Tuesday, March 9, 2010

More on building a "5G" wireless R&E cellphone network

I would like to thank a lot of people who responded to my original posting on this subject who provided additional information. As I mentioned in my previous blog R&E networks are ideally positioned for deployment of these next generation wireless mobile networks as they have the extensive large bandwidth capability to backhaul the data from the wireless hotspot at universities and open access community networks. It can also be a valuable revenue service for both the R&E networks and universities, while at the same time saving students and researchers outrageous fees in roaming, texting, data etc. There is probably many issues still be sorted out, but I think once again this is an excellent opportunity for R&E networks to show a leadership role as they did with the original deployment of the Internet. Once again most incumbent cell phone companies will have little interest in deploying such networks as it will clearly undermine their existing revenue stream. So the only organizations that have the necessary technical skills, motivation and wherewithal to deploy wireless R&E networks are the same one who first brought you the Internet. Eliminating ridiculous cell phone charges will hopefully also stimulate new applications and services for wired and wireless networks. It is also rumored that both Cisco and Google will be releasing products and solutions later this year.

5G wireless networks should not be confused with a similar cellphone standard called UMA. Several universities have installed something called Unlicensed Mobile Access (UMA) , sometimes integrated with unified messaging services. UMA is said to provide roaming and handover between GSM, UMTS, Bluetooth and 802.11 networks. It is largely focused on voice roaming as opposed to data roaming applications. But this is largely a telco cell phone standard that is hideously complex and not recommended for R&E networks.

The new standards under development come from the data side of networks particularly the IEEE 802.11 Ethernet standards development track. The other assumption is that university will not have to deploy any voice server or PBX, as all applications will be hosted in the cloud (presumably a zero carbon data center). This is a big change for most university telcom staff, but it is a trend happening with many hosted applications such as e-mail, blogs, webs, etc which are all moving to the cloud hosted by commercial providers. It is expected that soon applications like Facebook and Buzz will be integrated with cloud based voice services making the old stand alone voice cell phone service an anachronism.

For those who are interested there are 2 new IEEE WiFi standards that are in development that will enable the first 5G networks to be deployed later this year. Essentially these new standards can be considered Eduroam on steroids. A key thing to note the assumption is that the mobile cellphone is essentially a mobile internet data device. Supporting traditional mobile cell phone protocols and hand offs would make the idea untenable. Instead voice is seen as just another IP application.

802.21 is an IEEE emerging standard. The standard supports algorithms enabling seamless handover between networks of the same type as well as handover between different network types also called Media independent handover (MIH) or vertical handover. The standard provides information to allow handing over to and from cellular, GSM, GPRS, WiFi, Bluetooth, 802.11 and 802.16 networks through different handover mechanisms.

802.21 Will Allow roaming between 802.11 networks and 3G cellular
networks. A cellular phone user in the midst of a call should be able to enter an 802.11 network hotspot and be seamlessly handed off from a GSM network to the 802.11 network and back again when leaving the hotspot.

IEEE 802.11u is a proposed amendment to the IEEE 802.11-2007 standard to add features that improve interworking with external networks.

IEEE 802.11 currently makes an assumption that a user is pre-authorized to use the network. IEEE 802.11u covers the cases where user is not pre-authorized. A network will be able to allow access based on the user's relationship with an external network (e.g.hotspot roaming agreements), or indicate that online enrollment is possible, or allow access to a strictly limited set of services such as emergency services (client to authority and authority to client.)

From a user perspective, the aim is to improve the experience of a traveling user who turns on a laptop in a hotel many miles from home. Instead of being presented with a long list of largely meaningless SSIDs the user could be presented with a list of networks, the services they provide, and the conditions under which the user could access them.