Network octet: this week’s mobile network news round-up

UK city network speeds, LTE and VoLTE, SDN and NFV.

Root Metrics continues to be busy producing reports on a city by city basis on operators’ mobile network performance. At the start of the week it told us that EE was winning the rankings in three cities in the English Midlands (Coventry, Birmingham, Nottingham) although the other networks have all improved their performance since Autumn 2012. In fact, Root Metrics reckons EE’s fastest available service is in Birmingham, with average 16.2Mbps download speeds on the network.

Later in the week, it told us that EE was also topping the tables in Belfast, although overall right now Belfast boys and girls were not getting the speeds their capital counterparts are in London and Edinburgh. In Belfast, average download speeds were 10.8Mbps, with Londoners supposedly benefiting from 13.6Mbps as an average on the EE network. Vodafone had the best call performance (fewest dropped or blocked calls) in Belfast.

These leads are likely to narrow, if not be overtaken, when the other operators get their LTE networks up and running. One operator taking steps to prepare is Telefonica (O2) which announced it has signed a deal with Virgin Media Business for its Sync-E based mobile backhaul service. That means that VMB now has Vodafone, MBNL (EE and Three) and O2 as customers. VMB is keen to be a player if and when these operators want to densify their networks with small cells – its presence on a macro basis surely gives it a fighting chance.

Orange made a move to act as a sort of integrator of municipal authorities’ Smart Cities plans. The operator held an event to outline its strategy, with Nathalie Leboucher, Head of Orange Smart Cities saying that network operators are the best placed to bring together a “fragmented ecoystem” in partnerships. Orange sees five areas it can play a unifying part: in public transport, smart grids, traffic management, services provision (leisure, libraries etc) and in smart buildings.

“We believe that networks, the ability to exploit data and to propose dematerialized and mobile services are key to the transformation of cities. That is why we wish to place our expertise as an operator and integrator at the service of local authorities and all cities’ stakeholders. The smart city is a rich, but very fragmented ecosystem and that is why cities need to be able to rely on a single player capable of developing partnerships to provide them with a global solution. It is what we are mindful of with our Smart Cities program,” Leboucher said.

Infonetics and VoLTE.
The prolific analyst forecast that it expected to see 12 commercial VoLTE networks and 8 million VoLTE subscribers by the end of the year. 75% of those would be in Asia, a number greatly boosted by the fact that SK Telecom claims already to have approaching four million subscribers. Overall, the analyst reckons VoLTE subscriber growth will show a CAGR of 145% to 2017.

Infonetics and SDN/NFV
Infonetics had also been busy in the SDN and NFV space, this time asking operators for their own thoughts on the topics in its SDN and NFV Strategies: Global Service Provider Survey. Headline results were that virtually all major operators are either evaluating SDNs now or plan to do so within the next three years. Why? Well, as has been said before, operators are buying the service agility and operational efficiency aspects of SDN. In terms of virtualisation, participants rated CDNs, IP multimedia subsystems (IMS), and virtual routers/security gateways as the top applications for NFV

Speaking of virtualisation, Amdocs claimed a first in demonstrating the industry’s first, fully virtualised real-time charging. Tested in what Amdocs called a “production-like environment” at its labs, the solution demonstrated five millisecond latency and sub-second failover (switching between servers) running Amdocs Convergent Charging using VMware vSphere.

“The industry is evolving towards network function virtualisation as a way to help service providers decouple software workloads from hardware to considerably improve cost-efficiencies and business agility,” said Rebecca Prudhomme, vice president of product and solutions marketing at Amdocs, echoing Infonetics’ report nicely.

Ofcom said to the UK operators they can use any licensed band they like for LTE – including the 900MHz bands held by Vodafone and O2. The kicker for these guys is that there is less support for 900MHz LTE in the ecosystem than for 800, 1800 and 2600MHz, and also of course that they (especially O2) have refarmed 900MHz for 3G, so would have a lot of clearing to do. Not least, the operators have a chunk of investment in 800MHz to monetise first. So, file this one under interesting as a signal from the regulator, but unlikely to have impact even in the medium term.

Macedonia became the latest European country to see 800MHz and 1800MHz bands allocated to operators for LTE services. Telekom Austria subsidiary Vip was one beneficiary, gaining 2x10MHz at 800MHz and 2x15MHz at 1800. It will have to reach 70% population coverage within six years. T-Mobile Macedonia and One (Telekom Slovenia) were the other winners, with only three operators bidding for three blocks.