Connected Research

Union policy research in the 21st century

Posts Tagged ‘Wireless

Wireless fusion a solution to rural gaps?

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An interesting article in Wired magazine documents how Willie Nelson, the US country outlaw artist, organises his broadband connections while on the road.

Essentially – and you’ll have to excuse the jottings of a techno-illiterate here – Nelson deploys an array of four wireless data cards fused via a small box into a single connection. The array seems to run on the same lines as batteries running in a parallel circuit rather than in series – each one adding to the capacity of the others: when one network runs slow, or weak, as a result of patchy network coverage, the other cards with spare capacity pick up the slack. At the same time, data packets routed around the web can be re-assembled much more quickly at the end point. This leaves the net surfing experience unaffected by slow connections or drop-outs, allowing a seamless, robust and fast connection.

Reading the piece – and I should acknowledge that it is a little advertorial in tone – I was struck (prompted by the comment of Nelson’s tour manager that ‘We rarely lose connection even in rural areas or if one card goes down’) by the potential such devices might offer rural areas in terms of broadband connections. In rural areas, fixed lines may either be absent or otherwise offer unreliable or slow connections as a result of distance from the exchange, while mobile networks also offer somewhat patchy connections as a result of network drop-outs or cold spots. Satellite may also not offer a perfect solution owing to usage caps and satellite’s own version of network contention (focusing on the numbers of users online and upload speeds to the satellite receiver).

The context for my thoughts here is quite clearly the Digital Britain commitment to universal access on the basis of a minimum connection speed of 2Mbps: such a device as used in Nelson’s tour bus may well assist with the delivery of that commitment in areas where a single fixed or mobile network may not be capable of doing so. Of course, this depends on a number of things, chief among them the precise coverage of rural areas by mobile networks: we need almost universal coverage by multiple operators. It also depends on prices – both of the device itself and wireless network cards – coming down further to make this a viable option in terms also of affordability.

Even if not a suitable device for individual homes, however, it may make sense in the context of establishing rural hubs, or data centres, offering more reliable and more speedy connections on a hot spot basis than may otherwise be achievable for individual, more isolated homes.


Written by Calvin

14/10/2009 at 11:37 am

Proposal for way forward on mobile spectrum

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Kip Meek, the Independent Spectrum Broker charged by the government in February with finding a solution to a series of complicated disputes between the mobile operators on the allocation of spectrum which had led to an impasse, has, against the backdrop of the Digital Britain interim report pointing to the role of mobile broadband in delivering the proposal for a 2Mbps universal broadband commitment, today produced his final report.

There are four blocks of spectrum available to wireless operators:

– spectrum at 900Mhz and 1800Mhz awarded to so-called 2G (digital voice and text services) operators, at the lower frequency initially to O2 and Vodafone; at the higher to Orange and T-Mobile (and also a small additional amount to the original operators on the basis that lower frequencies  permit signals to cover longer distances and penetrate buildings better)

– spectrum at 2.1GHz awarded on the basis of auction to 3G (mobile video) operators, including Three

– a so-called 3G ‘expansion band’ at 2.6GHZ as yet unawarded. The higher frequences at 2.1GHz and 2.6GHz are more suited to providing capacity for a large number of users in urban environments

– the ‘digital dividend’ spectrum at 800MHz that will be freed for further use once TV analogue frequencies have been switched off. The low level of frequencies here make this block particularly valuable since it requires the building of fewer base stations.

Meek has suggested essentially combining these blocks together so as to allow operators’ requirements for spectrum to be addressed in an integrated way which, he believes, should generate the prize of allowing mobile broadband services to be delivered at speeds of 4 Mbps, in turn facilitating a quicker and smoother transition to next generation services than would otherwise have seemed possible. The main point of his package of proposals is essentially to place a cap on operators’ total spectrum holdings within the total amount that is available so as to allow each to consolidate their holdings, thus maximise the efficiency of what they hold, and to facilitate the trading between them of blocks that the cap means they can no longer hold.

The proposal will now be considered by the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and may then appear in the final Digital Britain report due next month.

The proposal may well be a way forward out of the impasse for mobile operators and for public policy on universal broadband coverage, although it is unlikely to sit well with broadcasters, who had responded to the Digital Britain report with the view that these frequencies should be distributed to them for public service broadcasting purposes.

Furthermore, a speed of 4 Mbps, as welcome as this will be to consumers, will require significant levels of investment. Concerns already exist as to whether mobile companies will have the resources to invest at this level, not only in new spectrum but also in network infrastructure build, to provide this level of service let alone one that runs twice as fast.

Written by Calvin

14/05/2009 at 3:44 pm