The Google Self-Driving Car Will Increase Demand for Bandwidth (and Increase my Waistline)

My old college roommate used to say, “if you want a sure winner, buy shares of Taco Bell, because Tommy eats there so much the profits are going through the roof.” It’s true; even now I still love Taco Bell! But a desire to try to maintain a healthier lifestyle than I did in college is only the second biggest reason why my consumption of Combo #1 with a Diet Pepsi has decreased. The biggest reason is that it is too hard to eat a Burrito Supreme and a Crunchy Taco Supreme while driving. No matter how careful I am I end up with sour cream, beans and grease stains on my shirt.

But those stains may soon be a thing of the past because we are probably living within a generation of the Google Self-Driving Car becoming mainstream. And when it is mainstream, I can eat all the Americanized Mexican food I want in my best suit and tie without any worries.

If you are skeptical, then watch this video of a man living his daily routine in a driver-less Prius. Pretty cool stuff!


Now, even I can only eat so many burritos and tacos in a given day. So what will I do with the rest of my time in my self-driving car on my daily commute?   That’s easy, I’ll do the same thing I do with the rest of my idle time – play with my iPhone!

There is a big need for the wireless industry to increase capacity in areas where data growth is driving the demand for bandwidth. The current thought is that smart-phone users eat up the greatest amount of bandwidth while stationary – at home, the office, coffee shops, airports, tourist areas, etc. Simply put, it is not a good idea to stream an episode of Game of Thrones while driving. But my son streams Sponge Bob Square Pants while my wife or I am driving. Take a minute to ponder how the need for wireless infrastructure will evolve if we all start streaming video and posting narcissistic comments and photos about ourselves while being driverless-chauffeured to and from work like a four-year old boy on his way to and from preschool.

Data demand (and subsequently bandwidth) will be needed along every road, not just in places where we are stationary.

That is a lot of cell sites! Better make sure your site acquisition partner is a good one.

 

Cell Sites: Coverage vs. Capacity

I have heard quite a few people complaining lately about their cellular coverage.  Some claim it has gotten worse.  While that is actually possible, it is probably unlikely.  While I am not a Radio Frequency (RF) engineer, I would argue that the problem is not an issue of coverage, but rather capacity.

What’s the Difference?

In a cellular network, coverage refers to the amount of area or land that a signal from a cellular network reaches.  Every carrier offers “coverage maps online or in their retail stores and you see the vast majority of the United States colored to reflect the carrier’s service area.  On the other hand, capacity refers to the amount of bandwidth for a cellular network within that service area.

Think of it is simple, hypothetical terms.  One cell site on top of the Empire State Building turned up to full power would radiate a signal covering most, if not all, of Manhattan.  But that does not mean that every person walking on the streets in NYC will be able to get a call through that single cell site. Instead, RF engineers design wireless networks with multiple cell sites at heights much lower than the top of the Empire State building so that each unique site covers a smaller area, thereby increasing the chances for each individual user to have his/her call go through.

So why does it seem like I drop more calls?

I don’t know if you are actually dropping more calls or not.  There is a reasonable claim that we have become more dependent on our cell phones thus we are less patient when calls are interrupted or fail to go through, thus we complain more. But we are definitely experiencing a capacity problem in modern cellular networks.  With the advent of more and more powerful smart phones we are not only using them to talk but to also download and upload music, video, photos as well as web surfing.  Thus each cell site must not only process voice, but also data – LOTS OF DATA! This is stressing the capacity of each cell site and thus the cellular network as a whole.  More cell sites are continually being built to increase capacity.

In short, future cellular networks will need thousands more small cell sites (called microcells and picocells) much lower to the grounds to manage our data crazy smart phones.  More to follow…

 

I love my Dongle!

Dongle.  It is a funny little word that is difficult to say out loud without cracking a smile – try it. 

If you want to see a few videos of people having fun with the word “dongle” click here, here or here.  If you do not know what a dongle is then click here – don’t worry, it is safe. 

I recently purchased my first dongle from Verizon Wireless and it has my attention.  It is a 4G LTE dongle manufactured by LG and I love it!  Verizon is claiming data speeds of 5-12mbps on the downlink and 2-5mbps on the uplink.  Actually I have no idea what that means, but I will say that I cannot tell the difference between it and the wired network in my office.  That is fast enough for me.  My dongle will not be the last 4G LTE device that I purchase – I can’t wait for a phone, tablet, or the numerous embedded devices that this is sure to lead to in a 4G world.

The monthly cost of my dongle is about the same as Wi-Fi in a hotel room for a few nights a month and it is much more portable.  In addition to hotel rooms, I use it in coffee shops, airports, client offices, and I even used it to send three large .pptx files on a Southwest flight where I stopped but did not change planes – the “in-flight Wi-Fi” was too slow for those files.  Previously those .pptx files would not have been received by my client until I got to my hotel that night well after the close of business. 

The 4G dongle is the next step in a smaller, faster, fully connected, wireless world. In short, it has shown me that 4G will be a major game changer for wireless industry.

Verizon iPhone has sparked the public race for “4G”

After all the speculation, all the anticipation, it is official – Verizon has begun selling the CDMA iPhone.  While I am a loyal Blackberry guy with no intention of switching, I must admit I am excited about the announcement.  You see, if you listened closely around the time of the announcement, you may have heard the shot fired from the starting gun for the race for the next generation of wireless coverage.  Actually it started long before that in the “war rooms” of each of the nationwide cellular operators but now the race is being run in public view – just watch one NFL football game for the ads they are running.

What is generally being marketed as “4G” will bring with it a massive expansion in the cellular networks – the largest infrastructure boom in the wireless industry since 1996 when the FCC auctioned off the PCS licenses releasing a lot of spectrum and networks began to upgrade from analogue to digital.  There is speculation that some iPhone users will jump from AT&T to Verizon because of the frustrations they experienced with AT&T coverage (actually it was a capacity problem, not a coverage problem). And some will wait to see if Verizon is prepared.  Regardless of your expectations or loyalties to one operator or another, one thing is sure – AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon all are in the process of upgrading their respective networks.  And, these upgrades will have two large impacts on their respective networks. 

First, each network will be substantially faster.  WiMAX, LTE, and HSPA+, will take each system to another level and that is great for consumers.  Whether you use the iPhone, Blackberry or Droid you are about to see an increase in speed which will in turn facilitate an explosion of even cooler apps and eventually machine-to-machine communication.

Second, the number of cell sites are about to significantly increase.  At first they will be overlaid on top of already existing sites and tower companies will see a big early bump in leasing revenue.  This initial overlay will establish 4G coverage nationwide.  But then the number of smartphones will quickly increase and so will consumers data usage and these initial sites will not offer adequate capacity because you can’t shove ten pounds of data through a five pound cell site.  While they can’t build ten pound cell sites, they can build two five pound sites.  Or go even further to manage capacity by building ten one-pound sites – one on every street corner and cul-de-sac.  All this because our appetite for data is about explode!!!

Cell Site Leases in the Future

Cellular history

I remember the first time I saw a mobile phone.  It was circa 1987 and it belonged to a sports agent that was visiting a couple of friends of mine who happened to be college athletes.  I drove them to the airport in my Honda Prelude to pick him up for lunch.  As he stepped off the private plane into my back seat I remember asking him “why he had two brief cases?”  He replied “oh no, the second one is my phone.”  At that moment I knew my buddies were going to sign with him – some guys just can’t resist a big battery. 

The cellular industry has come a long way since then.  The briefcase phone became the bag phone which evolved into the brick phone, then the flip-phone, the camera phone and now the smart-phone. Just as the handset has evolved so has the network – from analog to digital to 2.5G, to 3G…  And cell sites have evolved too.  From the first one at Soldier Field in Chicago and remote mountain top sites, to tall towers and the tallest building in town, to monopoles and lower roof-tops to light poles.  Shelters at cell sites have become cabinets and even suit-cased sized boxes. 

Cellular Future

If we look forward we will see that the iPhone is just the beginning.  The embedded wireless device is about to change it all again.  We are rapidly approaching a world where we’ll have hidden wireless devices inside everyday items such as HVAC, appliances, medical devices, even our dogs.  Farmers will remotely control their irrigation systems with apps on the smartphones, heart-monitors will notify you and your doctor before your heart fails.  Disposable, one-use-only devices will automatically reorder household items when packages are empty.  We are limited only by our own creativity.

But this post-modern technology won’t run on the current networks.  4G networks and beyond require more cell-splitting and lower rad centers. Cabinets and boxes are becoming remote radio heads.  And, while we will still have a lot of towers in rural and sub-urban areas, DAS and picocells on the side of buildings and light poles will sustain capacity in urban and dense urban markets. 

What about cell site leases?

You can’t have a technological explosion like this without updating the underlying cell site leases as well.  We are already seeing a large jump in the number of modifications to existing sites – many of which require amendments to the underlying leases.  These requests are coming at a more rapid pace than we have ever seen.  And the number of cell sites – particularly in urban areas – is about to significantly increase.

Let’s be smart about how we negotiate new and amended lease documents!  These deals need to be flexible and cost effective to sustain this rapid growth.  Expansion and modification rights must be ongoing, rents must be manageable for the long haul.  And cellular operators should rethink how they manage their massive real estate portfolios.  As we enter into the age of outsourced network administration, lease administration is a non-core function that should optimized too.

In short, as we approach 2011, let’s keep up with the times and rethink how cell site leases are negotiated and managed.

The Impact of 4G (on Cell Sites)

This past week I attended the CommNexus presentation called The Road to Long Term Evolution (LTE): The Next Generation of Wireless Technology featuring Tami Erwin, President – West Area for Verizon Wireless. And this coming week I am attending the Wireless Infrastructure Show which was recently previewed by FierceWireless as “The opportunity and costs of 4G.” I put these two events on my calendar to broaden my perspective on the impact that 4G will have on cell sites. And while I have only attended the first of the two, I am already pretty excited about the future of wireless and more specifically – cell site leasing.

From the CommNexus event, I learned two things.

1. LTE will revolutionize the industry. Ms Erwin convinced me that LTE will be much more dynamic than anything we are currently experiencing. While she openly acknowledged that the iPhone was a “game changer,” she also pointed out that LTE will go further – much further. This was not a dis on the iPhone, but rather an attempt to show the limitless options before us in a 4G world. A world where machine-to-machine (M2M) wireless will connect everyone and everything. Check-out this video by Alcatel-Lucent that she shared with us.

2. The impact of 4G has not yet been clearly defined. Verizon plans to allow their subscribers to define how LTE evolves rather than attempt to define it themselves. They do not want to limit the impact of LTE by attempting to define it or set an expectation. They are merely building a network that will facilitate it. I’d give that a “thumbs-up” on Facebook!

I anticipate that 4G will change how we communicate much more than analog-to-digital conversions, 2.5G and 3G. But what about the Opinion Pole’s specific niche – what about 4G’s impact on cell sites and cellular antenna leases? As stated in prior blogs, we already know it will significantly increase the number of cell sites, it will lower the average rad center for cell sites, it will increase the number of micro/picocells, it will cause RF engineers to look for ways to off-load traffic to Wi-Fi as often as possible, and it will cause the cellular carriers to evolve into a “dumb pipe.” It will also drive C-Suite executives to focus on OPEX over CAPEX. And all of these things will impact cell site rents.

However, I am anticipating learning much more this week at the Wireless Infrastructure Show. Stay tuned!

Quote of the Month – Coverage vs Capacity – 4G Cell Sites

Quick shout-out to Phil Goldstein for his article posted here today on FierceWireless.  Here is an excellent quote from it. 

Coverage vs. capacity: Cisco’s Visual Networking Index predicted earlier this year that mobile data traffic will increase 39 times between 2009 and 2014. To meet that demand, Clearwire CTO John Saw said there needs to be an industry-wide paradigm shift away from coverage and toward capacity. “Our cell sites are not able to meet the needs when we become a capacity-driven business and not a coverage-driven business,” he said referring to the broader industry. “Is it time to move up.”

Tower companies, Saw said, need to think less about macro sites and more about micro sites, picocells, distributed antenna systems and rooftop deployments for urban areas.”

Femtocells Are Not Just About Connectivity

Jetsons

I was pretty excited a few months ago when I bought a new Femtocell device from my cellular service provider. My wife and I had noticed that we had begun having problems connecting to the network and calls were dropping more frequently so I swallowed my pride and paid $250 solve my carrier’s coverage problem. I expected to get maximum “bars” in my house easily and seamlessly. But my experience was far from plug and play. Actually when I called the carriers help desk they said something to the effect of “oh it doesn’t work with data plans yet. You’ll need to turn off the data portion of your Blackberry each time you walk in the house.” I promptly packaged it back up and returned it to the retail store. I figured I’d wait a generation or two before trying it again. Maybe the price would come down in the meantime.

While I am still not ready to try again to solve my carrier’s coverage problems, I must admit my interest in femtocells is revitalized. At a recent CommNexus San Diego SIG focusing on “Femto Services” I got a glimpse into the future and like what I see. If femtocells live up to expectations it could become the link between your mobile phone and embedded wireless devices in your home such as your TV, HVAC, and utilities. Via a femtocell, you will be able to remotely communicate with your house to manage every embedded device such as turning on the oven, or responding to a SMS reminding you that you left the lights on. There will also be presence enabled capabilities that detect your phone as you walk through the door and immediately turn on the TV, air conditioner and appropriate lights as you move throughout the house. In addition to knowing when your kids are home because their phone comes within range of the femto, you can also leave them a “digital post-it note” reminding them to clean their room as soon as they get home.

There are several devices vying to be the hub of the future digital home but unless those devices connect to your smart phone then they won’t work. I can see a combination Femto/Wi-Fi device controlling those connections in our future homes where we live just like the Jetsons.