Tag Archives: umts

Femtocells and iPhone 3G

At $199 and with mandatory flat data rates, millions of iPhones 3G will soon boost the data traffic of UMTS networks. Om Malik wonders whether AT&T UMTS network will be up to the task, specially as the interest on video (YouTube) from iPhone users will grow with 3G.  

An UMTS network has two main bottlenecks: 1) the radio interface, limited by the available spectrum, 2) the backhaul of a Node-B/Base Station that covers a certain area (usually limited to 10-15 Mbps). As traffic grows, additional Node-Bs need to be deployed.

Femtocells* are a great fit for iPhone 3G. I am unaware of the details of AT&T plans on Femto, but with the launch of iPhone 3G with flat data rates, Femto is an excellent option for AT&T to avoid iPhones congesting the radio access and backhaul while at home. Not only that, Femto helps fight churn, as if an user has an AT&T femtocell, chances are all the family member will have an AT&T mobile phone too.

For the users Femtocells have also interesting advantages, specially related to FemtoZone features such as: lower tariffs when calling/called at home on the mobile, SMS notifications when your kids enter/leave home or unlimited data at home.

Femto also enable innovative features related to call routing: what about when someone calls your AT&T fixed line, all mobile phones that are physically at home ring, so anyone can answer depending on the Caller ID displayed in the TV via U-verse? or the other way around, if no mobile phone is at home, the call to the fixed line is routed to one of the mobiles? All this can be user configurable from a web admin tool that, by the way, you can also configure from your iPhone.

Not a bad idea if AT&T bundles Femtocells with iPhone 3G family subscriptions.

* Femtocells are 3G base-stations that users install at home (similar to a Wifi router) to provide 3G coverage back-hauled by the broadband line (ADSL, Cable or Fiber)

3G brings Mobile Broadband at last

I just discovered this interesting graph in Brough Turner’s post 3G’s biggest success is as a dumb pipe.

The graph highlights two main points: 1) 3G data trafffic has increased more than 10 times in Finland, and 2) 92% of that traffic is Internet Access from PCs. UMTS modems and Data Cards in combination with emerging data flat rates are making mobile broadband a reality. Another reading from the graph is the comparatively low growth from Symbian devices, mainly due to the poor usability of its handset browsers.  iPhone’s Safari and Android’s WebKit based browser will surely outpace Symbian in data traffic when they reach Finland.

Skype and IMS should benefit from true broadband IP access. Once there is a proper wireless pipe, IMS becomes key for telcos to own the subscribers and provide value-added services. For the users, IMS brings a richer communication, Skype-like, only that this time carrier-grade.

Skype service is absolutely great, but would you rely purely on it as a replacement of your mobile line? Wouldn’t you trust an Skype-like service (with presence, IM, network address book, high-def videocall, file-sahring, etc) if offered by AT&T, Vodafone or Telefonica instead?


Will we ever use video calls?

Videocalls are available in UMTS networks and supported by most 3G handsets in the market. Still, how many people do actually use it? Have you tried it yourself?

Among the factors that prevent people from video calling, the privacy issue is one of the main concerns. You do not want your boss to videocall you and find that you are not working from home as you told him. Other people are shy to be seen in a videocall because they do not like to see themselves in video. And then, there is the uncertainty whether the other party has a 3G phone and whether your friend will like to be disturbed by an intrusive videocall. Other factor not to dismiss,  is simply that people do not have in their mind that they can do a video call from their phone. In other words, they are not educated to use video calls.

Whatever the reasons, the fact is 3G video calls have not taken off (yet).

Still video adds significant richness to communications, compare to audio only, be it for 3G video calls or video conferencing in general. I do use Skype video calls with my family and friends, and once you are used to it, you do not want to do voice only. Skype says that 28% of the calls between users are video calls.

Clearly video calls are not to be used for all communications. Same as sometimes it is more appropriate to use SMS than a phone call, in many cases an audio call is preferrable to a video call. Texting is less intrusive than a phone call, and a phone call is less intrusive than a video call. Still for a more intense communication video is a better option, but you might want a degree of intimacy with the other party before opting for video.

In the enterprise segment, videoconferencing is clearly growing and the ultimate video communication tool, Telepresence, is getting traction. Corporates do find value in video communications. As with many other technologies, enterprises are adopting first and consumers will follow, as it happened with mobile phones, laptops or mobile email.

Skype, and all new laptops with webcam incorporated, are set to be one of the drivers of video communications. The agreement with Jaman to insert movie clips in Skype calls, as reported by GigaOm and TechCrunch, should only help to add more value to our video calls, and incentive its use.

Coming back to 3G, as UMTS handsets become affordable for teenagers (the greatest early adopters of new ways of communication) I would not be surprised to see 3G video calls taking off soon. These kids have grown used to being recorded in video since birth, so the shyness factor clearly disappears. They use the phones in many ways most of us can not do, and do not expect video to be an exception

If James Bond and Austin Powers used video calls in the seventies, wouldn’t the twenty first century kids do it too?


MSPs towards Mobile Connectivity Service Providers

Nokia N81 ovi

In the past, Mobile Service Providers (MSPs) have successfully managed to keep full control -and get a share of revenue- over the premium content delivered over their networks. MSPs were determined to retain customer ownership, and so MSPs created walled gardens under their control.

Thanks to that model, MSPs have been enjoying good revenues from premium content downloads -ringtones, ring-back tones, logos, games, songs or videos-, premium SMSs and premium rate voice services (80x numbers). To get these revenues, MSPs have not invested much in promotion, advertisement or improvement of the premium services. So far, MSPs owned the customer billing relationship, and simply taxed content providers to reach the mobile operators customers, leaving many times the promotion on the content provider side.

As mobile data bitrates increase with 3G (UMTS, HSDPA or EVDO), and as handsets become more intelligent – iPhone, Android, Windows Mobile or Symbian-, MSPs premium content model is under threat.

MSPs does not seem to realize that if they do not invest in improving and promoting their own value added content services, they will be bypassed by Content Providers, and will be relegated to Mobile Connectivity Service Providers (MCSPs), or in short dumb pipes.

Recent news about Ovi (Nokia’s content services venture) rolling our N-Gage games confirm the threat. iPhone will kill any music download service an MSPs could have, to be swapped by iTunes. Google already has applications like Gmail and Google Maps, that can be installed in most smartphones. Unlike with RIM, operators do not get any revenues from the Gmail in mobile phones. This will not improve with Android.

Data usage is the only revenue MCSPs will be able to retain, but with the move to data flat rates, MCSPs will not even benefit from the growth in these services.