives developers access over the internet to a wide range of connected devices.

8. Also providing insight into customer usage and experience was Citrix, or Citrix ByteMobile if you prefer. The company, which regularly releases chunks of data extracted from its optimisation and content delivery kit, concentrated its findings this quarter on subscriber behaviour and app preference. It found that mobile audio now represents 12% of data volume in the USA. Just four apps (Media Player, Safari, App Store and Facebook) generated 82% of all mobile data volume on iOS devices. Mobile search transactions have risen 25% in just over a year. There’s plenty more here.

SMALL CELLS AND WIFI

9. Free Mobile said it would be making femtocells available for its Freebox Revolution subscribers. The Free femtocell integrates with itsFreebox router, and will be open for use by all other users of the Freebox service. In principle, that extends Free’s mobile network beyond the reach of its macro layer. It mirrors public access WiFi technology such as FON in the regard – and comes with the same unplanned nature. The concept is reminiscent of Qualcomm’s Neighbourhood Femtocell concept, so there are some big industry backers behind the idea.

10. Also backing a small cell business model, this time small cells as a service, was research house SNS Research, who reckoned the market could be worth $15 billion by 2020. Companies with announced plans in this space include Cloudberry and Colt Telecom.

11. If open access small cells don’t do it for you, how about curated WiFi? Devicescape announced another customer win for its Curated Virtual Network (CVN) of over 12 million high-quality Wi-Fi hotspots and intelligent network selection software – C Spire Wireless.

The Devicescape Curator Service allows users to gain automatic access to the company’s CVN of public Wi-Fi hotspots, which are rated in real-time to ensure they meet C Spire’s requirements for a carrier-grade quality experience. Devicescape’s Curator Client, working together with the Curator Service Platform in the cloud, identifies the best available connection at any given time and connects to it, resulting in simplified connectivity and increased overall Wi-Fi usage.

12. Finally, in small cell news, the Small Cell Forum announced that last week it had bundled 16 companies together to test interoperability between 3GPP small cells and Evolved Packet Core (EPC) equipment from different vendors. Tests were conducted between small cells and EPCs, security gateways, macro eNodeB and as an option HeNB gateways to verify the S1 interface implementations. In a multi-vendor HetNet environment mobility scenarios such as hand-out with the macro network using S1 and X2 interface were tested. VoLTE (IMS) calls were also tested.

This is a reasonably crucial enabler for the bulk of those operating in the small cell space that will not be able to bring an end to end small cell play to market. Inter-vendor interoperability, but crucially inter-cell co-ordination enabled by the X2 interface, is a very important item for the majority of those targeting this market.

TELCO NETWORK SECURITY
13. With big vendors such as NSN, Juniper and others beginning to beat the network/telco security drum increasingly loudly (again driven by LTE rollouts), F5 joined the fray with the announcement of a “service provider firewall” for operators’ SGi and Gi interfaces.

The S/Gi firewall sits at the Gi interface of a 3G network and the SGi interface of a 4G network, on the perimeter between a service provider’s mobile network and the Internet. This placement is designedl to protect both subscribers and networks from targeted attacks – such as DDoS threats from a variety of sources (Internet-to-mobile, Internet-to-infrastructure, mobile-to-mobile, etc.)

F5 said many of the market’s current offerings lack the scale-ability and performance necessary to keep up with subscribers’ increased demands for applications and content, and added the level of performance offered by F5 enables service providers to accommodate more subscribers and support growing data use without sacrificing device or network performance.

POLICY ACQUISITION

14. Openet announced it had acquired Forkstream, a spin out from University College Dublin, to add the company’s client-side technology to its policy capabilities. Forkstream’s technology interacts with the network core via Openet Interaction Gateway, enabling operators to manage network access policies using their Policy Controls Rules Function (PCRF).

“Integrating Forkstream into the Openet PCC ecosystem enables our customers to overcome many challenges related to seamlessly integrating multiple access networks with cellular services,” said Openet CTO Joe Hogan. “They developed an elegant solution to ensure cross-network session continuity and flow management, which is key to a quality user experience.”

15. Finally, a graphic. This, from Skyfire, that presents some information about the growth and usage of video on mobile networks. You have to remember that Skyfire is trying to sell its cloud-based optimisation platforms. But there’s an interesting establishing point in there: just because video is a massive deal for mobile operators, that doesn’t mean that mobile operators are a massive priority for video content providers.

That means that operators can’t rely on the content providers to do their own mobile optimisation at source, operators will have to do it for themselves.

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