Virgin Media has claimed it can now deliver 8 Gbps broadband, but you have to ask whether there is any point aside from satisfying executive’s egos as the ‘faster than you’ mentality undermines the industry.
To be clear, Virgin Media is not the only telco that destabilises customer confidence and makes claims which are often twisted and contorted by their spin doctors, resulting in the miseducation trends of recent years, but they are the ones doing it today.
In Cambridgeshire, one of the UK’s technology hubs, Virgin Media is trialling what it describes as the ‘UK’s fastest home broadband’ service, with speeds exceeding 8 Gbps. This might sound fantastic and serves as an excellent means to distract onlookers from shortcomings elsewhere in the Virgin Media business, but why?
Why do customers need an 8 Gbps broadband connection? What services and applications could possibly be satisfied by such lightening speeds? In the future there might well be demand for such services, but right now there are arguably other things Virgin Media should be concentrating on.
This is the current issue with the telco industry on the whole, and why the telcos will struggle over the next couple of years; the obsession with ‘bigger, meaner, faster’ is unhealthy and is limiting the ambitions of the telcos themselves.
All of this comes back to the relationship with the customer. Every telco is obsessed with being the fastest around, as it is commonly believed this is what the customer wants, and therefore all messaging is geared around this ambition. Advertisements are flooded with imagery and claims which are unrealistic and more often than not, un-needed.
Instead of focusing on a single test which claims PR plaudits for hitting 8 Gbps in a very specific area of the UK, why not concentrate on delivering a more satisfactory service across the board? You correspondent used to be a Virgin Media customer and can assure you promised speeds were never met. The telco industry’s obsession with wowing the world with headline figures is compounding the misery of mistrust.
If Virgin Media wants to succeed in the broadband world and be more than a quirky challenger with a famous brand ambassador, it should aim to create a wonderful experience for all customers, not chase shallow headlines. This is of course a wonderful example of what is possible in the world of tomorrow, but customers are getting screwed today.
Customers don’t care what the maximum speed of a service is, as long as it is more than what is required for a good experience. If a household requires 50 Mbps to make everything work, does it really matter whether the top speed is 55 Mbps or 5 Gbps. All this obsession does is lure the majority of customers into a false promise of performance and create problems for the future.
Looking at the bigger picture, the telcos with a mobile offering are going to have to move away from this obsession with speed before too long. As it stands, customers who have a stable 4G connection can pretty much do anything they want. There are very few (if any) consumer applications which exceed the capabilities of 4G. And if there are, we suspect there are other factors involved.
This leads us onto one of the biggest questions telcos will face at Mobile World Congress in a couple of weeks’ time; how will they sell 5G to the consumer?
There are of course plenty of reasons to be excited by 5G, but as a consumer why would I be bothered? The applications which will require 100 Mbps or more are not widely available on smartphones, while few connect laptops to the internet outside of wifi. We strongly suspect telcos will market 5G on the grounds of ‘faster is better’, but most will look at the premium and likely decide they have fast enough.
Virgin Media’s 8 Gbps broadband trial is perfectly representative of the industry we work in today. While there is always a need for progress, there are more cogs spinning in the machine than just the speed one.
The unhealthy obsession with ‘bigger, meaner, faster’ is falsely reinforcing the belief that telcos are going a good job, both across the mobile and broadband segments. At some point, someone is going to have to sit down and realise there is more to the world of telecommunications than speed.
Telecom Italia has taken to the sixteenth edition of Rally Legend to show off its 5G smarts in the test bed of San Marino.
The microstate, which is currently serving as the Telecom Italia 5G living lab, is the first state in Europe to experience the 5G euphoria, with the Rally Legend event, a car racing bonanza, the latest experiment.
“We are particularly delighted to be able to work alongside Rally Legend to demonstrate how new technologies can support sports events at an international level,” stated Cesare Pisani, CEO of TIM San Marino.
“With the ‘San Marino 5G’ project TIM aims to deliver technological excellence to the Republic of San Marino making it the first 5G State in Europe. The activities are proceeding in line with the plans agreed with local government and the switching on of the Serravalle Stadio antenna, together with uses that have already been implemented, represent a new important step along this path.”
After Secretary of State for the Territory and Tourism, Augusto Michelotti, switched on the new Serravalle Stadio 5G antenna the fun began. 360° cameras have been activated on the race track, allowing fans to experience the action through VR headsets, while the TIM streaming platform will broadcast the footage on large screens throughout the village. Aside from traditional cameras, live action cameras placed inside the cars and web operators who shoot footage of the race with their smartphones, will also contribute to the action.
While all the demonstrations and trials in San Marino are small scale, the lessons learned through the real-world lab will pay dividends ahead of the up-coming launch in Italy.
EE is set to green light its first 5G trial in London, testing out its fixed wireless access ambitions.
Five businesses and five homes will have the chance to test out EE’s 5G broadband capabilities as the telco shows us it’s not all about bufferless cat videos on the bus. The trial will see 5G switched on at ten sites around East London in City Road, Old Street, Hoxton Square, St Paul’s and Chiswell Street.
Although details of the trialists are thin at the moment, EE has hinted it will make use of social media to find them. If anything else, it’s an interesting idea to increase follows across the various platforms.
“This live trial is a big step forward in making the benefits of 5G a reality for our customers, and in making sure that the UK is at the front of the pack for 5G technology,” said Marc Allera, CEO of BT’s Consumer business.
“We’re focusing our resource and experience across EE and BT to ensure that we continue to lead the UK market with a mobile network that keeps giving our customers the best speeds and the best coverage. 5G is a fundamental part of our work to build a converged, smart network that keeps our customers connected to the things that matter most.”
Of course it wouldn’t be a proper trial if a politician didn’t get the chance to show off the fluoride smile to the world.
“We want the UK to be a global leader in 5G as part of our ambition to create a world-leading digital economy that works for everyone,” said Margot James, Minister for Digital. “Together with the Government’s own test beds and trials programme, industry initiatives like this will help deliver the benefits of this new revolutionary technology to businesses and consumers across the UK.”
While the main buzz of the 5G euphoria has been centred around improving the experience on your smart phone or filling the roads with autonomous vehicles, the fixed wireless access use case has been seldom touched in the UK. It certainly has been a talking point elsewhere, Verizon just launched it offering in very limited pockets of the US, though now the UK telcos seem to be catching on.
In recent weeks, Vodafone outlined their plans and trials for the 5G world, unusually selecting two rural locations as test beds, Cornwall and the Lake District. The explanation here; there is a need to trial all sorts of different use cases in different environments, with fixed wireless access being one.
Of course, 5G broadband connectivity does not offer the same reliability or potential of fibre-based connectivity (at least not until we start talking about 6G/7G/8G…) but it is a genuine use case which can be brought to the market in the near future. While we will have to wait until mid- to late-2019 for 5G compatible smartphones, routers will be on the market much sooner.
Telecom Italia has announced it expects 5G services to be greenlight in San Marino by the end of the year, making it the first 5G state in Europe. If only they had the handsets.
With TIM engineers plugging away in Faetano to hook up 3GPP Rel15 standard radio equipment with Massive-MIMO technology, the aim is to have complete 5G coverage by the end of the year. With the team back in head office running the final tests on 26 GHz millimetre waves in the 26.5-27.5 GHz frequency range, the hope is San Marino will become a living lab to test out new 5G services.
“The installation of the first 3GPP 5G site is the peak of a virtuous cycle of innovation launched by TIM a few years ago, working with the standardization bodies and contributing since the beginning to the ITU R ‘Vision’ recommendation which defined the founding concepts of 5G, subsequently guiding work on the technical specifications for 3GPP Rel15 and later,” said Elisabetta Romano, CTO at TIM.
“Nokia has developed an end-to-end 5G Future X portfolio that will deliver unprecedented capabilities and efficiencies for customers such as TIM, allowing them to transform their service offering,” said Marc Rouanne, President of Mobile Networks at Nokia. “Working together we will explore the potential of 5G services that align with TIM’s vision of meeting the future demands of a diverse range of industries and consumers.”
The first stages of the deployment plan were complete with various successful trials run over the 3.5 GHz frequency band, though it seems the 26 GHz millimetre waves is what is catching the attention of the team. Equipment will be deployed from September to move trials from the Turin R&D centre to the San Marino living lab, focusing on areas such as Industry 4.0, public safety, Smart Parking and Gas & Water Metering applications for smart cities and digital tourism, including virtual reality.
Having signed a memorandum of understanding with the government of the microstate in July last year, San Marino could actually be one of the first country’s in the world to experience the 5G bonanza. That said, this should not be taking as a sign things are all rosy across the European continent; hooking up a microstate with a land mass of 23.63 mi² and a population of just over 33,000 should be viewed as nothing more than an experiment for TIM. Europe still lags behind North America and Asia in the race to 5G, but progress is being made.
The West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) has been selected as the region for the UK’s first multi-city 5G test bed with trials set to kick-off next year.
The Urban Connected Communities Project will make use of a £25 million investment from the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, as well as £25 million from regional partners, trialling new 5G applications and services at scale. A further £25 million could be made available to the initiative in the future, with Birmingham, Coventry and Wolverhampton the three primary locations for the trials.
“5G has the potential to dramatically transform the way we go about our daily lives, and we want the citizens of the UK to be amongst the first to experience all the opportunities and benefits this new technology will bring,” said Minister for Digital, Margot James. “The West Midlands Testbed, which is the first of its kind anywhere in the world, will be instrumental in helping us realise this ambition.”
The West Midlands Combined Authorities bid has an initial focus on the health, construction and automotive sectors, with its overarching ambition to help drive economic growth. One of the consistent messages from the government over the last few years has been the ambition to spread the wealth more evenly throughout the UK using 5G as a catalyst. The West Midlands is one region which has embraced this concept, aiming to establish a global tech hub for autonomous and electric vehicles and components through 5G benefits.
“This announcement is game-changing for the West Midlands economy,” said Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands. “This will be the backbone of our future economy and society.
“The potential of this technology is endless – and we will enjoy the benefits first. From monitoring the health of babies and the elderly, to the way out people are linked to the economy of the future, the way companies do business, the way we deliver public services, the experience of travellers on public transport and the way we deliver City of Culture and the Commonwealth Games – everything can be made better thanks to the power of this technology.”
The Midlands has already been carving a name for itself in the digital economy with Coventry one of the UK hubs for autonomous vehicles. Alongside Milton Keynes, Coventry is one of the main hubs for UK Autodrive, the largest of three separate government-backed consortia to test autonomous vehicles. As part of the initiative, Jaguar Land Rover and Tata Motors European Technical Centre trialled the technology in Coventry city centre during November 2017, the first such trials on the open road in the UK. Some of the features being trialled in this initiative included Intersection Priority Management, Green Light Optimal Speed Advisory, Collaborative Parking and Intersection Collision Warning.
Moving forward, Jaguar Land Rover will continue to be an active partner of the region as part of the driverless push, while health care will also be taken into the digital economy with ‘connected ambulances’. Paramedic crews at an incident could access specialist advice at the scene through video conferencing with consultants or other clinical specialists, while streaming of patient data from ambulance en route to hospital could help inform the immediate care patients receive on arrival.
Other initiatives include the development of intelligent CCTV, with AI monitoring the feed and able to identify potential incidents. Police Officers can be more efficiently directed to incidents, while the AI could provide the opportunity for far greater coverage than is possible at present with human operatives.
While sceptics might have assumed the government promises of investments in digital infrastructure was nothing but hot air, it has been much more generous over the last couple of weeks. Aside from this announcement, the UK Government also released an additional £95 million to the Local Full Fibre Networks (LFFN) Challenge Fund to close the digital divide. Perhaps the bank accounts are starting to creak open.
Autonomous vehicles and the connected car have been one of the front-runners for 5G investments, but in demonstrating 4G can be used as low-latency connectivity for vehicles, has Nokia undermined its 5G mission?
This is part of the issue for the telcos when it comes to investments for 5G; the messaging is very messy. It will be an expensive mission to upgrade the world to the fifth generation of mobile networks, therefore sound business cases for ROI are needed, with autonomous vehicles and the connected car near the top of the list. But if this usecase can be delivered over 4G, does this undermine the desperation for the superfast, low latency networks?
5G will of course be better, but we don’t live in a perfect world and sometimes sacrifices have to be made. This isn’t exactly a press release which encourages the telcos to go all in on the new networks.
The pair now claim to have successfully demonstrated the use of LTE in Japan to deliver cost-efficient, low-latency connectivity for vehicles, using the evolved Multimedia Broadcast Multicast Service standard in two connected car applications, and demonstrating the potential of cellular technology to enable fully automated driving in the future.
The Nokia evolved Multimedia Broadcast Multicast service (eMBMS) hotspot solution, allows data to be sent once to many users simultaneously, which in this trial, allowed real-time information to be shared with multiple vehicles to cost-effectively enable awareness and road safety. In this example, Vehicle-to-network-to-vehicle (V2N2V) and Network Real-Time Kinematic (network RTK), were the applications demonstrated.
“We are pleased to work with Nokia to demonstrate our leadership in the delivery of mobile networks for IoT and connected car communications,” said Munefumi Tsurusawa, GM for Connected Vehicle Technology Department, Technical Planning Division at KDDI Corporation. “This is an important trial showing how the automotive industry can leverage cellular technology to enhance safety of connect vehicles on the roads.”
“Nokia has a comprehensive solution package for V2X based on its MEC platform and eMBMS hotspot solution aiming to cost-effectively accelerate the adoption of vehicle-to-everything communication,” said Uwe Puetzschler, Head of Car2X at Nokia. “While manual intervention was used in the proof-of-concept trials, a clear evolution path to 5G will enable operators such as KDDI to support the widespread adoption of automated vehicles.”
It is no secret 4G and 5G networks will live alongside each other in harmony for at least the first few years of deployment, however you have to wonder whether Nokia has shot itself in the foot here. Huawei took the 4G world by storm, with Ericsson and Nokia both waiting on the 5G revolution to recoup lost fortunes, it is certainly a brave move to send out press releases which potentially undermine one of the leading 5G usecases.
KPN has announced the launch of four new 5G trials in the Netherlands, while also giving the government a bit of a nudge to grant access to the 3.5 GHz frequency band.
Although the 3.5 GHz frequency has been marked as a priority for 5G by the European Commission, Dutch regulators have not included the band in any spectrum auctions to date, or the auction scheduled for 2019. This has been a point of frustration for the telcos, who seem to be taking it in turn to urge regulators to rethink plans. While this is seemingly KPN’s turn, VodafoneZiggo made a similar plea towards the end of 2017 which fell on deaf ears.
“Where 4G connects people, 5G will connect the whole society. It is therefore very important that we, together with customers and technology partners, investigate how 5G can optimize business processes and improve the customer experience,” said Jacob Groote, Director of Product Management Business Market at KPN.
Right now the band being used for defence and intelligence at a satellite monitoring station in the north of the Netherlands, and closed broadband networks elsewhere. Regulators have said the issue will be cleared up in time for the 2019 auction, but there has seemingly been little progress to date, much to the frustration of the telcos.
Despite the confusion, KPN has also confirmed it will begin four new 5G trials focusing on Massive MIMO in urban areas with Nokia (Amsterdam), connection of drones for precision agriculture (a farm in Drenthe), virtual reality in industry (Rotterdam Harbour) and self-driving vehicles (motorways near Helmond).
In terms of the applications in agriculture, the team will work with Wageningen University and ZTE, to test out various precision agriculture practises based on drones. The trio will also be using millimetre wave with the aim of generating speeds greater than 1 Gbps. Over in Rotterdam Harbour, network slicing is the focus of the trial. Working with Huawei, the aim is to effectively demonstrate network slicing techniques for business critical applications using virtual reality.
AT&T has offered a bit of insight into 5G trials which have taken place over the last two years, suggesting it will be the best because of them. Of course, no one else has been doing trials so we can fully understand the logic.
“It’s no coincidence that AT&T is aiming to be the first US carrier to launch standards-based, mobile 5G services to customers this year,” boasts Melissa Arnoldi, President of AT&T Technology & Operations. “We’ve been ‘practicing’ for this moment for almost two years.”
The brag comes off the back of three trials which took place in Waco, Texas, Kalamazoo, Michigan and South Bend, Indiana. After these trials, the team is now confident it has all the answers necessary to deploy a 5G network that ‘works for people all over the country’. We’re sceptical, but here are the findings.
In Waco the trial focused on small and medium sized businesses, providing 5G mmWave service to a retail location more than 150 meters away from the cell site. Speeds hit 1.2 Gbps in a 400 MHz channel, with latency rates at 9-12 milliseconds, supporting ‘hundreds’ of simultaneous connected users.
In Kalamazoo the team observed no impact on 5G mmWave signal performance due to rain, snow or other weather events, while the signal can pass through foliage, glass and even walls better than initially anticipated. The team also observed 1 Gbps speeds under line of sight conditions up to 900 feet.
Finally, in South Bend the team created a full end-to-end 5G network architecture, including the 5G radio system and core, demonstrating extremely low latency. Gigabit wireless speeds on mmWave spectrum in both line of sight and some non-line of sight conditions were also demonstrated.
While it does seem like a bit of an ego-boosting back-slapping exercise from the team, each of the trials did demonstrate takeaways when it comes to deploying a network. These are of course very limited exercises, the real world will pose a significantly greater challenge, though it is a good starting point. Now it is down to doing not just preaching; the telcos need to prove that they are capable of creating the network and experience which they have been promising for so many years.
MegaFon and NEC have announced the completion of a live field-test to incorporate AI technology into the Russian network to improve the efficiency of planning and maintenance of transport network resources.
The tests took place in MegaFon Ural’s network from October to November, with the NEC AI algorithms analysing 150 radio links which were considered the most critical to the network. The test itself was considered a successful with the telco seeing benefits for both the demand forecast and predictive maintenance objectives.
“Our partnership with NEC aligns with our goals of efficiently improving the planning and maintenance of networks, which is becoming increasingly complex,” said Anton Sherbakov, Technical Director for MegaFon Ural. “Through analytics of big volumes of data with NEC’s AI technologies, ‘NEC the WISE’, we have verified that significant improvements can be achieved for the planning and operation of transport networks, resulting in more effective use of resources and providing the highest quality services to millions of subscribers.”
“We are very pleased to see our services streamline and optimize MegaFon’s network without the need to expend additional resources,” said Hiroshi Kawada, MD of NEC Neva
Communications Systems. “We aim to enhance our partnership with MegaFon and to continue delivering the latest innovations to the entire operator network.”
Looking at the demand forecast side of the test, the pair claim the AI component was 97% accurate when it came to traffic prediction against actual traffic. Predictive maintenance is a bit more difficult to justify on the spreadsheets, if the algorithm is accurate the negative instance never actually happens, but both seem happy with the results.
‘NEC the WISE’ is a product line up which was announced back in 2016 but now with the current euphoria surrounding AI, it seems to be making some useful headlines for NEC. While those who are stoking the 5G fire seem to be focusing on generating new revenue channels for the telcos, this product line has been billed for efficiency. This portfolio has been in the works for the last couple of years, but is now being pitched to clients, but NEC has also stated it plans to deliver a fully automated network operation solution by 2020.
Whether a fully autonomous network is achievable by 2020 remains to be seen, but the normalization of more optimized networks might be more accurate.