Thursday, September 23, 2010

FCC makes two momentous decisions for 5G Internet

[Today many you may have heard that FCC approved opening up unused airwaves between television channels for wireless broadband networks and allowing schools to purchase dark fiber under the eRate program. These 2 developments will enable an explosion of innovation in the Green Internet and 5G markets as we have seen starting to happen in the Netherlands.

5G networks are characterized by the following features:

1. Wifi, mesh and White space is the primary air interface for devices while MVNO 3G/4G wholesale networks are used for back fill (think FON for data on steroids)
2. Open SIM cards for automatic double factor authentication and authorization for service and applications (think Shibboleth on steroids)
3. National-regional fiber R&E networks provide seamless integration and essential backhaul services
4. Host of new applications and services enabled by integrating smart phones as sensors with clouds for research, education and business
5. All nodes are powered by renewable energy only with seamless overlapping service from Wifi, White space, 3G/4G etc to insure reliability and coverage and re-direction in the green cloud (think Greenstar on steroids)
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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

New business and research opportunities in building 5G Internet networks - Dutch lead the world

[The Netherlands has one of the highest cable penetrations outside of North America with large dominant telcos and cablecos. But as opposed to North America enlightened Dutch regulators and politicians have long recognized that this duopoly and ersatz competitive market is insufficient to ensure true competition and development of new innovative companies and services. While North America is seeing an incredible and alarming concentration of ownership between the pipe and media companies, the Netherlands and most of Europe is moving in the opposite direction. The active promotion of structurally separated networks either municipally or privately owned such as CityNet in Amsterdam or RegenFiber will insure an open and competitive playing field. This will enable new innovations and applications in both wired and wireless world. The forward thinking R&E Dutch network – SURFnet and its development of next generation fiber and wireless networks is a quintessential example of the innovation that is enabled by this enlightened attitude of Dutch regulators and politicians. While North America retreats into a world of largely unregulated and unfettered monopolies with the inevitable stifling of innovation, many look to Europe and particularly the Netherlands as the future world leader in Internet and telecom innovation.

A textbook example is the development of 5G networks:

There is a general consensus that future of wireless Internet networks will be the use of smart phones as sensors integrated with clouds for a variety of exciting new applications in remote medical monitoring, smart metering, environmental sensors, traffic management etc. One of the big obstacles to realizing this vision is the control of the GSM networks by old line incumbent operators. The Dutch once again are leading the world in demonstrating that this telco world perspective is not necessarily the only future path for wide scale Internet wireless deployment. History is repeating itself. Many may remember that in the days before the Internet became widespread the telcos/cablecos were deploying expensive walled gardens as their vision of the Information Highway. But the Internet changed all that and allowed users to deploy their own applications without the prior approval of the telco/cableco. Eventually technology changes and the liberating influence of the Internet allowed many organizations like R&E networks and municipalities to deploy their network fiber infrastructure at a fraction of the cost of the telco. We are now about to witness the same transformation in the wireless Internet space.

Today’s mobile wireless network market is characterized by hideously complex protocols, usurious access fees and attempts to build micro managed applications inside walled gardens e.g. GSMA. They never learn. This is the same approach the telcos/cablecos tried two decades ago with the first implementation of networked applications, prior to the widespread deployment of the Internet. But the Dutch are now exploring a game changer for the wireless internet world, very much like the Internet transformed the wire line market - and that is how to allow users and organizations like R&E networks to deploy their own nationwide or global next generation wireless networks integrated with their fiber backbones. SURFnet’s prescient decision many years ago to deploy its own nation wide fiber network, now places it in an enviable position to be a world innovator in the next stage of Internet evolution.

Here are some pointers to some brilliant innovators who are doing some very exciting stuff in the Netherlands:

Rudolf van der Berg has written a great report for the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs on how we can make SIM cards open and accessible to everyone which enable a whole new generation of wireless networks and applications. Freeing the SIM cards will allow users, R&E networks, community networks to deploy their own Internet wireless infrastructure that integrates Wifi, Whitespace, FTTH, mesh networks and traditional 3G/4G networks. This will also allow them to extend the 5G network with solar or wind powered WiFi or GSM nodes in specific areas – especially where there is no business case for the network operator e.g. environmental networks. This will enable a whole range of exciting applications integrating sensors with the cloud. It will also allow for “automated” double factor identity and authentication management. Opening up the SIM card is vital to realizing this vision.

Another Dutch leader – Herman Wagter who built the Amsterdam CityNet network is also developing technology that will home owners connected with fiber to deploy micro or pico solar or wind powered Wifi or GSM cells integrated with these user controlled national wireless Internet networks. Finally Jaap van Till is working on technology to deliver WiFi /GMS signals over fiber at schools, homes and universities. –BSA]

Summary of . Rudolf van der Berg’s report for the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs

This last year I've worked on one of the most interesting subjects I've ever come across: Switching costs for Machine to Machine users (or embedded wireless as the GSMA calls it). Though I independently came to a solution, I can't claim I've thought of this solution first. That honor goes to at least 2 of my Logica colleagues in the Nordics and the UK or maybe to someone at Stratix consulting, but more likely someone somewhere, elsewhere. I do think I can now claim to have written the first full research in a public document on the subject. It's called "Onderzoek flexibel gebruik MNC's". (and yes please put the links that prove this wrong in the comments, someone must have done this before, but I couldn't find it) :-)

It started with a simple question of a customer, but the answer fundamentally questions the business model and regulation of mobile telecommunications. Fortunately the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs commissioned Logica (my colleague Jan Lindoff and me) with a report to research this question.

The Question:
How to migrate 10,000 M2M devices from one mobile operator to another mobile operator?

Sounds simple doesn't it? Contract a different operator, receive SIM-cards, switch SIM-cards and presto. Except that the 10k SIM-cards are all over the country in hard to reach places. The logistical nightmare pushed costs up to high heavens. So the customer wanted to be able to do it (in the future) without changing SIM-cards.

For whom?
It's not just one customer, it's everybody. Beer kegs, ereaders, eCall, smart meters, personal navigation devices, cars, photocopiers, containers, trains, fire alarm systems all have been equipped with embedded GSM/GPRS/UMTS. Those not in this list are contemplating whether to embed some wireless.. estimates go into the billions of devices in the next 10 years.

The Answer
With some colleagues I went through the possible solutions until and found that each had a problem associated with it.
1. The simple answer seems to be to use the same SIM-card and just switch operators withouth changing SIM-cards. Let the operators fix something in their systems, something like number portability. Unfortunately this doesn't work, because of the way SIM-cards work. Embedded in an unchangeable way on the SIM-card are an IMSI-number (E.212) and several operator specific cryptographic parameters. The first 5 or 6 digits of the IMSI-number are operator specific. These numbers uniquely identify the operator and through this the associated pieces of kit, like a Home Location Register that authenticates the SIM-cards as belonging to a contract having, subscription paying customer. So changing operators would require all mobile operators in the world to recognize that the specific IMSI numbers had changed mobile operator and for these specific numbers to be routed to a different destination. That's already impossible on a global level, but the worst bit is the cryptography. It would require operators to share their cryptographic keys and parameters with competitors. That's a no no. This kills the simple answer
2. The technical answer is slightly more feasible. What if you could remotely change the details on the SIM-card. Over the air an update is send to the SIM and automagically the IMSI is changed and the security parameters are overwritten with new ones and the device moves to a different network. This is possible. Several companies have proprietary solutions. However, there is no standardized solution and there isn't any mobile operator that supports it. That's problematic as it's the mobile network that determines what SIM's can be used and not the M2M user who wants to switch operator. The 3GPPacknowledged the problem and has worked on functional descriptions of solutions, but until now none of these have found the support of mobile operators (appendix A). Also know that this solution would have to work globally as customers may want to switch all (or some) devices from a European carrier to an Asian one or vice versa.
3. The regulatory answer: What if a large scale M2M deployment could use its own SIM-cards; SIMs that carried its IMSI and cryptographic parameters. This way it might not have to change the data on the SIM-card. This is the solution used by true MVNOs today (like Tele2 NL). It would mean it would have to find someone (operator or third party) to host an HLR for it, but this way it could change operators by changing the routing and switching of data instead of going through a logistical or technical process. For this to work the M2M end user should get access to an IMSI-number range, which have to be obtained from a national regulator. The national regulator can assign, within the 3 digit Mobile Country Code of that country (MCC 204 for NL), 2 or 3 digit Mobile Network Codes (MNC) to individual operators or maybe to individual M2M end-users as well
The great thing of the last solution is that it fits in the way GSM was designed it doesn't require any fundamental technical changes. It might however require changes in political and business thinking. Not only does this last solution allow for 'easy' switching, it also seems to solve some other problems large scale M2M users have. For instance:
• Coverage issues: This is a big problem. Almost by definition there is perfect coverage everywhere, except in the 4 square meters where the device is located. Worse, the other networks have perfect coverage except the one chosen for this deployment. This is an unsolvable problem, because wireless propagation is voodoo. Only in the field you know what coverage you have at that moment, a new building, a change in the orientation of an antenna etc. can change it in the future. By contracting (national) roaming on multiple networks in a geographic area an M2M deployment could increase its coverage. (This is the same as when you go abroad and generally can use all available networks instead of just the one you have your contract with. A Vodafone NL customer can roam on Orange UK, but a Vodafone UK customer cannot. Some M2M users actually use international SIMs for this reason)
• International roaming: Those M2M users whose devices travel: personal navigation, eReaders, cars, could contract different operators in different geographic regions. (At this moment thought this might be hard to arrange as roaming agreements seem to be more or less closed to non-GSM network owners)
• Initial provisioning/Lifecycle management: Large scale M2M deployments often want to use one device on a global scale. You could think of an eReader with an embedded communications device or a car. For communications cost reasons this may not be smart. So they are now torn between producing just one device in China and distributing this globally or producing country/region specific devices. Many retailers however don't like country specific devices, they want to distribute inventory according to need and not according to how the supplier pre-packaged it. Furthermore those nasty customers may buy a German version and use it in The Netherlands, which either means crippling the functionality while the user is abroad or accepting huge roaming fees.
So the last answer looked very promising, but the big question was: Why isn't anyone doing this? It looks so easy. I'm old enough to know that other people are more experienced than I, so if no one is doing it, there must be a good reason for it ... and there is. There is a snag in the regulations regarding E.212 numbers (as IMSI's are also known). The Dutch (and as far as I know all European) regulations require the user of such a number to be a "public" provider of electronic communications networks, which many M2M end users can't claim to be.

Being an ex-regulator I know regulations can be changed, so I talked to the government, who happened to have been informed of the solution by a side note in a report of Stratix. In the end we won a commission in competition to evaluate the solution in full. What was really nice about this was that it touches on some core issues in mobile telecommunications:
1. Why is it that end-users don't have access to wholesale markets for (mobile) telecommunication. Almost every market allows significantly large users to access the wholesale market. In energy every farmer can become an electricity or gas producer, they can access the spot trade market etc. The same goes for banking services where lease companies run banks and trade on the international markets. In telecoms this is only really possible for internet peering and transit. The fixed telephony market is semi-locked and the mobile telephony market is fully locked for large scale end users.
2. How come roaming is expensive? If all that distinguishes one mobile device from another is the IMSI number used, than why is it expensive to use an Orange UK SIM on an Orange France network? It could be the same HLR and network serving the customer. If foreign just means that the first three digits of the SIM are different, it's not much of a distinction. So why is there a distinction?]
3. What does it mean to be a public network and why do we have the distinction in law between public and private networks? If it is such an important difference, then why do private networks like Google, BBC and Microsoft have no problems connecting to the internet. I used to love this debate, when I was discussing lawful interception and data retention, but this is another view on the same problem.
4. How to use Private GSM in the DECT Guard Band, which is possible in the UK and NL already. Private GSM makes use of some spectrum that was reserved as a guard band between DECT and GSM 1800. In The Netherlands the use is license free. It allows users to make use of normal GSM's to connect to a private low power network which could replace the use of DECT, which often has horrible propagation characteristics. A problem is getting access to SIM-cards for this use.
I won't comment on the specific results of the report, it should speak for itself.

All in all, I've had tremendous fun researching these questions. Please read the report, all 55 pages or the slides, if you can't read Dutch. If you have any questions, give me a call +31613414512 or post them in the comments. And if anyone wants a similar report in English or another language, please commission me ;-)

Herman Wagter’s NetU device to enable WiFi or open micro WiFi/GSM cells

Fortunately there are solutions which will takes us in the right direction. It so happened that my ideas overlapped with work in progress by Genexis in the Netherlands. The following is the result of a recent inspiring discussion with Gerlas van der Hoven, their CEO.The key conceptual step is to define a "Neutral Termination Unit" (NeTU) in the home. (For the sake of argument we assume a FttH access network). The physical fiber line terminates in the NetU.

The NeTU solves the above issues by allowing multiple independent networks with associated services to be configured in a simple and reliable way, to make it possible that each (virtual) network can be billed separately.

The NeTU is active, needs power but only performs a limited number of functions. It could be described as a minimal fibermodem that is redesigned to act as a platform for a number of physical "apps" (P-apps). It will be cheaper than a modem because it is minimal......

A P-app is a physical device ( a piece of electronics with software) that is designed to be user-pluggable in the NeTU. The NeTU gives the P-app physical support, power and a connection to the broadband network.

The trick is that the NeTU recognizes the P-app and automatically provisions a specificVLAN over the access line to the nearest aggregation point (exchange, central office, cabinet). A VLAN creates a virtual connection to the exchange. Each P-app has its own VLAN, its own IP-space and so on. The P-app has its own connectors to be used by the consumer or the application.

In the exchange the VLAN's are separated and recombined per type of P-app., fed into backhaul specific for each type of P-app. This allows for very diverse qualities and prices per type of P-app. For instance a very "thin" but highly reliable en secure backhaul for smart meters directly to the energy companies, or a "thick" backhaul for telepresence, or [networked operated Wifi or GMS node].

In the home a P-app is the gateway for a home network and specific applications. The first P-app will be the "triple play" P-app, providing the traditional voice, TV and Internet access with routing, firewall and wifi.
The consumer buys a P-app, or receives it from their ISP, plugs it in and voila. Do you want to change your ISP? Just unplug the P-app and change it to a different one.


Jaap van Till on Wifi over Fiber

Yes, I have seen the future and ... it looks good.
Network managers I spoke to recently in Belgium said the Netherlands is about five years ahead in the price and avialability of high speed lines, international links through the AMS-IX and dark fiber links. Germans estimate that our bandwidth market with FttBusiness is about 10 years ahead of theirs. I am quite sure that SURFnet, for the closed user group of National Research and Education, with ist insatiable demand of students and scientists for bandwidth, has played a major role in opening up these markets and infrastructures. It is possible that SURFnet as breeding ground for new idea's and bundling of new demand will do an experiment with a new phase of mobile networking within campuses of universities, schools and reasearch institutes.

Yes you will think that this will be 4G (aka LTE) after the present 2G-GSM, Wi-Fi and 3G-UMTS. 4G will come for sure, but we want to look a bit beyond that.
The problem with the present cell-phone networks is that mobile internet users start to make a huge demand in data volume from their smartphones and tablets. The mobiles with Android use even more capacity on 3G networks than those with iPhones. Especially for video, also on the new Pad's from Apple, Samsung and others. This forces the operators to change their billing policies recently. Despite recently increased pace of investments in the whole country in extra basessations and fiber backhaul capacity, that brings the optic fibers closer to the basestations, the operators foresee that netcongestion & delays (latency) will now and then strike. User will not be amused by that. The operators blame the 5 - 10 % of users who eat up about 80% of the network capacity. Bad users bad users!! (I guess it is those students using the SURFnet computer networks too). The operators can slow down these super-users by tariff boundaries when they exceed monthly volume limit or put them back in certain waiting lines. But I am affraid this will not help much once the rest of the users start for instance to put streaming radio on their smartphone. You not have to be a member of the superdigerati to do this. And the whole situation seems a bit weltfremd to me. At last people nearly eat up the networks and now the operators are complaining. Does a brewery ever complain when students drink too much beer?

The direction in which the solution to this situation can be found is in my opinion rather obvious. It is inevitable that for higher wireless dataspeeds and volumes the used radiofrequencies must be higher and broader in the sense of spectrum size. That results in smaller cell sizes because of the transmission power required at these higher frequencies vs the legal boundaries for emission and the battery power of the smartphones. That means many more basesstations must be instaaled than for GSM or 3G. And indoor coverage for LTE would be an even bigger problem.This can be catered for by placing (so called femtocell-) basestations inside homes, appartment buildings and offices that ....have a FTTX network access connection. Because for the high speed cellphone traffic you need high capacity terrestial lines to carry the basestation traffic.
The telecom industry already aware [1] that small cell basestations are a MUST to the deployment
of 4G (LTE networks). "Femtocells and Enterprise Femtocells Provide Real Solutions to Wireless Carrier
Problems" was the headline of [1].
And a good reason for the industry to step up the pace of roll-out of "glass" don't you think ?! So here is the killer app for FttX: smartphones !! So it is an honour and previlege for me to announce to you all the intended marriage between the happy couple "Wireless" and "Fiber"! It will no doubt be as heavenly as the combination between WiFi and your DSL- or cablemodem.

But there is still something not quite right. Even if you put a femtocell into an appartment bulding radiation above 1 Ghz (Wi-Fi is 2.4 and 3.5 GHz) does not pass walls very well, so you would need femtocell basestations connected with fiber in every room of the home/office, lecture hall and laboratory room. The solution to that has been thought of by prof. Ton Koonen of the COBRA institute at the Technical University of Eindhoven (TUe, NL) to use 'Radio over Fiber' (aka 'Radio over Fibre' if you look it up on Google) for the distribution of the radiation of the basestations inhouse to every room.
Let me explain this a bit. RoF has nothing to do with Radio transmission but has to do with radio frequency (RF) waves like those of wireless which are put into a optic fibre wire. In fact there is a huge bandwith for electromagnetic waves like for mobile devices, including light in every optic fibre. So instead of wiring fiber to connect femtobasestations in every room the idea is to put a fiber connected central femtocell in a faculty building and then beyond that radiate the wireless signals (to and from it) through a number of optic fibers with at their end rather simple antenna's. And bingo you can connect smartphones, iPads (without having to change anything to them) etc wirelessly in that room with much less energy(!) from both basestation and mobile devices. The techology for ROF has been around and implemented for instance in tunnels since 2001, but Koonen designed a number of new applications for iknstance in homes for radiation at 60 Ghz. A friend of mine and former collegue at Stratix ir. Almar Giesberts graduated with him in 2003 on the use of multimode plastic fibers [2] for ROF and he could show that even plastic fishing line wires would do! Plastic wire is already used to a certain extent for low cost cabling for TV and LAN connections in homes [3], so why not for wireless too?

In such a construction, which may be what will become G5 wireless: fiber to the basestation AND fiber beyond to rooms, has a number of advantages besides solving the network congestion problem for wireless internet use. As i said much lower total energy use (including lower use of battery power) Less powerfull radiation needed. And massive reuse of frequency spectrum bands since radiation is boxed in into rooms.When frequencies are later changed the simple antenna's do not have to be upgraded. They do not have to process the RF signals but simply pass them on in and out of the fiber. Whel this is basicly what we want to test in the SURFnet new wireless trial.

Further down the road is forseeable the use this RoF construction '5G?' in homes, appartment buildings and office buildings for the general public. So it will mean not only FttH but even (plastic) 'fiber beyond the meter' into the rooms, with for instance only one base-station for each appartment building. So the nice thing for mobile operators is that they can move the intelligent equipment to a more central place in the neigborhood or even more upstream. That is what
a have preached for years as the real message of optic fibers: the place where to put equipment is not so important any more. Things will shift to the edge or even further to rooms, and other things will shift to more central places. I call this "the FiberShuffle" and it heas been going on for years.
Last thing is that we have eventualy to wire our offices and home-rooms with fibers, glass or plastic. But maybe people will invent nice camouflage for them like ivy or vine-tendrils on the walls. That would make networks green and fruity at last.

Jaap van Till

[1] "Femtocells will play a large part in 4G"
Groet van/ Yours Sincerely
ir Jaap van Till
* Chief Scientist-Tildro Research BV
* Senior Advisor- Stratix Consulting, Hilversum
* Professor emeritus telecommunication & networks- HAN Polytechnic & TUDelft, NL
vantill(at) +31 (6) - 55 30 3210

twitter: BillStArnaud
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