There’s a big difference between download speed and mobile video experience

Network rating outfit OpenSignal has started measuring ‘video experience’ as well as raw network performance and found they don’t necessarily correlate.

A new report entitled The State of Mobile Video ranks a bunch of countries according to their mobile video experience on an arbitrary scale of 0-100. This takes into account not just download speed but things like ‘traffic management’ (often referred to as throttling) and latency. These can all contribute to things like buffering and slow load times, all of which affect the overall video experience.

As you can see from the scatter graph below, taken from the report, there is a fair bit of variation in the correlation between download speed and video experience. If the correlation was exact then you’d just have a straight diagonal line, but as you can see the country with the fastest raw speed – South Korea – isn’t even in the top ten for mobile video experience.

Conversely the Czech Republic has been found to be top of the pops when it comes to mobile video experience but is also just outside the top ten for download speed. We spoke to OpenSignal CEO Brendan Gill and he revealed the main reasons for these discrepancies are traffic management and latency.

Another outlier country is the US, which has a relatively low mobile video score compared to download speed. A major reason for this is probably unmetered tariffs that theoretically allow unlimited video streaming but in practice feature fairly extensive restrictions on bandwidth. This practice is understandable but there is an argument that if those services are being positioned as ‘unlimited’ then there’s some mis-selling going on.

Latency is most pertinent when it comes to shorter video clips typically accessed over social media. If you’re scrolling through your social media feed you’re probably not prepared to wait more than a second or so for a clip to start playing. While this is probably a sad indictment of the modern attention span and certainly qualifies as a first world problem, that’s the environment we’re operating in and apparently US load times aren’t great.

Opensignal mobile video chart

BASE takes the 4G lead in Belgium – OpenSgnal

Network monitor OpenSignal has released its mobile networks update for Belgium and it reveals BASE as made the biggest improvements.

OpenSignal spent 90 days measuring the Belgian market from the start of May. It found that BASE has taken the lead in the key 4G download speed metric, having been level with Orange six months ago. BASE now averages 45 Mbps, up 5Mbps from the last time, while Orange has fallen off to a mere 34 Mbps. Proximus is right in the middle with 39 Mbps.

None of these are bad scores, it should be noted. An OpenSignal test on your correspondent’s phone running the EE network in north Herefordshire yielded 24 Mbps. The overall Belgian speed rankings reflected the 3G scores, as you would expect, while coverage was pretty identical for all three. Here’s some more data.

Opensignal Belgium 1

 

Opensignal Belgium 2

Opensignal Belgium 3

Opensignal Belgium 4

Opensignal Belgium 5

Opensignal Belgium 6

The role of mobile network testing on the path to 5G

Telecoms.com periodically invites third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Arnd Sibila, Technology Manager, Rohde & Schwarz Mobile Network Testing, takes a look at some of the testing needs of 5G.

Everyone is talking about 5G but long before commercial 5G services are even available, a myriad of articles, reports, presentations and speeches have been made public – creating a big buzz and high expectations in the new standard. What’s the role of mobile network testing on the path to 5G? How can scanner measurements help operators pave the way to the next generation of mobile networks?

This blog series answers your questions about the network testing aspects of 5G. To set the scene, we’ll first look back and clarify one of many fundamental changes that 5G brings.

5G – a paradigm shift

Compared to other generations of mobile networks, 5G represents a paradigm shift in many areas, for example in the development process. Let’s take a look at other generations of mobile communications standards.

2G: The GSM networks met the requirements of a concrete use case and need: it made mobile voice services available to the masses.

3G: After the success of GSM, the standardization bodies ETSI and 3GPP started thinking about a new technology to provide better data services. Very soon, it was clear that the new mobile technology should be based on CDMA, a technology invented in the middle of the last century for military purposes.As a result, 3GPP defined the UTRAN network (UMTS Terrestrial Radio Access Network); its North American variant is the 3G CDMA network. The 3G infrastructure, comprised of NodeB base stations, was made available around the year 2000. However, operational cellular phones were commercially available only many years later, around 2004.Among the most asked questions in those days was “What is the killer application for 3G or UMTS?” It became obvious that the new technology had been defined and standardized without a clear use case or specific requirements.

The industry’s new approach during the development process is already one of many areas in which 5G represents a paradigm shift.

4G/LTE: Without a doubt, LTE is a big success, today and in the future. But did you know that it is the result of a lucky coincidence? After 3G’s limited success, 3GPP was determined to improve 3G and started the standardization of the eUTRAN (with “e” standing for “enhanced), which is based on a modulation format called Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing (OFDM). It was by pure luck that the finalization of LTE coincided with the ubiquitous availability of the Internet in fixed networks. Along with the massive use of mobile data applications on smartphones came the long anticipated data explosion in mobile networks. This lucky combination enabled the success of LTE. Nevertheless, just like with the previous standard, the 4G technology had been defined and standardized without a clear use case or specific requirements.

5G_triangle (003)5G: In view of what we’ve seen so far, it appears that the community has learned from the past. Before discussing new technologies, the industry researched and assessed the use cases and needs that 5G should fulfill. After a general agreement about the use cases, requirements were defined, including data rates, carrier bandwidths, latency values, number of devices, etc. It was only after having reached a consensus on use cases and requirements that the 3GPP identified, discussed and evaluated candidate technologies. This process is still ongoing, and with Release 15 of March 2018, 3GPP has provided the initial 5G standardization framework called 5GNR(5G New Radio).

5G mobile network testing: why now?

Traditionally, mobile network testing activities take place once commercial networks are up and running. Commercial 5G networks will not roll out before 2019. But every new generation and technology starts in the lab, with research and development conducted in early trial networks. The same applies to base stations and smartphones. Yet despite extensive network simulations, it is often unclear how a new technology behaves in real environments. Trials are the only way to provide insight.

The most interesting parameter in these early mobile network trials is coverage. It is of utmost importance to get real-world information about a mobile network’s coverage to understand the new technology and tune algorithms, for example in network planning tools. Already today, network test tools from Rohde & Schwarz mobile network testing support early trials and pre-commercial 5G use cases, for example in the US.

Early 5G application: 5GTF in the US

The US operator Verizon Wireless got spectrum in the 28 GHz band via an acquisition and decided to use it for a Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) application. Together with Korean operators and other industry players, they created a specification called 5GTF, published in June 2016.

The 5G task force adapted the 3GPP Release 12 LTE specification and specified 100 MHz bandwidth signals with the following characteristics:

  • OFDMA used also in the uplink
  • Simple form of beamforming: Beam Reference Signal, Beam Refinement Reference Signal
  • Phase Noise compensation reference signal defined for downlink and uplink
  • PHY/L1, MAC/RLC adaptations, new physical signals and new or extended PHY channel/functionality.

Since the FWA application is designated for customer premises equipment (CPE), mobility is neither targeted nor specified. The focus is on overcoming the higher path loss in the 28 GHz band in order to provide high user data rates to be able to compete in the fixed network area.

Discover the latest in 5G test technology from Rohde & Schwarz at 5G World, London, June 12-14, 2018. Join the experts at booth 5G416 and discuss innovative test solutions addressing 5G use cases. 

UK government congratulates itself on contributing £25m to the 5G cause

A year after launching its Digital Strategy, the UK government has picked six 5G projects to receive a share of a £25 million pot of public money.

The winning projects seem to be mainly public/private partnerships that have come up with bright ideas for testing potential applications of 5G whenever we get around to rolling out the infrastructure. This hand-out is part of a general cunning plan for boosting the general 5G effort in the UK, which seems to be as much political virtue-signalling as it is constructive action.

£25 million is a fairly token amount in the great scheme of things, for the government to be crowing about, but then again it is better than nothing. It keeps banging on about a £1 billion total commitment from the Digital Strategy but if they’ve only doshed out 2.5% of that a year down the line then, at this rate, it will take 40 years to complete.

“One year on from the Digital Strategy, we are delivering on our commitments to create a Britain fit for the future, with a thriving digital economy that works for everyone,” said Margot James, Minister of State for Digital and the Creative Industries. “The ground-breaking projects announced today will help to unlock 5G and ensure the benefits of this new technology are felt across the economy and wider society.”

The release goes on to list all the awesome things the UK government is doing to make sure the country is a little bit better at 5G than it would otherwise have been. Here are some highlights:

  • Delivered more than 2.5 million free digital skills training opportunities with industry as part of the Digital Skills Partnership, with almost half a million new pledges made;
  • Reached its target for 95% of premises to have access to superfast broadband by the end of 2017;
  • Confirmed a £21m investment in Tech Nation to establish regional hubs throughout the country, widening access to Tech City’s training, mentoring and development programmes;
  • Announced £84m to boost the skills of 8,000 computer science teachers to make sure every secondary school has a qualified computer science teacher by 2022.
  • Introduced and updated the 5G strategy to deliver high quality coverage where people live, work and travel including setting out actions to ensure that mainline rail routes, major roads and connectivity ‘hotspots’ are 5G-ready.

Don’t get us wrong, there are many worthwhile initiatives here, although it’s rather alarming that we’re still so far short of having even one computer science teacher per school. But it’s also easy to fell sceptical when the government appears to make such a big effort to claim responsibility for things in which it seems to have had a minimal role.

Also, as you can see below, the winning projects only seem to have had £23.8 million allocated to them. Where’s the other £1.2 mil, and if it’s looking for a home maybe the government can invest it in much-needed telecoms trade journalism. Now that really would make a difference. Anyway, here are the six winners.

5G RuralFirst: Rural Coverage and Dynamic Spectrum Access Testbed and Trial

Lead organisation: Cisco; Grant: £4.3m

Cisco and lead partner University of Strathclyde will deliver testbeds and trials to exploit 5G benefits for rural communities and industries like agriculture, broadcasting, and utilities, to address the challenges of and build the business case for 5G rural deployment.

5G Smart Tourism

Lead organisation: West of England Combined Authority; Grant: £5.0m

This testbed will focus on delivering enhanced visual experiences for tourists using Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) technology in major attractions in Bath and Bristol, including the Roman Baths and Millennium Square. Content and technology developments will be provided by the BBC and Aardman with support from the University of Bristol’s Smart Internet Lab. It will demonstrate self-provision of 5G and Wi-Fi and innovative mmWave backhaul, and will also address safety issues by providing emergency service capacity through network splicing.

Worcestershire 5G Consortium – Testbed and Trials

Lead organisation: Worcestershire Local Enterprise Partnership; Grant: £4.8m

It will focus on ways to increase industrial productivity through preventative and assisted maintenance using robotics, big data analytics and AR over 5G. It will also have a cyber security aspect, with QinetiQ providing assurances on the ‘security by design’ of 5G and IoT technology. Entrepreneurs will have the opportunity to test 5G capabilities in a new commercial tech accelerator located at the Malvern Hills Science Park.

Liverpool 5G Testbed

Lead organisation: Sensor City; Grant: £3.5m

Funded for one year in the first instance, the project will see high value technologies including low-cost open source 5G networks, artificial intelligence, virtual reality and IoT deployed across deprived communities in the Liverpool City Region test bed. The consortium will use this technology to reduce the digital divide, while measuring the impact on patient monitoring and support, management of loneliness in older adults, aid to independents living in the home and the facilitation of communication between hospitals and the community.

AutoAir: 5G Testbed for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles

Lead organisation: Airspan Communications; Grant: £4.1m

AutoAir will aim to make 5G technologies available for the validation and development of Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAVs) at the UK’s premiere vehicle proving ground at Millbrook. Fast travel speeds complicate cell-tower handoff, and autonomous vehicles will require more network bandwidth than is available currently. It will also investigate how these 5G connectivity solutions could be transferable to both road and rail transportation.

The project is based on the accelerated development of 5G small cells operating in both licensed Sub 6 GHz and mmWave bands on a shared ‘neutral host’ platform which allows multiple public and private 5G operators to simultaneously use the same infrastructure using network slicing.

5G Rural Integrated Testbed (5GRIT)

Lead organisation: Quickline Communications; Grant: £2.1m

The aim is to ultimately make high quality connectivity available across Cumbria, Northumberland, North Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Inverness-shire, Perthshire and Monmouthshire. Here the consortium will develop 5G-ready AR apps for tourists and investigate how high-bandwidth wireless connectivity can increase food production in farming, including through use of AR and an unmanned aerial system.

Cobham gets massive testing gig with China Mobile

UK connectivity provider Cobham Wireless has announced the China Mobile Research Institute is using its massive MIMO test solution.

While massive MIMO is already a thing with more advanced flavours of 4G (4.5G and decimals thereafter), China Mobile has apparently brought in this set of Cobham kit to help out with its 5G testing. It’s all about testing the performance of multiple parallel signals which, despite the fact that we’ve been looking at it for a while, is still something that needs a fair bit of work to get the hang of.

“Cobham Wireless has an excellent understanding of the requirements of validating 5G Massive MIMO performance and has the ability to innovate and unlock the bottleneck of the industry,” said Dr Guangyi Liu, CTO of the Wireless Department at the China Mobile Research Institute. “This experience will be very important to China Mobile as the company moves towards 5G. It is the excellent partner to ensure the network complies with the new 3GPP 5G specification, whilst validating performance capabilities for Massive MIMO.”

“Cobham Wireless’ test solution is implemented on a software-based validation platform, which can easily adjust to new standards, positioning the operator at the forefront of 5G innovation as its network evolves,” Dr Li-Ke Huang, 5G Research and Technology Director at Cobham Wireless. “We are excited to be working with China Mobile as it sets new benchmarks in the development of 5G.”

Cobham reckons its 5G MIMO is special because it’s more scalable than most of the stuff that has been used previously. It’s intriguing to see Cobham continue to score this kind of gig after it sold its testing unit to Viavi a month ago. It has been trying to refocus its strategy for a while and this is presumably not a bad time to be in the wireless testing game, so it seems sensible to retain an interest in that area.

Ericsson and the Middle East are leading the 5G race

Network testing and measurement vendor Viavi has published a report on the state of global 5G trials to paint a picture of who and where is leading the charge.

72 operators are currently having a look at 5G, which is three times more than a year ago, and 28 of those have got as far as field trials. Of those only two have launched pre-commercial 5G services and they’re both from the Middle East: Etisalat and Ooredoo. Among the vendors Ericsson has a clear lead in terms of the proportion of those 5G trials it is involved in.

“Network service providers have been grappling with the evolution to 5G for some time, including how to address technology challenges such as fixed mobile convergence, hybrid cloud, network slicing and increasing virtualization,” said Sameh Yamany, Viavi CTO. “Virtual test, automation, self-optimization and analytics will be essential to dealing with the growing complexity and scale of 5G networks, while managing demand for high data rates, very low latency applications and large-scale IoT services.”

“Expectations for 5G are sky-high, offering mobile operators new opportunities for revenue,” said Stéphane Téral of IHS Markit, in the press release announcing the report. “Yet the path to full 5G adoption is complicated and still evolving. Operators and infrastructure vendors across the globe are moving at varying speeds when it comes to testing and deployment – they need to act now to address technology challenges.”

Of course some allowance has to be made for the vested interest companies like Viavi have in as many companies as possible testing 5G, as soon as possible. For all the talk of ‘sky-high expectations’, many operators are likely to take a cautious approach to 5G and are likely to hold off on significant capex until a pretty compelling business case is shown. Here are some charts illustrating the key datapoints from the report.

Viavi 5G data speeds

Viavi 5G spectrum

Viavi 5G vendors

Deutsche Telekom is living on the edge

The Living Edge Lab testbed, conducted by DT, Crown Castle and Altiostar, claims to be pushing the edge computing envelope.

As we get closer to 5G actually being a thing, as opposed to a flood of PowerPoint presentations and hastily arranged partnerships, the emphasis is on ‘real world’ testing, as evidenced by Huawei’s efforts in Canada. This initiative took the form of ‘an ultra-low latency mobile testbed to three sites centered on Carnegie Mellon University in the US’.

Edge computing will be a key component of 5G, especially from a low-latency perspective, as the best way to reduce the amount of time it takes a mobile signal to get from A to B is to reduce the distance it has to travel. The more stuff you can do on the edge of the network, as opposed to the core, the lower the latency, says the prevailing wisdom.

“The Living Edge Lab testbed is a major technology milestone towards use-case centric Edge Computing and will provide application developers with an early experience of the benefits of 5G technology,” said Alex Jinsung Choi, SVP Research and Technology Innovation at Deutsche Telekom. “It is a unique Edge Computing platform that leverages a fully virtualized end-to-end solution and the implementation of user-tracing beamforming antennas for the first time in a live environment.”

There you have it. They are trying out all the latest radio technologies there, are currently working with latencies down to 15ms, and seem to be focused on the 3.5 GHz band. It should be noted that Aerosmith have been calling for this kind of thing since the early 1990s and they will no doubt be gratified to see the telecoms industry finally take note.

 

Huawei claims 5G data connection first in Turin

Huawei teamed up with TIM and Fastweb to test 5G data connections over the 3.6-3.8 GHz spectrum band in Italy.

These trials are part of a state sponsored initiative promoted by the Italian Economic Development Ministry (MISE), labelled Project Bari Matera after the first two locations to benefit from it. This initiative is considered to be at the vanguard of European 5G development and was frequently referred to by Qualcomm at its 5G event last week.

The significance of this test seems to be that it was the first data connection tested on an end-to-end 5G network, including the terminal, the New Radio access and the core network. As ever 5G NR USPs such as speed, latency and efficiency were the focus and they managed to his 3 Gbps, 2.6 ms latency and a spectral efficiency of (30 b/s)/Hz, all of which are much better than LTE.

That’s about it for now, since nearly all of the material being circulated about this trial is in Italian. There isn’t even a canned quote, you’ll be devastated to hear, but if there was it would almost certainly make reference to how excited all the participants are and how the trial reflects on their general superiority at everything.

Telefónica Germany and Nokia form a 5G cluster

The stampede to acquire 5G allies continues with Telefónica Germany and Nokia agreeing to form nothing less than a 5G Innovation Cluster.

In this context a cluster seems to refer to a collection of labs that have agreed to play nice with each other. To make sure everyone knows where they stand the two companies have taken a leaf out of Huawei’s book and signed a memorandum of understanding, complete with compulsory photo of people in suits shaking hands.

“Our innovation collaboration in Germany follows a global agreement with Nokia to explore technologies on the path to 5G,” said Cayetano Carbajo, CTO of Telefónica Germany. “Having access to Nokia’s latest portfolio will enable pre-testing and understanding new technologies thus helping us to further enhance the user experience in our network.”

“This joint Innovation Cluster is a manifest of our long-standing excellent relationship,” said Marc Rouanne, President of Mobile Networks at Nokia. “We have a strong presence in Telefónica’s radio network in Germany and it is important that we work jointly to innovate on the path to 5G, preparing the network for future demand and business opportunities.”

Testing across Germany will focus on a lot of the RAN needs for 5G, including massive MIMO and that sort of thing. There were frequent references to 4.5G and 4.9G and, if for no other reason, 5G can’t come soon enough to put a stop all that talk. Various other boxes are expected to be ticked such as ultra-low latency and all that jazz.