iDEN, the end of an American uniqueness

The iDEN networks have always been considered as odd on this side of the Atlantic. This network technology designed by Motorola in the early 90s is still used by two US operators : Sprint Nextel and SouthernLINC Wireless.

Motorola iDEN devices

iDEN is now approaching its death. FCC just allowed Sprint to use 3G and 4G technologies in iDEN spectrum (800MHz). The key feature of the iDEN technology was Push To Talk that GSM networks were able to mimic with GPRS P2T applications in the early 2000s.

With the end of iDEN and the US adoption of 3G and LTE it is the end of an American uniqueness. Wireless technological standards are now global.

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GSM dusk

With the launch of the first LTE networks the end of 2G GSM networks is on the table. Operators will not be able to maintain 3 networks at the same time. OPEX will be too high with no additional revenue.

It’s already the case in the US : AT&T in the US is urging its customers to upgrade to 3G.

But the question is, will the 3G / 4G networks be able to offer the same coverage and quality of service ? When one looks at the Europe 3G coverage map one can seriously doubt it in some countries like Britrain or France. Just have a look at the O2 networks in the UK :

O2 coverage comparison

O2 coverage comparison (source: GSMA)

The real issues there are geography and population. When the population is not spread regularly on the territory there are holes in the coverage.

So the launch of LTE and the switch over from 2G will be tricky in some countries.

W. Europe 3G coverage

Europe has invented the GSM and standardized most of the mobile technologies, but it seems to have lost its leadership. There is only one European phone manufacturer remaining, Nokia and 2 if you consider Sony-Ericsson. There are still 3 infrastructure manufacturers: Alcatel-Lucent, Nokia-Siemens Networks, and Ericsson.

Many LTE networks have been launched outside Europe, in Asia and in the US. 2G is now pervasive in every part of the world and has reached a plateau. But where stand Western Europe in terms of 3G coverage? I’ve browsed the Web to find a Western Europe 3G coverage but couldn’t find any so I did one myself with data coming from one of the GSM Association website.

I’ve picked the following operator 3G network coverage in the 2100 band :

Country Operator
Belgium Movistar
France Orange
Germany DT
Ireland O2
Italy TIM
Netherlands KPN
Portugal TMN
Spain Vodafone
Switzerland Swisscom
UK O2

Here is the result which isn’t so bad:

Western Europe 3G coverage

Western Europe 3G coverage (2100)

One must be cautious in reading this map as the data is coming from the operators themselves and they may have different coverage measurement procedures: some may be more optimistic than others. And in some countries, other bands may be in use like the 900MHz to cover lower density area. Given the coverage ‘holes’ in this map, 2G seems to have still a long time ahead as the most spread technology.

Confusion around 4G

US operators created some confusion around the 4G labelling. Verizon is the first to launch a LTE network in the US and cut deals with many manufacturers to get a strong LTE device portfolio (Acer, Samsung, HTC, Motorola, etc.).

AT&T just couldn’t watch the train leaving the station without beeing on board, so they rebranded their HSPA service as 4G.

I’m a bit picky on this but when you look at the ITU website the only 4G technologies are WiMax and LTE. See ITU press release.

What starts to be confusing is that the chairman of the ITU is from … guess what … AT&T!

Stephen Blust, Director of Radio Standards, AT&T, and Chairman of the ITU-R Working Party 5D, also expressed his thanks to all the contributors in industry, government and ITU who have made the IMT-Advanced process successful.

I would suggest that the guys at AT&T marketing and AT&T radio departments have a drink together at their next kick-off meeting.

Vodafone’s FemtoCell sting

The last Vodafone advertisement in the London underground raised me a smile:  it features its new service Sure Signal. This ad is terribly true and funny: your life becomes a nightmare when your home isn’t covered. Your just hang through the window hoping to get an additional signal bar.

Vodafine Sure Signal Ad

Vodafine Sure Signal Ad in the London Underground

How is it really working. Well it’s quite simple: you install a Vodafone BTS in your living room, connect it to your broadband modem and switches on the whole. Then you get a Vodafone signal in your home and usually a bit beyond …

The offer is quite simple too, you pay a one off £50 or £5 per month depending on your plan.
The ad is enhancing the change in quality of life this solution has brought to many people…

Vodafone Sure Signal Offer

Vodafone Sure Signal Offer

But let’s think twice: these very people are just paying to improve the Vodafone coverage and don’t get anything in return. Furthermore they pay the CAPEX of this coverage extension but the OPEX too as the FemtoCell is connected through the home broadband which can be from any provider.

One would expect with this offer to get at minimum a discount on the calls you are making from home. This isn’t the case with Sure Signal. After all you are paying for the infrastructure and around 40% of the calls are made from one’s very home.
Furthermore by-passers in front of your home or neighbours may use the Femtocell you are paying for. I’m pretty sure you won’t get any revenue share from Vodafone for those calls.
My advice to these ‘desperate out of coverage’ VF customers would be switch mobile operator ! And my advice to Vodafone UK guys: don’t take consumers for fools.