UK Broadband CTO, “We’re moving from a voice world into a world of data”
Philip Marnick, CTO of UK Broadband is speaking at the LTE World Summit 2012, taking place on the 23-24 May 2012 CCIB, Barcelona, Spain. UKB will be the first operator to launch a commercial LTE service in the UK. Ahead of the conference Telecoms.com speaks to him about why UK Broadband’s extensive spectrum holdings and wholesale model will make it significant player in the UK LTE market.
Tell us a bit about UK Broadband and what are you about.
UK Broadband (UKB) is a subsidiary of PCCW Hong Kong. We are the largest holders of commercial spectrum in the UK with 124MHz of LTE spectrum in TDD bands 42 and 43 at 3.5GHz and 3.6GHz. We’ve got 6 x 20MHz channels there; which makes us one of the largest holders in the world. We have started to switch on our networks in London in Southwark on the South Bank and in Reading, where we are providing TD-LTE. We thought these were a good mix of buildings and customer demographic that could really show what this technology could deliver. We will offer commercial services in May of this year (2012).
How were you able to acquire that much spectrum?
We first acquired the spectrum in 2003, and we were able to gain some more in 2010 when we acquired another company. We’ve been offering WiMAX services in various parts of the country since 2003 and since then we’ve been doing lots of R&D for our parent company in Hong Kong because we had lot of spectrum here. We’ve been seeing how the technologies performed.
You’re operating LTE at different frequencies to the rest of Europe. Are you concerned about your eco-system?
We recently established the Global TD-LTE Initiative (GTI) group to further enhance and push the ecosystem for 3.5/3.6GHz. As you may know there is an awful lot of TD-LTE spectrum held across the world: operators from Canada, in Europe the Middle East and Asia. Up until now it’s been used for WiMAX and various other things but now it’s part of the LTE bands which were put in release 10.
There’s now an emphasis to push forward [with TD-LTE] and we were the first to do it. We already have some devices here and we’re expecting mobile devices to come later this year. As we go into next year we’re expecting mobile phones too. We are expecting a MiFi device available to us in September of this year that will be commercially available. The MiFi device is quite interesting as it effectively enables people to get the full benefit of high speed broadband without having to change out all their devices. Most devices people have today have wifi in them, from cameras to computers, to tablets. The use of wifi means that they can use mobile services wherever they happen to be. It gives the people the ability to use almost any device they’ve got and use it on a 4G network.
What will be the primary customers for your network?
That’s one of the things that we’re looking to do so to make sure that we can offer wholesale services to [operators, so] when they have got capacity hotspots, [they can] offload traffic to us. One of the devices we have is a home modem device – a fixed line replacement. In London I think its 1.5million people who don’t use fixed line broadband but use broadband at home by other means. There’s students, those who come to the UK for a short time, and don’t want to pay for fixed broadband. There will be customers available through a variety of channels. [The first announced is its deal with Swindon council]. And one the things we could offer them are home broadband services provided by very, very high-speed mobile. And the speeds we’re achieving are higher than you’ll get from your typical ADSL2 line.
What sorts of speeds are you seeing?
The system can connect at up to 100Mbps and that’s the sorts of things that you see in marketing. In reality, when we’ve been testing in buildings we’re seeing speeds of 50Mbps. On drive tests we’re sustaining average speeds of over 30Mbps across the cell.
How are you achieving these speeds compared to the US operators operating on lower frequencies?
In the real world they’ve not actually got much spectrum. They are using 10Mz channels, whereas I’m using 20MHz channels. And my cell sites are actually using 20MHz per sector. So each of my cell sites is actually using three 20MHz channels. Other operators have interference issues or other limitations with regard to spectrum, but because of the amount of spectrum we have we can deliver these sorts of speeds.
So what you’re saying amount of spectrum rather frequency is more important
As data demand increases the effective size of the cell site decreases anyway. If you look in places like London cells are going to have to be smaller. For indoor penetration yes, low frequencies are very good but when you get smaller cell sites the higher frequencies are actually no disadvantage. And in fact, if you want to have fewer interference issues with their neighbours, you’ll get more out of higher frequencies. It is really enabling us to deliver the sort of promise that people talk about for LTE Advanced. Effectively LTE Advanced is using 20MHz channels, which is effectively what we’re doing.
Why have the big four operators not gone for TD-LTE spectrum?
Most operators are based on voice networks so they’ve gone for FDD. But in a world of data people will always download more than they upload. We’re going to see ratios of 9:1 which is where TDD will come into its own. I think the world is in a transition phase where we’re moving from a voice world into a world of data. You’ll see both TDD and FDD being used to service the markets that they are most appropriate for. For me, it’s about designing networks for tomorrow, not yesterday’s network. We have to design networks that are designed for data, not for voice.
Why do you feel your wholesale model will be successful?
We are moving into a world where people need to collaborate. If you look at the forecasts, data is growing rapidly. Ofcom has suggested by 2016 the UK will have spectrum limits even after the auction. So there’s a requirement to use more spectrum bands to deliver what they customers are starting to expect; and that is high speed [mobile broadband]. We are moving to a world that when you are moving from inside to outside, wherever you happen to be, there has to be the capacity to be able to deliver the user experience that people have come to expect.
What’s your view on unlimited data and bandwidth caps?
What we need to do is deliver package that meets user expectations and does not make them feel uncomfortable using data. The problem today is that a lot of users feel that if they use too much it costs them too much. We’ve been pushing for years for people to start using data and now we’re saying, please don’t use so much of it – it’s seems a bit odd doesn’t it. For us it will be a case of optimising the packages as they go along, making sure that the price is right for the data usage.
The LTE World Summit is taking place on the 23-24 May 2012 CCIB, Barcelona, Spain. Click here to register your http://ws.lteconference.com/interest.