Wireless Waffle - A whole spectrum of radio related rubbish
Investing in VoIP for cheaper callssignal strength
Monday 28 December, 2015, 17:39 - Equipment Reviews
Posted by Administrator
Making phone calls in the UK has rarely been as cheap as it is today. Most mobile contracts provide almost limitless free UK calls and even low cost pay-as-you-go services such as those provided by GiffGaff offer plenty of bundled call minutes.

However, calling from fixed-lines remains relatively expensive. Though the fixed line operators provide packages with bundles of calls, these are surprisingly costly and without these packages, the call rates are often high. The table below sets out the relative costs of different phone (and broadband) packages from some of the bigger suppliers, based on someone making one hour of phone calls a month (to a fixed line), an hour per week and one hour of phone calls a day (to a fixed line).

OperatorCost per minuteCost per month
Unlimited Package*(60 mins per month)(60 mins per week)(60 mins per day)
Virgin Media10.6p8.006.3627.56193.58

* Additional monthly cost for unlimited calls over and above standard package

It is absolutely clear, therefore, that anyone who makes more than cursory use of their fixed line (to call other fixed lines) should be taking the operators' all inclusive packages for calls as the break-even point is arond the one hour of calls per month level (or two minutes per day).

But the situation becomes far more complicated in the case that anyone wishes to make international calls whether from a fixed line or a mobile. International calls are generally far more expensive than domestic fixed line calls and though some operators offer bundles of minutes for some destinations, and even though there are a myriad of calling cards and other methods for reducing the cost of calls, they tend to be complicated to use.

At the Wireless Waffle HQ, calls to UK fixed lines, as well as to international destinations, are a day-to-day requirement and the cost of these calls was becoming significant. At the same time, a method which allows these calls to be made whilst being so user friendly that it was no different to a standard phone was essential to ensure that the rest of the residents of the HQ did not have to dial short-codes or press extra buttons when making a call.

gigasetThe answer came in the form of the Gigaset N300IP DECT base station, teamed with a matching DECT handset (such as the Gigaset A510). This canny device allows a standard fixed-line and a Voice over IP (VoIP) line to be integrated seamlessly. What this means is that incoming calls (on either line) ring the phone as usual, but that outgoing calls go via the VoIP line. VoIP has been around for a long time - it uses the Internet to make phone calls. Years ago, the quality was poor and calls somewhat unreliable but today with a reasonable broadband connection, the quality is excellent and most importantly, the call rates are cheap - very cheap.

https   www miso comms net  miso logoThe VoIP provider used at the WW HQ is Miso Comms. Whilst there are endless VoIP providers available, some of who are even cheaper than Miso for certain calls, the company is run by a team of telecommunications professionals who really know what they are doing. Of course they're out to make a profit just as anyone else, but with such a credible background, the service and prices are both excellent. Most international calls are under 2p per minute and UK fixed line calls are just 0.63p per minute (e.g. 38 pence per hour) and the call quality is far better than many VoIP services that we at WW have tried in the past. What's more, in addition to using their service on the Gigaset unit, it can also be programmed into mobile phones (using the SIP protocol) and an app such as CSipSimple such that these low call rates can also be used from a mobile device connected to, for example WiFi. This means the low cost calls can be made from just about anywhere with a decent internet connection and not just home.

The Gigaset units will set you back around 70 for the base-station and the handset together which amounts to around a full year's subscription to unlimited calls from the main phone providers. But for international calls, the savings clock up virtually immediately. In most cases, anyone making 60 minutes per month of international calls will pay for the equipment in less than a year and in many cases, much more quickly. If you just put the CSipSimple app on your phone, the savings are instantaneous. If you have family around the world (or around the corner), why not give VoIP a go.
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Understanding Spectrum Liberalisationsignal strength
Saturday 21 November, 2015, 12:14 - Spectrum Management
Posted by Administrator
It's been a long time since Wireless Waffle reviewed a new book. That's largely because there are very few books published on the topic of spectrum management. But Lo! a new book has fallen across our desk. 'Understanding Spectrum Liberalisation' has been written by the trio of Martin Sims and Toby Youell (both journalists with PolicyTracker, a journal of the latest radio spectrum news) and Richard Womersley (who is a spectrum consultant with global spectrum experts LS telcom), all pictured below (for some reason in a Warholesque style).

sims youell womersley

understanding spectrum liberalisationSo what about the book itself? It's a surprisingly easy read, yet tackling some relatively complex topics. The authors take the view that the various mechanisms and methods based on 'liberalisation' that have tried to get spectrum from the tight-fisted hands of the regulators, into the free-spirited commercial environment, have either partly failed, or are destined to fail, and that the 'next generation' of spectrum management, which they consider to be sharing, will be the next fad to try and achieve the same thing.

The book is split into four parts:
  • Part 1: Setting the Scene - this section discusses what liberalisation was supposed to achieve, and provides a handy and simple to understand introduction to the technical issues that the reader needs to know in order to understand the rest of the book.
  • Part 2: Liberalisation in Action - discussed how liberalisation has been applied both in different sectors (e.g. broadcasting and satellite) and in technology terms (e.g. UWB and White-space).
  • Part 3: The Limits of Liberalisation - picks out examples of where the liberalised approach to spectrum management has not, maybe, had the positive outcomes expected and explains why this might be the case.
  • Part 4: The New Agenda - looks at some of the newer techniques being introduced such as Licensed Shared Access, 5G and Li-Fi, and suggests that it will require a combination of regulatory relaxation, technical innovation and commercial pressure for truly efficient spectrum use to be yielded.
The book is written in an informative yet informal style, for example:
The Swiss auction showed that the increasing complication [of auctions] could have disastrous consequences, rather like using a bullwhip to swat a fly on a friend's face - a very risky enterprise.

The book concludes with a section on how the ITU works (or doesn't work) and a handy glossary of a wide range of technical and policy terms that regularly crop up throughout the book.

A good read for anyone involved in radio spectrum management, especially those in a regulatory capability, or who have regular interactions with regulators or some of the bigger institutions and organisations that are shaping or defining spectrum policies.
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5 Guiding Principles for WRC-15signal strength
Saturday 31 October, 2015, 12:05 - Spectrum Management
Posted by Administrator
itulogoThis week in Geneva, the next in the series of ITU World Radiocommunication Conferences (WRC) begins. One of the most contentious items on the agenda at the 2015 WRC (WRC-15) is so called Agenda Item 1.1 (AI1.1). AI1.1 will address the identification of new bands for IMT-based mobile broadband services. Over the last 3 years, (since the last WRC) the amount of effort that has been put into estimating how much spectrum is required, identifying suitable bands, and conducting compatibility analyses to determine whether the use of these new bands are viable, is immense. And yet, the results remain inconclusive.Against this backdrop, the GSMA, the industry body which represents mobile operators, is eyeing four main frequency bands to be identified for more IMT services. These include:
  • The UHF television band (470 - 694 MHz)
  • Spectrum at L-band (1350 - 1518 MHz)
  • An aeronautical radar band (2700 - 2900 MHz) and
  • The satellite C-Band (3400 - 4200 MHz)
But the bands proposed by the GSMA for IMT are not 'empty', they have incumbent users who are occupying and making economically viable use of the frequencies, although this situation changes from country to country. Some countries may be able to use some of the proposed bands but others may not. There is not a 'one size fits all' answer, and taking sweeping international decisions for whole regions of the world may not lead to the best outcome. Excessive harmonisation can lead to inefficiencies. Consider the forced allocation of spectrum to maritime services in countries such as Afghanistan, Chad, Hungary, Nepal or Paraguay which have no coastline which would leave bands unused and unusable. But national footnotes can be equally damaging if they are not well thought through.

Identifying more spectrum for IMT could even lead to bigger headaches for administrations in trying to refarm incumbent users and may not lead to a more vibrant and efficient mobile industry. Balancing the World's interests with those of each country is what the WRC and its national delegations should seek to achieve. The optimum outcome is a result which achieves both. In this respect, Wireless Waffle presents...

5 Guiding Principles for those attending WRC-15

PRINCIPLE 1: Act in the national or regional interest
  • Ensure that the services are important to the development of your country are protected.
  • Determine which of these are needed to encourage social and economic growth.
  • Understand your national priorities - more spectrum for IMT or other services such as broadcasting, transport or government services.
shakespearePRINCIPLE 2: Don't be bullied into taking decisions
  • Question the motives of those making bold statements - are they acting in your interest or just their own?
  • Remember that the long-term needs of mobile operators are at best unclear or undefined, and may well be overstated.
  • Consider that "An empty vessel makes the loudest sound" - William Shakespeare
PRINCIPLE 3: Make sure you see the bigger picture
  • Check all the facts that are presented - 81% of statistics are made-up.
  • Make sure you fully understand all sides of the argument - who stands to win and who stands to lose.
  • Understand the implications of any decisions you make - both today and longer-term.
PRINCIPLE 4: Don't assume that more IMT spectrum means more government income
  • Many mobile operators no longer 'want' new spectrum as they have not used that which they already have.
  • 4G (and 5G) spectrum are of no use in countries where data usage remains very low - in these countries 3G - in existing bands - is far more cost effective.

PRINCIPLE 5: Work with your existing mobile operators to allow them to do their best
  • Work at licensing more of the already identified IMT spectrum.
  • Check that your operators are using their spectrum efficiently. If they're not, how can they demand more?
If every administration attending the conference followed these simple yet effective principles, the outcome of the WRC should be both fair and equitable to everyone.

Whatever the outcome is, let us at Wireless Waffle end by saying 'Bon Chance mes amies'!
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LEO: Roaring in the wrong direction?signal strength
Wednesday 23 September, 2015, 12:36 - Satellites
Posted by Administrator
wireless waffle ferretOn several previous occasions, Wireless Waffle has discussed some of the problems, both technical and economic that the raft of companies planning to launch new constellations of high throughput, broadband delivering, satellites may face in making their services a success. Whilst ferreting around the internet, it was interesting to discover a paper entitled 'LEO: Roar or Whimper' which discussed many of the same issues on which Wireless Waffle has opined in the past.

The paper, however, takes a more sideways approach and compares the situation facing new operators such as WorldVu and SpaceX who are intending to launch literally thousands of satellites to provide broadband services, with satellite broadband networks that were planned to do just the same thing in the 1990s (such as Teledesic and Skybridge) but which never got off the ground (so to speak).

leo roar or whimperIt turns out that many of the potential hazards facing today's planned satellite networks have changed little since the 1990s and in some cases the situation may have gotten worse. Take for example the amount of space debris now hanging around at various orbits which is much greater than it was 20 years ago. And though the technology has moved on, the costs of implementing complex satellite earth stations that can track the satellites are no less soluble today than they where when the Spice Girls were topping the charts, even with the advent of leading-edge technologies such as meta-materials. There are a range of other issues discussed in the paper which seems to consider the landscape for the LEO networks to be relatively bleak and foreboding despite many big name investors backing these projects.

For what it's worth, the Wireless Waffle answer to the question posed in the paper's title, 'LEO: Roar or Whimper', is that it seems that the LEOs will roar, but quite possibly directing their volume at people who are wearing noise cancelling headphones and thus won't hear their bellowing cry. Metaphorically speaking!
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