Thursday, June 15, 2006


The EC's latest proposal to regulate mobile roaming services by equalising retail prices across the EU will distort a very competitive market, the GSM Association (GSMA) said in a statement today. Here's an article.

According to the GSMA "the Commission plans to impose an arbitrary retail price cap across Europe, ignoring the fundamental geographic, demographic, regulatory and commercial differences between the 25 countries of the European Union."

The GSMA further argues that "the imposition of such a price cap" will reduce competition and innovation among European mobile operators, damaging the industry.

I totally agree with the market distortion points that the GSMA makes. But the fatal flaw in their argument is this notion of a "competitive market."

Yes, competition is fierce within national boundaries. But not across borders.

International roaming can only be described as a cartel.

The spirit of Viviane Reding's proposal is good - she's trying to break the cartel. And only after years of unsuccessful attempts at getting the industry to reduce roaming fees on its own. She really isn't an interventionist.

But, yes, her price cap plan is the wrong way to go about it.

Maybe the threat of intervention is all that is required - look at what Voda, Orange and TMobile did to their roaming rates after Viv's announcement.

3G home gateways - sounds cool to me

There's an interesting idea floating about for putting a "UMTS base-station module into a home gateway connected via ADSL" to provide dedicated 3G access at home. To the consumer, this would appear very much like UMA (e.g. BT's Bluephone), but with some key advantages.

Like UMA, calls made at home would be routed over the broadband connection and would be cheap or free. However with the 3G gateway, there's no need for a dual mode handset (expensive with poor battery life). And, of course, because the consumer is using their standard mobile, this is the device with all of the numbers programmed into it, so there's a huge convenience boost.

Also, quality and breadth of services would improve. Mobile operators could offer lots of different and innovative bundled services.

There're some problems to sort out of course, but they don't seem insurmountable. The most obvious question is whether there is a demand for improved 3G access at home, but apparently so. Indeed research shows that a high proportion of mobile voice calls are made at home - figures of 30% to 40% are often quoted. At the same time, mobile users are generating more and more mobile data traffic while at home.

I know that I use my mobile at home because I can't remember anyone's number any more and I've got a boatload of inclusive minutes that I never seem to use up. Sorry BT.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

U.K. train passengers want WiFi, but won't pay

A very interesting survey was just completed by telecoms consultancy BWCS. Here's an article about it.

Basically it says that there is very clear demand for WiFi connectivity on trains, but price and reliability are keeping usage down.

So what's this mean for a mobile operator wanting to offer a similar WiFi service?

-> Mobile operator wants to offer WiFi service on train to capture lucrative business users and add "bundled value" to consumer users. It could be a wholesale model where train operator offers WiFi for free or for a fee, or it could be a direct MNO to sub relationship. Irrelevant at this point.

-> Problem is users are wanting more bandwidth and greater reliability without paying more (or anything at all). They are also starting to demand symmetric bandwidth which cheap as chips ADSL doesn't do (ADSL is usually used to backhaul WiFi traffic).

-> MNO therefore must find a way of deploying WiFi on trains and collector points along the route (TMobile UK uses WIMAX to collect WiFi traffic on London-Brighton) for next to nothing. Piggy backing on top of the GSM/UMTS transport network seems like a good idea. On the other hand, SDSL backhaul at the WIMAX site is an option but it has all the same issues of backhauling HSDPA over ADSL which I blogged about before.

The best option, if it's available, is a carrier ethernet link. You get your 2G/3G traffic backhauled more or less for free over pseudowires (VLANs), your HSDPA backhauled over a separate VLAN with different QoS, and your WiFi/WIMAX traffic backhauled again over its own VLAN with its own QoS. It's scalable, cheap, high bandwidth and carries both IP and legacy traffic very efficiently.

The skyrocketing demand for high bandwidth, always on data services like WiFi (coffee shops, trains, etc) and eventually HSDPA and WIMAX will drive consolidation in mobile operators' transport networks. And Ethernet will be the backhaul technology of choice.