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The mobile phone has become a ubiquitous part of our daily lives, with far-reaching effects on the way in which we communicate. Being connected any time, any place, anywhere has in fact become an integral part of telephony. In addition, with the democratisation of mass-market broadband Internet and the ADSL access boom, everyone can now have access to digital contents. It has also led to the development of associated uses (photo, music, video, etc.). At a time of 3G and questions on what tomorrow’s mobile telephony will bring, one may wonder whether the joining of these two worlds is not irrevocable. Offering highspeed access no matter where, no matter when, seems to be the logical next step both in terms of usage and technological opportunities.
Third-generation mobile systems: what next?
Since the first generation of so-called “analogue” mobile radio networks was created in 1980, the mobile telephone has seen many upheavals. In 1991, with the appearance of GSM, second-generation (or 2G) mobile telephony, it became a veritable phenomenon. Gradually, almost everyone started to have a mobile phone. 2002 saw the arrival of UMTS, and 3G was born. To define a new generation of mobile systems that would see the light of day by 2010, the notion of 4G was introduced in the early 2000s. The idea was to perpetuate the logic of replacing one mobile generation with another every 10 years. Beyond 3G rather than 4G However, the term “4G” soon lapsed into disuse. “Beyond 3G” was chosen instead for its ability to join various concepts. In fact, the idea of rolling out one single new radio interface with even higher performance – replacing its predecessors – seemed to have been abandoned. Today’s wireless-expert community in fact no longer seem to look at a single high-performance solution for all fields and uses, but rather an improved cooperation between the various existing wireless technologies (mobile radio coverage, but also local wireless networks, etc.). No 4G therefore, but rather an intelligent radio offer. Another argument against the rollout of as full and widespread a radio coverage as possible, based on a single technology, is that the number of mobile users today equals or even surpasses that of classic fixed-line subscribers. Evolution in the mobile world can therefore, for reasons of scale and economy, no longer happen independently from other media. The notion of successive generations each independent from the previous therefore seems obsolete. Internet and the digital revolution
January 2006 Moreover, the widespread development of the Internet and mobile phones, combined with the digital revolution, has generated new behaviours among users. Mobile phones have on the one hand introduced the idea of being connected anytime, any place, but also of simplicity and personalising your own handset. On the other hand, broadband Internet has eliminated time constraints and shrunk distance, but also opened a new window to the world and wide access to contents. With their highspeed ADSL access, users have become accustomed to freedom of choice and the sharing of large files at reasonable cost. The new challenge for operators, and therefore France Telecom as well, is to take these changing user behaviours into account by proposing an integrated broadband service offer in any situation (at home, on the move or at work). For this, they will have to make use of all available networks, integrating all accesses, whether wireless or fixed. Business Everywhere: a convergent offer Since June 2004, France Telecom’s Business Everywhere has been offering a range of solutions that enable you to work everywhere, in total security, through various networks: WiFi, 3G, EDGE, or even GPRS. To re-create his work environment, the user simply needs a laptop PC or a PDA. When he has a moment (in a hotel, an airport waiting area, etc.), he can manage his work email in real time, access his company’s databases and intranet, or browse on the Internet. This offer, specially for people who travel a lot, is a forerunner of future mass-market offers of high-speed access anytime, any place. In fact, by creating an offer that is simple (one connection kit, one dedicated hotline, one contract and one bill) and safe, based on the convergence of different media, France Telecom is demonstrating its desire to cover all situations and needs that people on the move might encounter. Eventually, multimodal devices will eliminate the need for laptops.
What R&D is doing
To set up service continuity, existing technologies of course have to be upgraded. The evolution of GSM towards EDGE was a first step. Widening UMTS coverage but also in future offering even higher bit rates thanks to upgrades such as HSDPA (High-Speed Downlink Packet Access), is another. Moreover, work on the cooperation between WiFi and UMTS is in its finalising stage. It is also of crucial importance to keep a watch on new radio access systems. If a new technology has interesting features, R&D endeavours to define what is missing for it to be able to communicate with other wireless communication systems. New systems must in fact complement the existing ones. This work is mainly undertaken by workgroups in standardisation bodies. Similarly, in terms of network architectures, R&D tries to determine how core and access networks will cooperate. An indispensable presence in standardisation For many years, France Telecom’s R&D has been participating upstream in the design of new wireless interfaces, both in European projects and in standardisation
January 2006 bodies such as 3GPP, ETSI, IETF (standardisation for the IP world) and, more recently, IEEE. In the case of 3GPP, for instance, France Telecom has long been involved in everything concerning UMTS and its evolutions: UMTS, HSDPA or Super 3G as part of 3GPP LTE (Long-Term Evolution). Participation in various research projects Since September 2001, France Telecom’s R&D has been a member of the WWRF (Wireless World Research Forum). The purpose of this forum is to offer a worldwide R&D exchange platform on the subject of wireless telecommunications. It was founded in August 2001 on the initiative of mostly European manufacturers and academics, and today counts 180 members. Besides various industrial research projects in China, Japan and Korea, France Telecom’s R&D is taking part in some leading European projects as part of the 6th framework programme (Winner, Ambient Network, Daidalos, E2R, Magnet, etc.). France Telecom is also member of the European technology platform eMobility, ever since its launch in March 2005. Topics broached range from usage and service surveys, to sensor and communicating-object networks, not to mention the optimisation of radio interfaces and new spectrum-management methods. French research projects In France, the R&D Division is also involved in the competitiveness hub System@tic, which specialises in the management of complex systems and software and their applications in security, telecommunications, simulation and automobiles. As a member of the executive office and co-leader of the telecommunications sector together with Alcatel, this competitiveness hub enables France Telecom, working right from the onset with large companies in their fields, to fine-tune its know-how in software management, fixed/mobile continuity, very high speed, etc. France Telecom’s R&D also participates in the Agence de l'Innovation Industrielle (AII). Within this public, government-operated establishment with its industrial and commercial character and mission to promote and support large industrial innovation programmes, France Telecom takes part in the “Multimedia Network for the Future” (“Réseau Multimédia du Futur”) project in partnership with Alcatel, Sagem and Thalès. This forward-looking project (horizon 2008) is aimed at building the necessary bricks and equipment to steer the transformation from virtual access to a universal high-speed access network and a reliable, high-quality transport network. France Telecom takes part in all these projects through its own integrated-operator process, which it applies to each of the themes.
Cognitive radio and new radio-engineering tools Since 2000, under the impetus of the American FCC (Federal Communications Commission), international experts in radio technologies have been working on the concept of cognitive radio. Today, frequency allocations are very rigid, with one band allocated per system. Thanks to cognitive radio, each transmitter/receiver pair could
January 2006 determine in which frequency range and with what type of interface it could operate. PDA and other small mobile devises could thereby organise themselves, using the radio spectrum in a simple way, unencumbered by heavy mechanisms and without disturbing each other. Moreover, the emergence of new access technologies makes the rollout of access networks more complex. Besides having to choose parameters for each technology, the operator must also choose between several access solutions to find one that offers the best possible quality of service. In this multi-service context, there is a growing need for tools that will ensure that the technologies are used in a pertinent way. France Telecom’s R&D is therefore actively working on these issues, so that it will be possible to choose the best solution according to its service and cost objectives, and its frequency resources.
Challenges and stakes for France Telecom
For France Telecom, the main challenge is to coordinate all networks so that highspeed access anytime, anywhere, can happen in a way that is transparent to the user. France Telecom must therefore fulfil its role with the user by informing the latter in real time of his or her access possibilities: explaining e.g. why high-speed access is momentarily unavailable and when it will be available again. The operator guides the user, is always present and answers his or her requests as often as possible. France Telecom therefore offers high-speed connectivity with all the quality of service that it implies. The technologies that support the service may evolve, but they remain in the background. France Telecom retains a degree of additional flexibility in order best to serve its customers at all times, while at the same time managing several technologies and access networks in a cooperative, complementary way. This gives France Telecom more leeway to implement new wireless solutions. It can also create a new technology very early in the development process, test it and adopt it if the results are satisfactory. Cohabitation with other radio technologies can in fact be difficult to predict. Not only must the spectral efficiency of a new technology be taken into account. Each wireless solution brings its own risks. But by offering several different technical access solutions, France Telecom has more flexibility and can provide backup if the expected performance is not achieved. This enables the operator to manage the complexity in the user’s place, and therefore offer him agnostic or multimodal devices, in other words ones that are compatible with all network technologies. At the same time, France Telecom ensures continuous increase in bit rate.
Bimodal devices These past few months, several European operators (BT Fusion in the UK or 9Telecom in France) have embarked on trials of bimodal GSM/WiFi phones. France Telecom’s R&D is not outdone, since it is currently working on the subject in various projects. Among these, HomeZone is a convergent service concept based on the
January 2006 users’ use of mobile phones, connected at home to their Livebox. They can thereby benefit from the advantages of ADSL and Livebox on their mobile phone from the moment they get home (in the HomeZone), and make use of the features of the various mobile sources in the home. The user therefore has one single communication environment. For voice, this implies abundance offers; for data services, it means higher bit rates and faster Internet browsing. More generally, it could enable the mobile phone to become part of the home environment (automatic synchronisation of photos with the PC, remote access to one’s “home network”, etc.). Besides freeing up mobile wireless resources, this services will also improve coverage for certain customers who can’t “receive” inside their homes. In the same vein, a partnership has just been concluded to develop GSM/WiFi devices that can switch between networks automatically. When a person leaves his office, entirely WiFi equipped, the phone switches to the GSM network without interruption, and vice versa.
For France Telecom, the aim is therefore to give its customers a telecommunications offer that continues to be richer and more immediate. An efficient and safe multitechnology network must therefore be installed. Besides numerous experiments within the Group (fixed, Internet, mobile), various partnerships are established, especially with manufacturers, in the fields of standardisation and research. This service continuity is expected to reach maturity by 1010/2015. With films, photos and music all becoming digital today, the challenge for tomorrow is to let the customer access this digital life at any time, any place, anywhere.
Wireless World Initiative website Business everywhere: how to work anywhere, safely and simply Presentation of the Business Everywhere offer Oléan VPN’s Business Everywhere offer Progressive convergence towards IP
GPRS: Global Packet Radio Service. This evolution of the GSM standard (which uses the same frequency range as the latter) adds a packet system to the GSM circuit network, allowing data sharing. GPRS, or the 2.5G network, gives bit rates of up to 40 Kbps in optimal conditions.
January 2006 EDGE: Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Evolution. An intermediary solution between GPRS (2.5G network) and UMTS (3G), which is why it is sometimes called 2.75G. UMTS: Universal Mobile Telecommunications System. So-called “third-generation” (3G) wireless communication standard that allows peak bit rates of 2 Mbps in the WCDMA version (Release 99). ADSL: Asymmetric DSL. One of the first DSL technologies with asymmetric bit rates. ADSL is a technique by which analogous phone services and high-speed services can be transported simultaneously on an existing telephone pair at up to 6-8 Mbps downstream (exchange to user) as opposed to 640 kbps in the upstream direction (user to exchange). 3GPP : 3rd Generation Partnership Project. Collaboration agreement dating back to December 1998, and which unites a number of telecommunication-standardisation bodies. IEEE: Institute of Electrical Engineers. American equivalent of ETSI, the European Telecommunications and Standardisation Institute. WiFi: Wireless Fidelity. Wireless telecommunications standard for local networks (inside buildings). This technology can link up a dozen or so phone sets in a 100m radius with a bit rate of 11 Mbps. IP: Internet Protocol. Network protocol that forms part of the protocol stack or Internet Protocol Suite (TCP/IP).