A View from the Top: A Virtual Prototyping Blog


Mobile World Congress, Barcelona – Day 1: It’s the capacity stupid!

For those US visitors that came to the Fira de Barcelona this year with the blurred vision from comparing coverage maps in the never ending Verizon vs. AT&T commercials, they were up for a surprise! Vodaphone, the European operator counterpart, is much less embarrassed to push Femtocells as the recipe against missing coverage. Of course all of us in the software industry have known this trick for years, turning a bug into a feature.

This year’s MWC event is again the marketplace for the mobile world of tomorrow. 45,000+ attendees are lining up in front of the newest gadgets and applications (and the spare foodcourts). One would think that the most useful innovations are the software applications, such as the next Dolby implementation for mobile devices demonstrated in comfortable chairs playing Avatar trailers. The most eye popping innovation today actually was the concept demo from Japanese leader docomo. They showed a headset picking up the eye movements of the user to control the connected audio device operation. There was still room for improvement though as the poor Japanese engineer demonstrating it had to work pretty hard with his eyes. A lot more pleasant to look at was the concept packaging for the next generation phones from docomo. It was a handy roundish shape and it was made out of spare wood produced as a natural product of thinning out the Japanese forests. Already today you can buy ‘the leaf’, a biodegradable protection for your iPhone, made in green Ireland. It will disappear in your backyard in 1-5 years – but don’t try this with your iPhone itself.

Let’s come back to the capacity question. Aditya Kaul from ABI research was hired by the Femtocell Forum to present on trends for these new pieces of infrastructure that today help out operators with coverage, but could become the panacea for their capacity problem. From today until 2015 it is predicted that the gap between peak and average capacity offered by the basestations deployed will increase 90-fold. That means for people living in dense areas, they may show five bars of signal strength on their Smartphones, but they will never get their 1080p movie to upload to their FaceBook page because of lacking local network capacity. For 2010 ABI predicts only 1,000,000 units of Femtocells shipped world-wide, but this number may need to increase dramatically.

Another way of increasing the capacity is being demonstrated by the wireless patent producer Interdigital Communications. Their VP Air Interface and RF Systems, Ariela Zeira, explains at their booth about advanced handover using ‘fuzzy cells’ or traffic aggregation mixing cellular and WiFi transports to maximize bandwidth.

Also Xilinx is happily positioning their LTE Targeted Design Platform for the entire range of eNodeB designs including Femtocells. If you walk onto their booth and get a demonstration of their reference design they will point out that “you will not find a DSP as part of our solution, it is all being done with IP implemented in Virtex-6”. I kind of expected that, but was disappointed not to see a power meter for their solution, which would have put their product right into the context of the other green solutions I mentioned before.

Finally the participants are not greeted by a green, warm spring. Coming in transit from the winter-stricken Germany, I had hoped for something much better. Well, back into the busy halls of the MWC then, tomorrow.

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