Vodafone first to take advantage of spectrum sharing rules

Vodafone has announced it has entered into a three-year agreement with StrattoOpencell to share the use of it 2.6 GHz spectrum assets to deliver connectivity in Devon.

Following adjustments to spectrum license rules by Ofcom earlier this year, Vodafone becomes the first telco to share out the valuable airwaves. As part of the agreement, StrattoOpencell will deploy 4G small cells to deliver connectivity services to a holiday site in Devon.

“Vodafone has a long history of innovation, from sending the first text message to conducting the first 5G holographic call,” said Vodafone UK CEO Nick Jeffery. “We are delighted to become the first mobile company in the UK to share some of our spectrum to extend rural coverage.

“By offering some of our 4G spectrum to StrattoOpencell, we are helping to extend fast and reliable mobile network access for people in rural communities. Mobile connectivity in rural areas is just as important as it is for those in towns and cities, which is why we continue to work with others to help improve rural connectivity for all.”

Earlier this year, Ofcom made some amendments to allow for spectrum assets to be licensed off to third-parties by the telco which owns the airwaves. The changes are designed to more efficiently make use of the valuable assets. Vodafone is currently using the 2.6 GHz spectrum band in urbanised areas, though not in the rural communities. The high-capacity is attractive in the cities, though the shorter-range is less so when dealing with the rural areas.

This looks to be a very good example of proactive and forward-thinking regulation. If Vodafone is not making use of the spectrum in certain areas, why shouldn’t someone else? It is after all an asset which Vodafone is entitled to monetize in any (legal) way it sees fit.

Should a telco find a partner it would like to license its spectrum assets to, it has to seek permission from Ofcom detailing the band, location, bandwidth and power required. The regulator looks at it with a positive outcome in mind, though it will look for potential interference. The applications are dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

“Our new sharing approach aims to help more people access the airwaves they need to create local networks around the UK, including improving connections in rural areas,” said Philip Marnick, Group Director of Spectrum at Ofcom.

“Vodafone and StrattoOpencell are the first to take advantage of this. We look forward to seeing how others use our new spectrum access approach to support innovation and enable local communities to have better connections.”

Although this is only in Devon for the moment, the spectrum policy has been altered to enable more creative connectivity solutions in areas where fixed-connectivity is not an option. This might be difficult to reach places, or areas where permanent connectivity is not required. The success of the idea will be dependent on adoption, so it will be curious to see whether EE, O2 and Three elect to join the sharing scheme.

Verizon sues City of Rochester over 5G fees

US telco Verizon has filed a lawsuit against the City of Rochester, suggesting a newly created telecommunications code violates federal law and the maximum fees telcos can be charged.

Filed in the District Court for Western New York, Verizon’s lawyers will be attempting to argue that the implementation of the new telecommunications code by the city will prohibit the rollout of 5G technologies in the area. This is of course early days, though it could go some way in creating legal precedent throughout the US.

Using FCC rules which were passed last September, Verizon will argue the newly adopted telecommunications code in the City of Rochester violates the maximum fee of $270 a year which can be charged by the local governments. Although we were unable to figure out how much each site could cost Verizon annually, it does appear to run into the thousands.

“To better serve its customers and the City and to begin to serve new customers and provide new services, Verizon Wireless seeks to extend, densify, and upgrade its wireless network infrastructure, including to install additional Small Wireless Facilities to support the provision of current and next-generation telecommunications services such as 5G and to deploy fiber to connect these facilities,” the filing states.

“To successfully do this, Verizon Wireless requires new approvals from Defendant to access City property.

“As a result of Defendant’s actions, Verizon Wireless has been, and will continue to be, damaged and irreparably harmed absent the relief requested herein. The harm caused by Defendant’s unlawful actions includes, but is not limited to, an effective prohibition on Verizon Wireless’s ability to provide telecommunications services in the affected area of the City.”

Similar to regulatory changes in the UK with the new Electronic Communications Code, the FCC is attempting to protect the interests of the telcos. As real-estate owners know the telcos have no choice but to increase the number of cell sites to provide the promised 5G experience to consumers, they are in a position of power. The new rules from the FCC, and the creation of the $270 annual limit, is supposed to create a responsible transaction which benefits both parties.

However, it does not appear the City of Rochester agrees with the position of the FCC. In creating its own telecommunications code, it does appear higher fees can be charged for cell sites, while some officials state they are attempting to reduce potential clutter and eyesores created by the additional mobile infrastructure.

Looking at the timeline, Verizon wrote to city officials to ask for revisions to the code on January 10 and February 7, before the code was enacted on February 20 without any amendments, taking effect on April 1. Another letter was sent on April 15 questioning whether the code was compliant with federal law, with city officials finally responding on April 30 suggesting they were happy with the set-up. On July 30, the city officials demanded payment from the telco.

In short, Verizon is claiming the fees are acting as a prohibitor to the delivery of connectivity in the city, therefore federal law is being violated.

What is worth noting, that due to the focus on mmWave for the delivery of 5G services in the US, more cell sites will have to be deployed. This is unavoidable, as to deliver the higher speed promised by 5G, higher-frequency airwaves will have to be utilised. This does not appear to be a problem, however coverage distance will have to be sacrificed leading to the densification plans set-forward by the telcos.

Although this is the first lawsuit of this nature which has been brought to our attention, we suspect there are numerous other local governments attempting to sweat public assets to secure more funding. This is one of the first, but this might become quite a common lawsuit to read about over the coming months and years, as densification strategies gather momentum.

Appeals court halts FCC red-tape cutting quest

The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has put the brakes on FCC attempts to reduce bureaucracy surrounding small cell deployment in the US.

In March last year, the FCC introduced new rules which would remove certain approvals required for the deployment of small cells. In short, telcos would no-longer have to seek review from the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) prior to deployment.

In response to the new rules, the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma, the Blackfeet Tribe, and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) objected, suggesting the FCC should not be allowed to remove the approvals with such ease and with a lack of consultation.

In this case, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has agreed. Certain aspects of the order have been upheld, however, the removal of this red-tape has been condemned by the Federal Judges.

“We grant in part the petitions for review because the Order does not justify the Commission’s determination that it was not in the public interest to require review of small cell deployments,” the courts opinion states.

“In particular, the Commission failed to justify its confidence that small cell deployments pose little to no cognizable religious, cultural, or environmental risk, particularly given the vast number of proposed deployments and the reality that the Order will principally affect small cells that require new construction.”

For the FCC, this is a loss, despite a positive statement from Commissioner Brenden Carr.

“I am pleased that the court upheld key provisions of last March’s infrastructure decision,” said Carr. “Most importantly, the court affirmed our decision that parties cannot demand upfront fees before reviewing any cell sites, large or small.

“We are reviewing the portion of last March’s decision that the DC Circuit did not affirm and look forward to next steps, as appropriate.”

This might sound positive but let’s not forget the objective of the FCC in introducing these new rules; speed-up deployment of 4G and 5G infrastructure in regions which might fall into the digital divide.

As we move forward into the 5G era, new opportunities are going to emerge for all economies around the world. The financial benefits are constantly being thrust into our face by telco lobbyists, however for these economic surges to be realised the right infrastructure needs to be in place.

This is where the FCC plays the most significant role. Pai has taken a machete to red-tape in recent years to offer more freedoms to the telco and media industry on the whole, and this was another step in that direction. Removing certain tick boxes would help the telcos roll-out new networks faster, though it seems it has over-stepped its mark in this instance.

Ericsson Dots down for some 5G noise

If we’re not complaining about poor signal in the middle of a farmers field, it’s the disastrous indoor coverage, but Ericsson is moving to soothe the masses.

One of the problems is with modern buildings. Modern building materials can block outdoor radio signals, therefore indoor coverage problems cannot be addressed by increasing outdoor radio deployments. Ericsson’s solution is to bring additional products to the market, in this case it’s the 5G Radio Dot, a small cell radio designed to improve coverage indoor ahead of the influx of the tsunami of 4K/8K video streaming, VR/AR, and immersive media which 5G promises.

“Adding small cell solutions to our 5G portfolio is a natural part of the network evolution. Enterprises have been asking for first-rate connectivity indoors, as well as higher speeds and capacity to serve advanced use cases that cannot be addressed by traditional indoor systems,” said Nishant Batra, Head of Product Area Network Infrastructure at Ericsson. “Our 5G portfolio, bolstered by small cells, will enable operators to meet these demands.”

Ericsson claims the 5G Radio Dot takes less than half the time to install compared to other indoor solutions, while it will support the new 5G mid-bands (3-6GHz) with speeds up to 2Gbps. The Radio Dot products are already in the market for customers trying to improve indoor 4G coverage, but now it has a 5G sticker on it.

The newly configured products can just replace what customers have in place now, using the same cabling infrastructure, same network architecture and dot locations. In theory, it should be a simple change over once the 5G dream is here. Trials will be taking place across 2018, and the Dot should hit the shelves in 2019.

Techies like comics so we’ll call it SpiderCloud – Sprint

You can almost imagine a couple of marketing executives congratulations themselves with a kale smoothie as they came with this idea to market small cells to enterprise customers.

It’s an out there idea which combines two seemingly important points; firstly, the small cell product from Sprint can ‘stick’ onto any Cisco WiFi infrastructure, and secondly, the target market is IT crowd, who stereotypically like comic books. Well done guys, reward yourselves with a flannel shirt and a new pair of jeggings.

What next you ask? BatMEC, lurking in the shadows to cache your data. Thor’s hammer of 5G, crushing your data requirements. Captain Rural America, leading the charge against the evil not-spots hiding in the barn.

Or how about SuperNFV – is it a bird, is it a plane, no it’s a network architecture concept that uses the technologies of IT virtualization to virtualize entire classes of network node functions into building blocks that may connect, or chain together, to create communication services.

“This innovative LTE small cell literally clips onto existing Cisco WiFi infrastructure and can be deployed in less than 30 minutes, providing a very cost-effective way to rapidly improve indoor service,” said Robert Kingsley, Director of Small Cell and WiFi Development at Sprint. “We’re excited to keep expanding our toolbox of small cell solutions with this latest innovation for the enterprise.”

All joking aside, it isn’t the worst idea in the world (well, the name is shockingly awful). An enterprise can deploy SpiderCloud LTE Radio Nodes (RN) on its Ethernet LAN. The RNs connect to SpiderCloud’s Services Node (SN), located on the enterprise LAN. Sprint then claims a network of 100 Radio Nodes and 1 Services Node can provide over a gigabit of capacity and coverage across a public venue or office as large as 1.5 million square feet.

Right now SpiderCloud LTE Radio Nodes support Sprint’s 1.9 GHz spectrum band, with plans to extend support for Sprint’s 2.5 GHz band is in mid-2018. Let’s just hope this doesn’t clash with ComiCon or Sprint will be well and truly screwed.

Ericsson shows the small (cell) ideas are sometimes the best ones

Ericsson has announced the launch of a couple of new small cell solutions, which are pretty simple ideas when you think about it.

The theme here doesn’t seem be being overly clever, it’s about being practical. Presenting ideas which won’t revolutionise the industry, but more about taking existing technologies and applying them in a way which improves business operations. That’s according to Martin Ljungberg, Product Manager for Small Cells Solutions at Ericsson.

“This isn’t rocket science from a technology perspective,” said Ljungberg. “It’s about identifying a challenge and presenting a suitable solution.”

The challenge here is mobile broadband coverage. With the rise in large or unlimited data plans, it has no longer become a necessity to connect to Wifi once you enter a building. In years gone, asking for the Wifi password was one of the first things done, but not anymore as people are happy to eat into the mountain of data which they have as part of their contract.

According to Ericsson’s own research, 60% of people are unhappy about the service and experience which they have when connecting to mobile broadband indoors. The first two products are designed to tackle this challenge.

Firstly, the Multi-Operator Dot delivers a set of Radio Dots that can be shared between multiple operators, with one operator managing the system while others provide radio frequency signals. Secondly, the Multi-Dot Enclosure combines multiple Dots in a single enclosure. It’s a simple idea, but you bring together a couple of operators and set up the small cell site in the building. Costs are brought down and there is only need for one installation crew to set upon the building.

Right now Ericsson needs to get agreement from the operators before installing; there needs to be commitment beforehand. But as the appetite for the small cell market increases, there could be potential for companies like Ericsson to install the gear and provision to operators later on.  Ljungberg noted the appetite for the small cell market is still small for the moment.

The final offering is the Strand-Mount Unit for outdoor micro radios. And once again, there isn’t too much complexity in this idea.

“It’s not rocket science but it enables scalable street level deployment very easily.”

Essentially, MNOs who want to install the radios on the existing grid, can hang the units on aerial coax, fibre, or electricity cables. Aerial-strand deployments are critical for scaling outdoor small cells, while this strand-mount unit can support up to four micro radios, enabling multiple operators to utilize the same mount. It’s a simple idea which can allow for increased bandwidth, which make use of the physical infrastructure which is already there.

Sometimes the simple ideas are the best ones.