Tuesday, 31 October 2017

The other AT&T and T-Mobile shoes drop into Puerto Rico supporting Project Loon and LTE 4G. Similar 5G plans will appear next year or does Project Loon wait until 2020?

T-Mobile revealed on Friday 26th of October that it’s now working with Project Loon to help get LTE-based communications to people in Puerto Rico following the destruction caused by Hurricane Maria.

That follows AT&T’s move a week earlier when it said it was supporting Loon’s efforts to provide basic communication and internet activities for some people with LTE-enabled phones. While the Loon team emphasised last week that it was still an experimental system, it’s already been serving “tens of thousands” of people in Puerto Rico, so it appears to be working.

“Since turning on Project Loon service last week, we’ve delivered basic Internet connectivity to tens of thousands of people in Puerto Rico,” said Alastair Westgarth, project lead at Project Loon, in a statement. “We really appreciate the collaboration and support of AT&T and T-Mobile and hope that our efforts are helping during this incredibly difficult time.”

RELATED: Google's Project Loon working with AT&T to get basic wireless services to Puerto Rico. The Loon team has been launching balloons from a site in Nevada and navigating them to Puerto Rico. The Loon team worked with the government of Puerto Rico, as well as the FCC, FAA, FEMA, other spectrum partners and international aviation authorities, to bring service to the region.   Project Loon, which is part of X, an innovation lab within Alphabet, works only with 4G LTE devices that support band 8.

The company still considers it to be an experimental system, though, and says many unique factors could prevent a specific device from connecting. The hope is that as Project Loon engineers get more familiar with the constantly shifting winds in the region, they can keep the balloons up precisely over areas where connectivity is needed for as long as possible.

For consumers, a signal appears on their device the same way it shows up on any LTE device—users see an AT&T or T-Mobile sign—so they won’t know just by looking at their phone if they’re connected via Project Loon or to a cell tower.

T-Mobile CTO, Neville Ray, said in blog post that to date, T-Mobile has recovered more than 80% of its original prestorm outdoor signal in Puerto Rico. “We are working every day to close that gap and increase the density of our coverage in the higher populated areas,” he said. “We won’t stop!”
RELATED: Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint work at restoring service in Puerto Rico
"Our team has also left no stone unturned when it comes to getting people connected until infrastructure destroyed by Maria can be replaced,” he said.

"One of these solutions is Project Loon, an experimental system that our engineering experts worked on with the team at X, Alphabet’s Moonshot factory.

This balloon-based LTE 4G access allows us to deliver more limited data and texting services to customers in hard to reach areas and I’m pleased to share that this is live as of today!”  
Yet another example he gave was T-Mobile’s partnership with Vanu, a cellular antenna system company headed by Vanu Bose, to deploy several self-contained portable cellular network units that provide voice, data and text capabilities in some of the hardest hit areas.

There is a lot more info to aid our research on the topics: LTE 4G, 5G, Project Loon, T-Mobile, AT&T, Alphabet, Google; it can be found on Wikipedia and elsewhere as well as in the future on this blog.

T-Mobile/Sprint would be ‘dominant spectrum holder’ in much of the U.S.A.: 

T-Mobile/Sprint merger would 'significantly improve' ability to compete in rural markets: 

CCA reiterates opposition to Verizon's Straight Path 5G spectrum buy with FCC petition

Monday, 23 October 2017

WPA2 vulnerability is a serious flaw in the wireless encryption protocol

Users are urged to continue using WPA2 pending the availability of a fix, experts have said, after security researchers went public with more information about a serious flaw in the wireless encryption protocol.

So-called Key Reinstallation Attacks, aka KRACK, potentially work against all modern protected Wi-Fi networks. Depending on the network configuration and the device targeted, it is possible to inject and manipulate data as well as eavesdrop on communications over the air. The only main limitation is that an attacker needs to be within range of a victim to exploit these weaknesses.

It affects WPA2 Personal and Enterprise, regardless of the encryption ciphers used by a network. It mostly affects Linux and Android 6.0 and above, as well as macOS and OpenBSD. Windows and iOS are more or less unaffected due to the way they implement WPA2. Gadgets from Cisco, Linksys and other networking gear makers are also vulnerable. You should obtain and install software patches as soon as possible, from your operating system vendor or hardware suppliers, to fix up the WPA2 design flaw.

Mathy Vanhoef of KU Leuven, one of the security researchers who discovered the specification blunder, warned that the security hole stems from a fundamental cryptographic weakness in the latest generation of wireless networking rather than a programming cockup.

Simply changing Wi-Fi network passwords is not going to help – software and firmware will need to be updated to workaround this deep design error:
The weaknesses are in the Wi-Fi standard itself, and not in individual products or implementations. Therefore, any correct implementation of WPA2 is likely affected. To prevent the attack, users must update affected products as soon as security updates become available.

KRACK targets the four-way handshake of the WPA2 protocol and relies on tricking a victim's device into reusing an already-in-use key. This sleight of hand is achieved by manipulating and replaying cryptographic handshake messages.

“When the victim reinstalls the key, associated parameters such as the incremental transmit packet number (i.e. nonce) and receive packet number (i.e. replay counter) are reset to their initial value,” Vanhoef explained today on a microsite about the attack. “Essentially, to guarantee security, a key should only be installed and used once. Unfortunately, we found this is not guaranteed by the WPA2 protocol. By manipulating cryptographic handshakes, we can abuse this weakness in practice.”

An attacker can force these nonce resets by collecting and replaying retransmissions of message three of the four-way handshake.

A nonce is a number that is not necessarily a secret but is meant only to be used once and never repeated. The flaw in WPA2 allows a nonce to be – or forced to be – repeated, thus allowing an attacker to extract the WPA2 session key and decrypt and compromise all wireless traffic for that session.

As a proof-of-concept, Vanhoef has published a demonstration of how a key reinstallation attack might be carried out against an Android smartphone. Android and Linux are particularly susceptible to the WPA2 flaw because a bug in the platform's widely used wpa_supplicant tool zeroes the key during the eavesdropping, thus the Wi-Fi traffic can be trivially decrypted.

In short, other than Windows and iOS, the vulnerability can be exploited on various operating systems, computers and devices to decrypt any information transferred over the air that isn't already encrypted with HTTPS, TLS, a VPN tunnel, or similar.

Puerto Rico's cellphone towers were knocked out and Project Loon came to the rescue

Google's parent Alphabet Inc. said Friday that its stratospheric balloons are now delivering the internet to remote areas of Puerto Rico where cellphone towers were knocked out by Hurricane Maria.

Two of the search giant's "Project Loon" balloons are already over the country enabling texts, emails and basic web access to AT&T customers with handsets that use its 4G LTE network.

The balloons -- called HBAL199 and HBAL237 -- are more than 60,000 feet (18,000 meters) above land, according to FlightRadar24.com . They navigate using an algorithm that puts them in the best position to deliver signal by rising and falling to ride wind currents. They are also solar-powered and only provide signal during the day

Several more balloons are on their way from Nevada, and Alphabet has been authorized by the Federal Communications Commission to send up to 30 balloons to serve the hard-hit area, according to Libby Leahy, spokeswoman for Alphabet's X, its division for futuristic technologies.

Project Loon head Alastair Westgarth said in a blog post that Project Loon is "still an experimental technology and we're not quite sure how well it will work," though it has been tested since last year in Peru following flooding there.

Hurricane Maria devastated the U.S. territory of 3.4 million people since making landfall last month. Gov. Ricardo Rossello said Friday the death toll had risen to 49. Less than a fifth of the island has electricity, half its cellphone towers are still not functioning, schools are closed and more than 4,000 are in shelters, according to a government website .

AT&T spokesman, Jeffrey Kobs, said the company has set up 14 temporary cell sites, and as of Friday more than 60 percent of the population was connected via mobile network, in part due to the help of humanitarian and government groups and Project Loon.

Other technology companies such as Cisco, Facebook and Tesla have also pledged help or have sent teams to the island to improve communications and restore power.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Switching to businesses rather than consumers is the future of 5G

A newly released poll shows that a significantly larger percentage of wireless operators conducted 5G tests this year.

They are increasingly focused on enterprise and industrial applications for the next-generation systems. Ericsson's latest 5G Readiness Survey, conducted in July, showed that 78 percent of respondents were involved in 5G trials this year, up from 32 percent last year. Participating executives also suggested that increasing saturation of the consumer 5G market prompted companies to shift to other markets. 

Although 52 percent of respondents planned for the consumer segment, 56 percent targeted business applications and 58 percent sought industrial applications. A majority of poll participants also said that the Internet of Things — and related collaboration with third-parties — would be critical to the development of 5G. “In the 2016 survey, 90 percent of the respondents pointed to consumers as the main segment in their 5G business planning," Ericsson 5G commercialization head Thomas Noren said in a statement. "This year, it is an even split between three segments and operators have identified business opportunities not only in the consumer segment but also with enterprise users and specialized industries.” 

The survey signaled that enterprise and industrial systems would be among the ways to monetize 5G, along with higher prices for new services, migration from 4G systems and increased market share. Respondents identified the media and entertainment and automotive and public transport sectors as the most attractive for 5G applications, but said health care and energy and utilities could also see significant interest. The report featured responses from 50 executives, in either business or technical roles, for 37 global operators with publicly announced 5G ambitions.

Monday, 16 October 2017

Qualcomm and the FCC

Qualcomm was granted FCC authorization to conduct experiments using a small 5G R&D development and demonstration network at 4.4-4.94 GHz in its hometown of San Diego.

Specifically, the location is within a 0.5-mile radius of Qualcomm’s campus in the Sorrento Valley area of San Diego. The authorization is effective until Oct. 1, 2019. The application lists 30 mobile units and four base stations to be used in a test network that will use a single TDD 100 MHz channel bandwidth. Qualcomm explained that the requested frequency range of 4.4-4.94 GHz is for technology development purposes only and not targeted for future non-federal wireless communication deployment in the U.S.

Qualcomm said the network supported by the experimental license is critical for the company to develop, validate and then demonstrate 5G technology wireless communications systems. Engineers designed the network to generate the smallest amount of RF interference to incumbents in the requested frequency range while also providing the RF coverage area required for engineering development and showcasing advanced wireless technology for indoor, outdoor, static and mobility user environments, the company said. “The network is required to support both conventional passive antennas configurations as well as advanced beam forming technologies that will be utilized by 5G networks,” the application states.

The network as described uses four fixed sectors to provide the RF coverage area to a maximum of 30 mobile devices anywhere within the 0.5-mile coverage area. Three of the locations use one directional antenna while the third site has two directional antennas. The mobile devices can be used in static locations, in vehicles or in human mobility scenarios, according to the application. Most mobile testing will occur at ground level, but there’s a chance that some mobile may be located inside buildings exceeding one story.

Apple, Facebook and more lobby for expanded unlicensed use of 6 GHz band for 5G devices.

Qualcomm is part of a broader coalition that is calling on the FCC to open up the 6 GHz band to unlicensed operations and allow them to bring faster service, lower latency and more pervasive coverage to consumers. They note that the timing couldn’t be better: the IEEE 802.11ax Task Group recently voted to extend coverage to the 6 GHz band, expanding 802.11ax from 5 GHz into new gigabit-enabled channels, and consumers will rely more heavily on Wi-Fi in the future to power new use cases. 

About 30 entities signed the filing, all agreeing that Part 15 access to the 5925-7125 MHz band (aka the 6 GHz band) is essential in meeting demand for the next generation of wireless broadband services.

The companies span the consumer equipment, internet media, software, cloud, semiconductor, enterprise, service provider and rural connectivity industries. Their proposal is in response to the FCC’s call for comments on expanding flexible use in mid-band spectrum between 3.7 and 24 GHz.

5G CHINESE strategy seeks comments

China’s Ministry of Industries and Information Technology (MIIT) issued a public consultation request dated June 5th, 2017 seeking comment on plans to use the 3300-3600 MHz and 4800-5000 MHz bands for 5G, with 3300-3400 MHz will be limited to indoor use.

The White Spaces Radio below 700 MHz spectrum is not part of this plan, but analysts at Jefferies said they don’t think that’s a cause for alarm. In a June 6th research note to investors, the analysts said they believe this consultation’s purpose is to ensure these currently available spectra are “truly clean and free.” For the 700 MHz spectrum, since it has been allocated to the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT) for broadcasting purposes, it is technically “unavailable” or considered “not free,” they said. “We continue to believe that Unicom will be able to reach an agreement with SAPPRFT, which will give it access to the latter’s 700 MHz spectrum in exchange for an equity stake in Unicom,” the analysts wrote. “The MIIT will then re-allocate the 700 MHz spectrum that has been freed up by SAPPRFT for 5G applications.” 

Including the 100 MHz of spectrum restricted for providing indoor coverage, China’s MIIT plans to allocate a total of 500 MHz of spectrum for 5G, they noted. “Although this is only similar in total spectrum size to the current 2G/3G/4G allocation for the three Chinese telcos, which is 507 MHz, the major difference is that the 5G spectrum being planned is contiguous spectrum (300 MHz contiguous between 3300 and 3600 MHz, and 200 MHz contiguous between 4800-5000 MHz), while the current allocation is split into small parcels between 800 MHz and 2600 MHz,” the analysts said. “The ITU suggested a minimum contiguous spectrum size of 100 MHz for genuine 5G services, and it is very difficult for most countries to find such spectrum at a low frequency level (below 3 GHz). 

That is why 5G will, in most cases, take place at a higher frequency level and become far more expensive to build than 4G networks. In Europe, regulators decided that mobile operators will obtain exclusive access to the 700 MHz band (694-790 MHz) by June 30, 2020, coinciding with the expected deployment of 5G networks in Europe. Member states may, however, delay the reallocation by up to two years, but only in duly justified cases set out in the decision, according to the European Council of the European Commission. In the U.S., the FCC last year voted unanimously to make spectrum bands above 24 GHz available for 5G, opening up nearly 11 GHz of high-frequency spectrum for mobile and fixed wireless broadband—3.85 GHz of licensed spectrum and 7 GHz of unlicensed spectrum. 

T-Mobile, by comparison, presses the FCC to change the 3.5 GHz framework to better align with 5G global requirements. Regulations aside, T-Mobile USA more recently declared it’s going to be using the 600 MHz spectrum it won in the incentive auction for 5G, as well as the 200 MHz of spectrum it has in the 28/39 GHz bands. CTO Neville Ray said 5G can be deployed on any frequency, and in the future, all spectrum will be 5G spectrum running across low, mid and high-band. Interestingly, T-Mobile also has been pressing the FCC to revisit the 3.5 GHz CBRS band to make it better aligned in the U.S. with global spectrum for 5G. Executives visited with the FCC recently to explain that the 3.5 GHz spectrum is a core band for 5G deployment around the world and that the U.S. will miss a huge opportunity if it doesn’t create a structure aligned with global 5G requirements.

Crown Castle big time buy banking on 5G by spending $7.1 B

Crown Castle gets ‘crown jewel’ Lightower for $7.1B With a greatly expanded network, the company should be able to help its wireless customers prepare for 5G.

The reports were right on the money. Crown Castle International (CCI) has signed a definitive agreement to acquire Lightower—technically LTS Group Holdings LLC—for approximately $7.1 billion in cash. That Crown Castle was considering the acquisition was first reported by Bloomberg.

Lightower owns or has rights to approximately 32,000 route miles of fiber located primarily in metro markets in the Northeast, including Boston, New York and Philadelphia. Following completion of the transaction, Crown Castle will own or have rights to approximately 60,000 route miles of fibre, with a presence in all of the top 10 and 23 of the top 25 metro markets.

That will make the company one of the larger fibre network operators. “We are excited about the addition of Lightower given its attractive fibre footprint and the value we believe it will create for our shareholders,” Crown Castle CEO Jay Brown in a statement. He added that Lightower’s footprint in top metro markets in the Northeast will be valuable for supporting small cell deployments by Crown Castle customers.

Crown Castle is widely understood to have both AT&T and Verizon as customers. The company bought several thousand of AT&T’s towers in 2013. Wireless carriers’ evolution to 5G technology will include using millimeter-wave spectrum that is less robust than centimeter-wave spectrum traditionally used in wireless communications. In order to provide reliable coverage, millimetre-wave systems will require far more base stations—small cells—than today’s 4G systems need.

The response of financial analysts has been generally favorable. Wells Fargo Securities refers to Lightower as a “crown jewel.” Analysts there say the deal will underscore the value of Crown Castle competitor Zayo, which will still be three times larger than the combination of Crown Castle and Lightower, and which also has a solid presence in dense urban markets where small cells are going to be needed in great numbers.

New Street has been skeptical that supporting small cells would be anywhere near as lucrative as the macro tower business, but believes the small cell portion of Crown Castle’s business will be small enough a portion of the company to give Crown Castle “the benefit of the doubt.”

Deutsche Bank Markets Research, like Wells Fargo and New Street, was pleased to see Crown Castle’s estimates that the deal will be more accretive than most previously expected. Crown Castle anticipates closing the deal by the end of this year.

Project Loon is perfectly timed for 5G?

Google expects Project Loon to be profitable in the next couple of years, stating that “helping out” is important “but that’s not the reason we exist”.

Project Loon, part of Google’s Alphabet X division, was launched in 2012, and uses helium filled balloons to provide 120 Mb/s Full Duplex broadband internet access to some of the world’s most remote locations or in cases of disaster, (to be installed over Puerto Rica specifically) with another example providing similar symmetrical broadband connectivity to areas in Peru, South America.

During trials in the country, Alastair Westgarth, head of Project Loon, said his team was able to turn on a live network, covering a landmass the size of Switzerland, to provide internet access to thousands of people that were disconnected after severe flooding. In doing this, the Google Loon team worked with Spanish telco, Telefonica to provide access to areas in which the operator was not present, while both collaborated on spectrum.

Westgarth opened up on how exactly the partnership model with operators worked. He said when the unit first started out, “people”, presumably referring to operators, “were quite nervous” Project Loon was Google’s attempt to try to build an over the top network. “We were absolutely not doing that,” he said. “We’re not our own MNO, we’re not even our own ISP.” 

He said Project Loon was now talking to “dozens and dozens” of telcos and operators around the world, and there was a long-term vision to build a durable business and an eventual revenue driver. “We exist to build a durable business model, and underneath that if we can help people and on occasion provide relief during a strenuous situation, a disaster situation, that’s great,” he said. “But we believe in the next couple of years we will be flying and providing service in a commercial context in partnership with the operators.” During the interview, Westgarth also opened up on how artificial intelligence technology would be leveraged further to control and monitor the balloons in flight at 20 km altitude.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Derailing the 5G opportunity in the UK after BREXIT

The Head of Ofcom, Sharon White, has come out swinging against providers' legal challenges to its spectrum auction proposals – accusing them of derailing Britain’s “golden opportunity” to take a lead in 5G. 

Both Three and EE have launched separate judicial reviews against the UK comms watchdog over its forthcoming auction for the 2.3GHz band, which will be used for 4G, and the 3.4GHz band, identified as central to the rollout of 5G. 

The auction had been due to begin at the end of this year, but instead the courts will fight it out over whether the 37 per cent cap on spectrum is guaranteed (which is Three's concern) and whether the separate bands ought to be auctioned separately so the cap doesn't apply to the 3.4GHz band (BT/EE's objection). In a letter to the Financial Times, White said: "The courts have agreed to fast-track litigation, but the benefits for mobile users will inevitably be delayed. We planned to complete the auction this year. "Now we will be in court in December. We believe that auctioning some 5G airwaves early would allow companies to start the vital groundwork to make 5G a reality as soon as possible." 

She noted that the UK government is putting up "significant funding" for 5G networks.
However, as one well-placed source remarked, Ofcom could well be playing up the potential 5G delay for "politically expedient" reasons. 

It is attacking operators over the perception they are delaying "innovative" new technology. "This isn't really about 5G," he said. "Ofcom is understandably fed-up with being litigated against." He said: "Those bands were only paired because they became available from the Ministry of Defence at the same time. 

When Ofcom decided to bundle them in 2014 it made sense, but since then things have changed." Because the EU scuppered the proposed £10.5bn merger between O2 and Three in 2016 - the two smallest providers - ensuring each provider has a fair amount of spectrum by introducing a cap became more of a priority. Had that merger gone ahead, Three and O2 combined would have had a 29 per cent share of the spectrum (as opposed to 15 per cent and 14 per cent respectively), making a spectrum cap less imperative. Without any spectrum cap, Three would not have begun a legal challenge and EE/BT would not have launched its own counter judicial review.

"The regulator has dug itself into a hole, as a consequence of the EU's and its own insistence over having four companies in the market," said the source. "It might be wise to revisit the decision to bundle the auction together, so we can get a move on with 4G and return to 5G later." He added that any delays to 5G are not really important, as that band of spectrum won't be available until 2020, and the extent to which the UK is in a position to become a world leader is "highly questionable". Kane Mumford, journalist at Policy Tracker, agreed that the hold-up to 5G is being over-egged.
"Internally, I can say Ofcom is more sceptical about 5G than Ofcom's Sharon White makes out in [the article]" he said in a tweet.

An Ofcom spokesman got in touch to say: “This is absolutely about 5G. It is very regrettable that the auction will now be delayed by this litigation, which will harm consumers, businesses and ultimately the UK economy.”