Tag: Wireless Networks

Five Problems with Cell Phone Networks

Five Problems with Cell Phone NetworksMany people do not have any appreciation for just how complex the telephone network is and how easily congestion can delay or prevent calls going through the network. There are many locations within the network that can act as choke points and the engineers at these communications companies are always monitoring and improving this network. However it does take time to update these networks and frankly if a given area does not have enough potential to drive revenue, the carriers will not invest a lot of money into these poor service areas.

There are 5 main areas that these choke points can be lumped into. We will discuss them in a moment, however when you add data calls, the amount of traffic increases exponentially and places additional strain on the network. In fact data is growing at a higher rate than voice traffic. This is becoming a challenge to many cell phone companies since they need to spend millions of dollars to fix some of these data choke points to deal with the exponential growth in traffic.

The 5 areas are: A) Airwaves B) Buildings C) Switching Gear D) Land Lines E) Application Servers. A data bit travels from your cell phone via airwaves, through building walls to cell towers, then via land lines to switching , more land lines to applications servers which will process the data bits and deliver back to you the information you requested. There are ample opportunities for the data bits to be slowed or delayed while each device deals with the traffic that is being sent to it. As traffic increases this only gets worse unless additional capacity is added.

Cell Phone Networks Problems

Airwaves

Congested airwaves are less problematic than other choke points, but they still slow service.

Take the fastest 3G network today, which can support a download speed of 21 mega bits per second. Someone using a laptop wireless card that also supports 21mbps can surf the web at full speed.

But if two laptop users try to download at 21mbps from the same cell tower, the highest speed each consumer will see is cut in half. If a third user tries to download at the highest speed, divide the peak speed by three, and so on.

Fortunately not every laptop needs or can deal with 21 mbps, but you get the point when you have a congested site that has thousands of cell phones, or wireless cards competing for limited resources the response time can become delayed.

Buildings

City skyscrapers block wireless signals, and office workers using cell phones at their desks clog networks originally designed for people on the go.

These same buildings can attenuate a signal so much that a cell phone can work perfectly fine outside and not at all inside. Weaker signals slow the transmission of data  and use your batteries power much faster.

Switching Gear

Applications like Yahoo Messenger that constantly send and receive signals on the network play havoc with switches, which were built for sustained calls. A two-minute IM chat can require as many signals as it takes for 10 voice calls. A single computer with an air card can be running 4 or 5 applications at the same time, generating data traffic from each of the applications aimed at different servers in the network.

Signaling traffic is growing 50% faster than data as more apps are constantly “on,” according to Signals Research Group. That’s in part why iPhones generate more traffic than 30 basic cellphones.

Landlines

Data bits flow from cell towers through fiber and copper lines to a switching station and then from the switching station again via land lines to application servers via even more switching stations. Data and calls are then sent to their final destinations over even more landlines and servers.

The scheme, designed pre-smartphone, can push only 75% of a tower’s maximum capacity to the next switch or endpoint. With wireless data expected to more than double annually from 2008 to 2013 as video and apps grow more popular, landlines are a growing problem.

Application Servers

Many of the tens of thousands of applications for smartphones connect to the public Internet through their own servers. So don’t always blame the wireless carriers for bad service. Slow loading corporate e-mail or sports scores can be the fault of an app maker’s own bandwidth constraint.

Whether it is ITunes, CNN or any other site that is receiving lots of traffic from all over the world, the application servers must receive the data, process it, determine what information is being asked for, find it, queue it for transmission and then send it back to the original requester.  And this is the simple straight forward version.

Applications servers can be their own choke point if many users are making the same request at the same time. This occurs routinely when something is advertised on a web site or on TV and thousands of people make the same request at the same time for information about the same subject.

Summary

With all of these possible choke points in the network it is amazing that the communications system works as well as it does. Rest assured that data engineers are monitoring and making adjustments routinely every day to improve the network and adding capacity to deal with an ever increasing traffic demand as more and more smart phones are added by customers across the country.

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End Appears Near for Minute-based Voice Plans

End Appears Near for Minute-based Voice PlansThe Rise of 4G means voice will soon run over all-IP networks. The technology platform that carriers use to provide voice services may change. It does not necessarily mean that the billing methodology will change for customers.  Some groups believe that once the conversion of voice to all IP networks is complete, the carriers will be forced to do away with minute based plans and move to data plans that are a combination of voice, data, text and video.

The white knight in this case is the rise of 4G wireless technologies such as WiMAX and LTE, both of which will eventually be able to deliver high-quality voice calls over an IP network rather than a traditional cellular network. This may mean that users might not have any monthly limit on the number of minutes they can talk on their phones; instead, they would pay a flat rate for monthly data plan that will encompass both voice and Internet services.

The wired world in the enterprise, voice has mostly moved to IP already.  In terms of wireless, cellular carriers don’t have enough dedicated bandwidth right now to support IP-based voice. But in future developments of LTE, it will all be over IP.

Redman notes that carriers are still likely to rely upon minute-based voice plans during the initial stages of LTE and WiMAX deployment, since it will take some time to make those technologies ubiquitous. Thus, users who don’t live in major urban areas will likely have to rely on cellular connections for wireless voice service for several years after initial implementation in urban areas. But once IP-based wireless networks are up and running around the country, it will no longer make sense for users to pay by the minute or at least that is the supposition of some writers.

What is evident with the new network technologies that are on the horizon is that it will be far cheaper to provide voice and data over these networks. The question will be whether these same networks will unlock the handsets to allow customers to make VOIP calls over competing VOIP carriers such as Skype and Truphone.

Even today, the Apple 3G  Ipod Touch can utilize WIFI to connect to the IP network and it allows calls via Skype to any phone or computer connected to the Internet. This is one of the first examples of mobile Voice moving to cheaper IP networks and avoiding the minute based plans that are currently in vogue. What really enables this particular solution is a handset that connects to the internet and is independent of any carrier service plan. Currently you cannot purchase a 3G Iphone which is essentially the same platform as the Ipod touch without also signing up for a voice and a data plan from the carrier.

Access to the network is the key and as long as the carriers own this access, they will be able to charge whatever they wish in the manner they wish, which includes voice based minute plans. If for example WIFI networks were to proliferate, then it may be possible to move to a data only plan or even a free network access plan. However even this scenario is problematic.

Most users do not want to look around for free access. They wish to have access at a moment’s notice were ever they are and this is the service that the carriers are so good at offering.  What is really needed is a competing carrier that offers a mobile service based on IP for a flat monthly rate regardless of what the content is. If a competing carrier were successful in capturing a significant portion of the business, the current carriers would be forced to change their plans and move from a voice based minute billing plan to a flat rate data plan.

We’re already seeing carriers’ revenue for long distance voice go down due to competing providers such as Skype and voice access decline in proportion to data while revenue for data goes up.

This poses a separate problem for carriers that have long feared being relegated to the status of “dumb pipes” that only transmit data and don’t provide any value-added services for their customers. We have already seen this phenomenon in the wired world with the decline of LD revenues.  Wired Carriers are seeing their only major source of revenue in the future will come from fees for users to access their networks. While carriers will still make money doing this, it is much less revenue compared to the sums they hauled in, in past years.

The mobile carriers will need to rethink their billing plans as customers have more solutions available to them. As loyal customers move from traditional networks to competing carriers who offer fixed rate data plans which include voice over IP, they will need to figure out how to replace these lost revenues. Will they move to advertising based solutions? Will they move to featured data solutions that add value to customers which they are willing to pay for? Voice mail applications, 3 way calling, conference calling, call display etc in the data world may still be chargeable in the VoIP world. There may be additional data services that customers will need which are still in the development stage. Whatever they are, the carriers will need to figure out a way to replace the lost revenue from minute based voice plans.

What it comes down to economically, is that it’s cheaper to do voice over IP and the questions is whether these savings will be passed along to the customer. Market competition will dictate how quickly this occurs and how much the customer will actually save.

For more posts about wireless evolution, click here.

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Wireless Networks Improving

There is hope yet for the wireless networks as they improve their services and coverage of cities , towns and rural areas. Wireless Networks Improving in many locations.  Many people experience perfectly great service were they live, yet when they go inside some buildings or into rural areas, their phones do not work as well. They miss calls and drop calls on a regular basis.

The reason for this is really quite simple. The wireless signal is simply not strong enough for the cell phone to operate properly to process calls and maintain them once a call is set up. There are numerous reasons for a weak signal and we will discuss some of them as follows:

Wireless Networks Improving – Insufficient Power, Poor Coverage

The wireless carriers all have cell phone towers spread around the country. You Cell Towerhave probably seen them in cities and across the country side. The one shown on the left is pretty typical of a small site that provides wireless coverage in all directions from the tower. In more densely populated areas you will see towers that are higher as well as with more radio transmitters on them.

The picture to the left is an example of another tower with more radios and much Wireless Networks Improvinghigher than most towers. The power of each of these radio and the number of these towers is governed by strict engineering guidelines that take into account the power radiated, the area covered and the terrain that is within a 30 mile radius of the tower as well as adjacent towers that are also providing cell phone coverage.

The closer you are to a transmitting tower, the stronger your signal will be and the better your service will be. Someone who is at the extreme distance of 30 miles will not receive a very strong signal and may drop calls or miss calls. The signal degrades with distance on an Radius squared basis.  The density of cell towers and the number of radios at various power levels is one of the main reasons that cell phone coverage can be very good or very poor.

Signal Blockages or Line of Site Issues

Another factor which can impact the signal you receive is what is between you and the transmitting tower that your phone is connected to by wireless signal. If there is a bridge or building or hill between you and the tower, then your signal will not be as strong.

In cities were demand is stronger, there are more towers and also radios attached to buildings to cover every nook and cranny of the city, so that there are no blockages. As you get further out from the center of the city or were there is a significant demand, there are less towers and this is where this type of blockage occurs.

Signal Blockage by Buildings

Many cellular subscribers or mobile subscribers may notice that the signal illustrated on their hand sets decreases when they go inside a building. You might have 4 bars of signal outside , only to have it decrease to 2 bars while you are inside or even worse no signal at all.

Many buildings are surrounded in some kind of steel and this acts as a serious attenuater to decrease the signal strength. Even if your building is concrete with re-enforced steel wire inside the wall, this will be enough to lower the signal strength. In really bad cases, users of cell phones will have to step outside to use their phones.

Wireless Service Providers are Improving

As you might appreciate, the wireless service providers are working hard to improve service. Every dropped call or missed call is lost revenue for the wireless service providers not to mention a bad reputation that they get.

Since these towers and radios are quite expensive,  the wireless service providers are targeting new installations were they will be able to derive the most revenue. If you happen to live in a low traffic area you may be waiting for a long time before your service is improved.

On the other hand if there is sufficient population density in your area and customers are complaining, there may be a sufficiently good business case for the wireless service providers to spend the money to improve service in your area. There are several ways to improve service.

Increase power to existing radios, however this could be detrimental to other radio systems in the area. The FCC in the US manages this relationship very carefully as do the wireless service providers. Another solution is to divide an area and add a new tower. Permission from local groups must be provided before a tower can even be erected, so it may take some time to add additional radios and towers. Many times the wireless service providers will attach radios to buildings as an alternative to adding a brand new tower and  incurring the wrath of the local citizens.

If you have a large commercial building with lots of wireless customers that work in the building you may be able to persuade your wireless service provider to add small wireless cellular radios inside the building.  Of course you will end up having to approach all of the carriers since not everyone is with the same wireless service provider.

There are also small repeaters that can be purchased. These are broadband repeaters that will capture the full wireless spectrum that the carriers use , amplify it and then rebroadcast the same signal inside the building. Since these repeaters are broadband, they will broadcast all of the signals for all of the carriers. These repeaters must be approved by the carrier and they will have to be installed by the customer at their expense.

For more posts about wireless coverage, click here.

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