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Network Perspectives from MWC: Connecting the Un(der)connected

by Philip Kendall | Feb 27, 2018

As a supporter of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the GSMA will have been encouraged by the development in “Internet for All” initiatives and trials on show at MWC this year. At the start of MWC, the GSMA’s chairman, Sunil Mittal of Bharti Enterprises, expressed a desire to see more regulatory support for a NetCo model of operator network-building collaboration to “connect the last billion”. However, Facebook’s Telecom Infra Project (TIP) arguably generated the most interest in terms of low-cost connectivity solutions and has been a key catalyst in this regard.

TIP has expanded its membership base - welcoming Sprint, Telenor, and China Unicom on board. TIP is even chaired by a telecoms executive - Axel Clauberg, VP, Technology Innovation, at Deutsche Telekom. Multiple TIP operator members have announced trial results and deployment plans, and unveiled new working groups and community labs/centers. Aimed at reducing the costs involved in building mobile networks and facilitating market entry for smaller vendors, there is growing momentum behind TIP initiatives for low-cost connectivity solutions for rural communities.

Vodafone, as the founding member of TIP’s Open RAN project, provided an update on ongoing trials in both India and South Africa. The successful trials in India involved “two new vendors that have developed bespoke high-power base stations using software-defined radio and general purpose hardware based on Vodafone’s specifications and support,” while the tests in South Africa are based on TIP’s OpenCellular platform.

In addition to Vodafone’s work in South Africa, OpenCellular developments of note include trials with Telenor in Pakistan and BT’s work with Nokia and Cavium testing interoperability between the OpenCellular platform and Nokia’s infrastructure in remote communities in the Highlands and islands of Scotland.

Telefonica also unveiled its “Internet para todos” initiative to connect 100 million people in Latin America with no Internet access, following the completion of initial deployments of high-speed mobile internet to tens of thousands of Peruvians across the highlands and in the Amazonian rainforest. Telefonica is testing TIP’s OpenCellular LTE RAN and has also completed tests of Parallel Wireless Open RAN solution. Facebook and Telefonica published some interesting perspectives on regulatory challenges in stimulating rural connectivity in their report “New Approach to Rural Connectivity: The Case for Peru” (This calls for greater regulatory flexibility for Rural Mobile Infrastructure Operator (RMIO) in Peru so that local operators can deploy wireless services using an MNO’s licensed spectrum to enable greater tech neutrality.

The 60 GHz band has also been on the agenda in Barcelona. TIP operator members have a number of trials of Facebook’s Terragraph solution for dense urban environments including Deutsche Telekom planning trials in Budapest, Hungary, and Telenor in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Facebook also announced a partnership with Nokia to accelerate developments in the 60 GHz ecosystem through the 802.11ay standards process. This would combine Nokia’s Wireless PON (WPON) solution based on 802.11ad WiGig and Terragraph’s mesh-routing and multi-hop capabilities. Also in the same band, Cambridge Communication Systems (CCS) launched its Metnet 12Gbps unlicensed 60GHz mmWave access and backhaul solution, utilizing mmWave modem technology from Blu Wireless.

These are all encouraging developments on the path to delivering more affordable networks for high-speed Internet into more challenging market environments.

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