Cellular Biology

I want to return to a theme that emerged in my first week on the job here at TUANZ, and that is how utterly and completely handheld devices have changed the face of telecommunications, and that isn’t going to abate anytime soon. In fact we are just at the beginning of a revolution that will reshape how we live, work and play.

A cool thing about living in my temporary TUANZ cave in Porirua, is that a lot of information flows through everyday and a lot of it comes in the form of press releases or articles in the media announcing the latest developments, service upgrades, new products and cool emerging technologies and I’ve got to read them so you don’t have to.

Two that caught my attention were Vodafone’s trialling of ‘Smell Cell’ technology and 2Degrees launching free WiFi in Wellington using a wholesale WiFi offering from Wellington’s fibre and WiFi pioneers CityLink (disclosure: I helped CityLink launch CafeNet in 2002). 

This morning i was reading ‘Communications Day’ (an Australasian industry newsletter) with some fascinating comments by the chief scientist of China Mobile (the worlds largest cellco with over 800 million customers). She was recommending caution on proceeding too fast to 5G networks! (and I’m still getting to grips with the promise of 4G in my 3G world), the challenge she faces along with every other cellular operator worldwide is:

She also said that China Mobile was acutely aware of the need to reduce energy consumption and other costs to cope with an expected 1000x traffic load increase by year 2020. “One-quarter of our total cost of ownership is power consumption, so that’s how important being green is,” she noted. As well as research into lower energy consumption, she said China Mobile was looking into software defined network technologies with the aim of a software-based net- work from the core right through to the access network. 

And to put that scale into perspective:

China Mobile’s own growth is equally impressive, with its subscriber base now approaching 800 million. To cater to that number of customers, the company has around 1.5 million base stations and another 4.2 million Wi-Fi access points. 

Thats like having a mobile base station for every house in NZ and a WiFi AP each.

So every cellular operator in the world is facing the same challenges, coverage and capacity, expanding coverage usually means more towers and expanding capacity involves getting the most out of scarce spectrum and backhaul resources.

And thats where ‘Small Cells’ and carrier WiFi fits in, Small Cells are an elegant ‘in-fill’ solution for a cellular operator that doesn’t require new towers or consents, the 10kg box is part of the Vodafone network and can be installed in as little as a day. Small Cells will be used to fill-in gaps or boost coverage in all those annoying blackspots and ‘grey’ patchy coverage spots in places like office buildings and shopping malls.

Carrier WiFi recognises that sometimes the best network for heavy lifting on mobile devices is someone else’s, often this means our home or work WiFi networks, 2Degrees is using the CityLink WiFi network in Wellington to do the same, save your precious 3G network for the genuinely mobile and voice traffic and let the big stuff go over WiFi and straight to the fibre backhaul networks.

CityLink’s MD Nick Wills was recently at a ‘Small Cell and Carrier WiFi’ conference in Singapore and he observed that ‘most carriers build up to 1GB of data into their monthly 3G/4G plans, but with carrier WiFi and cellular handover they can offer an additional daily allowance of 1GB per day’.

CityLink’s carrier grade WiFi access points can handle up to 32 simultaneous SSID’s (unique network identifiers) and offer many other advantages for managing WiFi spectrum.

CommsDay had another article showing the growth in WiFi use in Australia:

Roy Morgan: free Wi-Fi turns Perth into

smartphone hotspot capital

The launch of free Wi-Fi across Perth’s CBD last November has catapulted the city into first place for smartphone Wi-Fi access, according to Roy Morgan Research.

The firm found that in the six months to September last year just 19% of smartphone users in Perth had accessed the internet via a wireless hotspot within an average three month period – com- pared to 28% in Brisbane, 24% in Sydney and Melbourne and 20% in Adelaide. But six months lat- er, it found that 29% of Perth’s smartphone users were now connecting at hotspots. Sydney, despite having the highest proportion of residents with a smartphone, now has the lowest rate of smartphone usage at just 23% of owners; the popularity of hotspots grew to 27% and 25% respectively in Mel- bourne and Adelaide.

“The iiNet Group, which includes iiNet and Internode, has partnered with city councils and state governments to develop and offer free Wi-Fi to residents, city workers and visitors, with ‘Perth Wi-Fi’ launching late last year and ‘AdelaideFree’ coming online very soon,” commented Roy Morgan media GM Tim Martin.

“Other cities are catching on, with Melbourne broadening its trial, Brisbane adding new hotspot locations and iiNet continuing its roll-out with the development of free Wi-Fi in Canberra.

“Telstra recently announced plans to offer a unique Wi-Fi hotpot service that is free to its subscribing customers who are willing to share their home Wi-Fi, and available for a fee to other 

Telecom are well advanced with their hotspot strategy here and we’ll see a lot more developments in this space, would you share your home WiFi willingly with others? And how does this blur the line between RSP’s (ie fixed line telco’s & ISP’s) and the cellco’s?

What all this means is that our mobile devices are going to be even more useful in even more places, we will be seeing a lot more of both these technologies as our reliance on mobile goes to the level of dependence beyond addiction.

And as China Mobile are observing the next big challenge is the ‘ABC’ of mobile – Always Be Charging.


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