Category Archives: Broadband

5G for Ireland – what, when, who, where, why?

Earlier this year the media carried a couple of stories about 5G in Ireland, breathlessly giving us news of Irish telcos’ activities around this exciting new technology.

So what is this 5G thing? It’s the fifth generation of mobile communications technology, of course.

  • 2G (GSM) moved us from from the old analogue TACS (088) networks, giving us international roaming and SMS messaging, and the beginnings of mobile data on the phone.
  • 3G (UMTS) brought a big improvement in mobile data speeds, creating the opportunity for the iPhone and its followers.
  • 4G (LTE) is bringing us further improvements in bandwidth, or speed, and cleans up some of the complexity that 3G introduced.

And 5G? No need to tell you that it will bring an increase in mobile data speeds – every generation of network innovation has to bring that. It also reduces the latency, which is what we call the time taken for a piece of data (say, a request to open a web page) to travel from your phone to the network.

In Ireland, 5G will use the 3.6GHz band.  5 organisations were successful in last year’s spectrum auction – Imagine Communications, Airspan Spectrum Holdings (a new player in Ireland), Vodafone, Three and Meteor/Eir. This spectrum is not tied to a particular technology – in fact, Imagine is already providing fixed wireless broadband services in this band.

So why did the powers that be decide that we need 5G? Two reasons. Firstly, as smartphones get smarter, we humans are sending and receiving more and more data.

Secondly, more and more of the things that people and businesses own (cars, public rubbish bins, microwave ovens, cows, alarm systems, vending machines, pacemakers, bus stops…) are being connected to the internet. This is what we call the ‘Internet of Things’ or IoT. The applications and benefits of these connections vary widely, but what they all have in common is that they need to send and receive data. The idea is that 5G will bring the faster speeds, greater capacity and (Importantly) the lower latency that some new IoT applications require, and the extra capacity that the growth in IoT traffic requires.

Each new generation of mobile technology represents an opportunity for telecom vendors to gain market share. Huawei’s making plenty of effort on 5G – here is their take on the key 5G applications (source). eMBB is enhanced mobile broadband, by the way.

5G applications: eMBB (enhanced mobile broadband), smart driving, Smart grid, Smart manufacturing and mobile health.

Huawei’s view of the key 5G applications

However, experts can’t agree on what applications will drive 5G.  To this author, the discussion around 5G applications feels a bit like that around WAP (the first mobile standard for web browsing) – long on hype and short on solid use cases based on implementable solutions. One mobile industry CTO suggested to me that the most likely initial application for 5G is fixed wireless broadband. This may mean rural areas being prioritised for initial coverage, rather than the exclusive focus on cities that some commentators predict.

In practice, 5G won’t have an impact until 2020 at the earliest, and as we all know, in mobile telecoms as lot can change in 2 years. It will be very expensive to deploy. One reason that it will take so long and cost so much is that 5G is an entirely new network, built, more or less from the ground up. Another reason is that 3.6GHz is a higher radio frequency than 2G/3G/4G use. Because signals at the higher radio frequencies don’t travel as far, more base stations are needed. The huge costs of deploying 5G networks may lead to an increase in network sharing or industry consolidation. Watch this space.

Q3 Comreg report reveals interesting developments in Irish telecoms

Comreg’s latest quarterly report, published just before Christmas, makes for interesting reading.  Here, in aid of brevity given the evening that’s in it, are some observations on the report and what it means for us in the Irish telecomms industry:

  • Telecoms is still getting cheaper – see chart 1.4.1.  This is probably driven by quad-play, in part, but we await the next quarterly report to see whether prices continue to decline with the consolidation in the mobile industry.  This tallies with Figure 4.5.1 which shows that mobile ARPU continues to fall.
  • Eircom’s loss of fixed line market share continues, albeit at a reduced rate. It is too early to say whether Eircom TV is starting to arrest the decline.  Certainly, as chart 2.2.3 below shows, most of the growth in fixed-lines seems to be coming from UPC.  This is backed up by the growth in triple-play services shown in graph 2.2.4.  Apologies for the poor quality graphic – the original (here) is a little more legible, though still hard to read.
Q3 2013 223

Green = Eircom, light blue = UPC, orange = Digiweb, red = Vodafone (fixed), purple = Imagine, dark blue? = Sky, maroon = OAOs & black = total subscriptions (right axis)

  •  Chart 3.1.2 shows that fixed broadband is substituting for mobile broadband.  Overall growth in broadband penetration seems to have plateaued – surely have we not reached saturation?  Chart 3.3.1 shows that Ireland is well below the European average on broadband penetration, and the days are gone when one could argue that household size was a significant factor there.   This is a real issue –  how can Ireland become a knowledge economy if we don’t get the people using computers?  Some of the research findings suggest that home broadband in Ireland is expensive (fig 3.5.1), whereas other charts suggest that price is not the main issue.  However, according to research published elsewhere, our broadband is also too slow.  Research published here shows that Irish broadband upload and download broadband speeds are towards to bottom of the list of European countries.

And what of mobile?

  • For the first time in a long time, the proportion of postpaid (vs. prepaid) subscriptions fell, albeit slightly – as evidenced in fig 4.2.1.  Are consumers or operators pulling back from great deals on postpaid smartphones at the bottom of the market?
  • Chart 4.3.1 below tells an interesting story. It will come to no surprise to telecoms heads that SMS volumes are falling through the floor as Over-The-Air (OTA) services grow.  Whatsapp has over 400 Million users!  Of course, mobile data volumes are growing fast – they almost doubled in the last 2 years, as the chart shows.

Q3 2013 431

  • Chart 4.3.5, when taken with 4.3.1 above, shows that the growth in mobile data volumes comes from both the number of users and the volume per user. No surprise there.
  • Comreg are doing a good job of keeping us abreast of the new field of machine-to-machine (M2M) communications.  Figure 4.6.1 shows that Vodafone and O2 have most of the market between them.
  • Fig 4.3.2 shows the breakdown of mobile outgoing calls.   Another first for Q3 2013 – the volume of mobile international and roaming calls outstrips that of mobile to fixed numbers for first time.  So punters are taking fixed lines (2.2.3, above) but they’re probably not giving the numbers out, and if they are, their friends are electing to call them on the mobile.
  • Figure 4.3.4 shows that about ⅔ of mobile voice minutes are on-net. Research has shown that people tend to choose the same network as their social group – this phenomenon is much more marked in countries (e.g. Portugal) where the price advantage for calling on-net is stronger.

Overall, another interesting report and a couple of firsts for this quarter.  One request to COMREG, please: can you publish the report as a higher-resolution pdf please?  Some graphics (e.g. 2.2.3) are difficult to read.

Happy New Year to all!

Children are turning away from mobiles and social media: OFCOM report


OFCOM, the telecoms and media regulator across the water, has just published a comprehensive 200-page report entitled ‘Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes‘.

It covers childrens’ use of mobile phones, social media, TV and the internet and their parents’ approaches to same.  Among its findings are:

  • Significantly fewer children aged 5-15 have mobile mobile phones than last year (43% in 2013 vs. 49% in 2012)
  • Usage of tablet computers has tripled among the same age group
  • There are fewer TVs, radios and game consoles in children’s rooms than last year
  • Fewer children have social media profiles than heretofore, and the variety of social media platforms has increased

So has the tide turned? Is the growth of mobiles and social networking among children driven to some extent by fashion?  Certainly, one swallow does not make a summer – we will need to see whether these findings are borne out elsewhere – and moreover there is a lot of detailed information in the report behind these headlines.  Time will tell whether this is a future trend.

Broadband Commission Annual Report 2013 – just published

The Broadband Commission was set up by the ITU and UNESCO in recognition of the importance of broadband.  As they put it:

Affordable broadband connectivity, services and applications are essential to modern society, offering widely recognized social and economic benefits.

The Commission has just published its Annual Report 2013, which is a much more interesting read than the average corporate annual report.  Its focus is very much on the developing world rather than Ireland, but for anyone with a professional interest in broadband, it is an interesting read.  It contains some interesting statistics –

Broadband market share by technology, Q1 2013. Source: The Broadband Commission

– but it goes further:

  • It sets out the state of broadband across the world.
  • It iterates the benefits of broadband to human development and specifically to the UN’s Millennium Goals.
  • It describes how governments are being pushed to commit to broadband development plans.
  • Finally, it tackles questions around how to make broadband available to all.

A useful document – not least for reminding us in Ireland of how lucky we are to live in the first world.