Saturday, January 31, 2015

LTE-U and Wi-Fi Coming Together? Oh, the rumors are swirling!

Straight from the rumor mill:

LTE-U and Wi-Fi Coming Together?

There's this weird combination of rumors going around right now that are getting me pretty excited. They all seem to center on one manufacturer, and all in one general area: LTE-U.

First, LTE-U is all the rage. That article I posted a few weeks back got some fantastic attention, forced me to correct some issues, and taught me amazing things. One of the key things it taught me was that LTE-U is coming, regardless of what anyone's view point is. That in mind, it's how it will make it to market that is the creative part.

Ericsson announced that they would be building out basestations that supported it. Which is awesome for Ericsson and all the "big guys." But, what about everyone else?

Ramblings this week are mentioning a release of a product from a top Wi-Fi group with LTE-U as part of their latest AP offering. 802.11n/ac + LTE-U from a Wi-Fi vendor? That almost sounds like it will be, dare I say, accessible, to more than just the top dogs in the industry.

So, why the excitement? The way I'm looking at this, if LTE-U is as accessible as Wi-Fi, it's going to be of huge benefit to whoever is supporting LTE-U (I really need to switch to T-Mobile). If one or more of the top AP manufacturers start to roll this into their equipment for their next-gen (maybe with the AC Wave 2 stuff?) gear, then we could end up with LTE-U in a pretty large amount of places. I can see this driving the offload play deep into the heart of enterprise, campus, and public networks.

Think about it, if the APs you deploy have it built in, you're one meeting away from a carrier to allow them onto your network. This opens up huge opportunities for Wi-Fi networks across every market and vertical.

On top of the thought of LTE-U being made widely available, by coupling Wi-Fi and LTE-U on the same piece of equipment, we get to set aside worry about how LTE-U and Wi-Fi will co-exist, at least when it comes to whoever is bundling the two. It's a move I didn't really think would come: the Wi-Fi industry embracing LTE-U, versus the LTE industry dropping Wi-Fi onto their gear.

Anyhow, those are just a smidgen of my thoughts, as usual take them with a grain of salt. :)

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Running Fiber in New Residential Developments: Why Don't More Developers Do This?

There's a bunch of buzz surrounding the pre-State of the Union teaser that President Obama put out yesterday: Affordable High-speed Broadband for All Americans

I'm blessed to have friends on every side of every issue; who either love or despise when the President makes an announcement, so it keeps me on my toes. This one, was not immune to that .. obviously.

But, it got me thinking: This is a pretty big undertaking for a City, I mean, Cedar Falls started this in 1994, in a city of 40,000 at 30 sq. mi., and that's not even too big comparatively speaking. When Cedar Falls Utilities was established, it was built to provide "municipal water service, electricity generation and distribution, natural gas service, and combined cable television and Internet access to its customers." What a fantastic idea: own the infrastructure and let others use it by creating a competitive environment that benefits the residents. 

"FTTH fiber-to-the-home" by Dennis van Zuijlekom licensed under CC BY 2.0

So while Cedar Falls, or Vegas, or Ozona, Texas (the goat roping Capital of the World), might find the task daunting, why haven't more land developers taken the initiative to offer these services, in a smaller scale? Remove all of the utility services, just be the fiber transport to the houses, and you have increased the value of your neighborhood pretty significantly. 

Google Fiber is taking on the task of doing this for cities that don't have their own Municipal Utility, and they're shaking up the carriers left and right; just wait til Title II goes through and they have the same access to right-of-ways that carriers have.

Clearly I am not a builder or developer and have no idea what the costs are that are involved, but if I'm already running sewage, water, electrical, etc, what's another conduit or another cable down that conduit? Obviously it can have it's ups and downs, but it seems pretty simple (if done right): Head-end the whole thing at the entrance to the property in a patch panel or enclosure and start the bidding! There might even be an opportunity for you to make a little scratch doing it. 

There are probably a few legal issues that need to be solved, but that's the case with everything.  I'm sure that the local providers can help offset the cost of the equipment at the "head-end", but even if the developer builds it out, it can still be made up through the sale of the lots by offering a unique ultra high-speed connection on property.

Even if the cable companies, telcos, and local LECs don't take advantage of delivering fiber to the head-end from their network, it still leaves room to work with a local WISP to shoot a high speed microwave link to the property and provide some great access.
Maybe I'm thinking about this all wrong: Maybe it's the WISPs that need to approach the builders in their communities and strike agreements with them:
"Hey, we'll pay for the fiber if you run it and sign a contract allowing us to provide high-speed broadband to your community"
I don't know why this hasn't worked, maybe the blogosphere can shed some light on it for me, I'd love to see what the hurdles are so that maybe we can collectively get over them. This is too good of a thing to not be happening with every builder, in every new neighborhood, in every community.

There's probably some light to be shed by reading up on trade mags or attending a conference to "Gigafy America", so maybe I'll check that out in Austin in March.

Feel free to send me some tix to the show :)
Oh yeah, and you can put Wi-Fi on all the poles in the neighborhood to as an added benefit.  After all, this is a wireless blog :)

As usual, thoughts and words are kindly accepted.
I post not because I know, but because I don't know :)

Monday, January 5, 2015

LAA LTE and the impact on Wi-Fi & Backhaul Networks

I saw an article about LTE-U, or LAA LTE in most circles, right before all of the holiday madness. As I read through it and about T-Mobile's upcoming plans to leverage the unlicensed 5 GHz spectrum for small cell markets, it got me wondering about the spectrum itself, overcrowding in 5 GHz, and how it will affect overall Wi-Fi deployments.

With 802.11ac coming on strong (we've recently started on a few outdoor AC installations) it would seem that the 5 GHz spectrum could get really crowded, really quickly. If unlicensed LTE is playing in the same spectrum, at the same power levels, and at the street level, it would seem that this could be yet another set of devices transmitting in a soon to be cluttered area. Has anyone seen any testing of LAA LTE and how it impacts an 802.11a/n/ac network? Scary stuff from just the Wi-Fi side:

Image Soure: Joey Padden, Lead Architect, CableLabs

First, let's recap: what the heck does LAA LTE stand for? It started, it seems, as LTE-U, "LTE Unlicensed". Then, out of LA-LTE, or Licensed Access LTE, came LAA LTE, or Licensed Assisted Access LTE. Either way, these all refer to the same thing: LTE using unlicensed spectrum in combination with licensed LTE for aggregation and more capacity for devices.

Basically, the LTE groups and 3GPP figured out that there is a pretty large chunk of 5 GHz spectrum out there that can be used to leverage high-speed data and voice, when coupled with traditional LTE.  A great write-up of it here and here.

Why you gotta be so rude?
One of the things about LTE, as noted in this article, is that it's a "rude" technology. Where Wi-Fi devices play nice with CSMA/CD, LTE is, in essence, like the honey badger. That's not to say that things aren't being tried to make it a little friendlier, for example Qualcomm proposed CSAT, Carrier Sense Adaptive Transmission, which offers a flexible duty cycle.

So why does playing nicely in the same airspace matter? As if it's not obvious enough, check out this excerpt from an earlier blog post I came across from CableLabs:
If LTE joins the same channel with a 50% duty cycle, Wi-Fi would now get 50% of the airtime because it would sense the LTE and stop transmitting. In general this means Wi-Fi would get about 50% of the throughput it had in the 100% airtime case.
Half. So if Wi-Fi sees the LTE devices broadcasting, and LTE is using a protocol that sets it to half, then that's what we have to work with. But half is better than nothing, right? Read the full article here from Joey Padden @ Cable Labs, it's fantastic!

Well, my concern lies with not only client device connectivity on legacy 802.11 networks, but with networks that are using any type of 5 GHz radios for backhaul.

Lemme explain:
Take for example a Cambium PTP 650 with auto-rate fallback. A simple way to look at it is, if the link looks good, we can achieve a bunch of throughput. If the link gets worse, the radio drops back in modulation and capacity to keep the link going steady, but at a slower speed. It's a great feature that a bunch of backhaul radios use. But what happens when that spectrum gets crowded, for half the time? Does that mean that these backhaul links will cycle back and forth if not statically set to hold onto their capacity?

How do you fix it? Well ain't that the magic question. Follow the TVWS model of a geo-location database? Here is a great post trying to answer that question.

Obviously I'm not the first one to worry about this. There are a few carriers that do support it (TMO, China Telecom, NTT, but you better believe AT&T is a little hesitant with the investments they are making in building out Wi-Fi networks for offload (why would they crowd their precious Wi-Fi spectrum with an unlicensed LTE offering?) I'm guessing Time Warner and Comcast won't be jumping to help back it either, not that they have any skin in it, but they do have lobbyists who can fight it.

Why am I writing about this now you may ask? Well, there are a bunch of blog posts and articles out there starting in May of last year that go over this. However, at the time no carrier had announced that they were definitely going to move forward with it. Now they have.

It looks as though T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) will be one of the first carriers using License Assisted Access (LAA) in the 5 GHz spectrum band, possibly as early as next year. - FierceWireless

In our industry, it seems like there has always been this split between what the carriers are doing and what everyone else is doing, with the two really never getting in each others respective sandboxes. Well, times they are a changing, friends. First, carriers started to look at Wi-Fi for offload, and now they are looking into spectrum. Granted, it is unlicensed so we all have equal access to it, however we've been spoiled enough to think that carriers weren't interested in the unlicensed side.

Now that T-Mobile has started the trend, who else will jump on board, and how is that going to affect the overall WISP market, the public Wi-Fi market, and everyone else who has been in the unlicensed arena for quite some time? I look to the manufacturers to help hash this out so that we can all play nicely together, but I also keep in mind that the carriers aren't really worried about how to play nicely if there is a dime on the table to be made.

Update: ISP Radio did a great job with Jack Unger & Matt Larsen regarding this topic a few weeks ago. If you have some time, here's a link to the site where you can click on "Archive" and grab episode 87.
Update 2: Ericsson breaks news at #CES about leveraging LTE-U indoors. "Ericsson LAA also incorporates fair sharing within the 5 GHz band, to accommodate traditional Wi-Fi users. Fair sharing works on the principle that Wi-Fi and LAA users would have equal access to the spectrum."