At the end of last semester I moved one step closer to finishing up my graduate studies — huzzah! — by completing all the coursework requirements. The two courses that I took were exceedingly different from each other but, for me, also showed off the value of such a multidisciplinary program.

I took a second Schulich MBA course, Communications Policy taught by Peter Grant of McCarthy Tétrault. Much like my previous MBA course, I was able to contribute a lot of technical understanding about communications systems. I was also pleasantly surprised just how much of the various media industries I already had a strong knowledge about — some days it felt like the class was my RSS feed come to life. It was a great opportunity to debate various issues on a regular basis with others interested in the topics.

Peter brought many critical moments in Canadian communication policy to life through first-hand experience with key licensing processes and landmark cultural components of international treaties. A wide-range of speakers from various communication industries shared an interesting blend of broad perspectives (industry associations) and detailed operations (company executives). Finally, readings primarily consisted of policy documents and industry reports, a nice break from theory. McCarthy Tétrault provided each student with the various regulatory reference books they put together for the Canadian industry. Due to my research focus, I was lucky enough to also receive a copy of the 2012 Canadian Telecommunications Regulatory Handbook, which added to my growing reference collection.

My final project for the course examined territorial rights in the internet age, and related problems and prospects for rightsowners. It’s a thorny issue, with (mainstream video) content becoming more and more expensive to produce combined with relative declines in traditional advertising revenues on the producer side but the dreaded ‘this video can’t be shown in your country’ message angering audiences, especially when it’s a promotional or free (to the viewer) clip. I’d like to see a business model that creates a clearinghouse to make payments to rightsholders if the content hasn’t been licensed in a jurisdiction, along with more secondary cross-licensing and revenue sharing when the rights have been purchased but one licensee isn’t fully exploiting them. I think Google would make the obvious choice to tackle this, working in conjunction with industry associations, with their YouTube embed-tool. If they white-labelled the digital on-screen graphic, hosting more content for producers to licensees could be another/increased revenue stream for them.

The other course I took was Advanced Communication Technology, a foundational course for my minor stream (Technology in Practice). The readings tended to be more theoretical and abstract, challenging for a policy wonk with their modern art focus. The beginning of the course grounded it within the Toronto School of communication, with an emphasis on McLuhan — both his works and how they influenced other scholars. I did the inevitable course presentation on my good friend Innis and communication systems early on in the term, and then cruised with learning about more avant grade communication aspects of various audio and visual technologies.

For my final project, I put together a video using Go Animate — a tool for DIY animation videos. It was a pretty fun project, getting to share my knowledge about spectrum policy in a humourous tone that is not normally an option for academic and industry presentations and papers. Like many of my classmates, I entered into the project with some trepidation since I’m not an “artist”. But after some discussions with the prof, Izabella Pruska-Oldenhof, I felt more comfortable with the objective of making. Critically reflecting on the topic and production was the goal, and I really enjoyed being able to present spectrum policy issues how I might to a group of friends over coffee. It was also great to see what all the varied projects my fellow classmates produced — a group of talented and cracking smart people.

As with most of the students, my ambitious goals were scaled down to the realities of course deadlines when learning new technologies. I’m in the process of refining the first video and will also produce Part II this summer, then post to YouTube and add another piece to the ol’ employment portfolio.

While I’m working on the video(s), I’m getting into the writing of my Major Research Paper. With a little luck, I’ll be able to complete the draft and revision process before the summer is out!

I’m currently in the process of finalizing my Major Research Project proposal, so I kinda wish that the 700MHz spectrum auction had finished sometime next week (or the week after!). I’d much rather be analyzing the results and reading others analysis of outcomes than finding some additional sources to support my methodological approach — though I’ll be happy to also tackle a bunch of readings that are contributing to my literature review. 

But seeing as carriers and government officials weren’t working on my schedule, I’ll just throw out some quick thoughts.

I think Vidéotron is perhaps the clear financial winner. They picked up prime spectrum in major Canadian markets and did it in a very fiscally advantageous manner. Peter Nowak has a good overview of some of the broad options to Vidéotron and attributes the ability to pick up the licences on the cheap due to lack of auction competition other than the Big 3. Mark Goldberg highlights that in 2008, Vidéotron spent $555M to acquire AWS spectrum primarily in Quebec, on a 10 year license. In  2014, they spent just $233M for a 20 year license in Quebec, Southern and Eastern Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia — 60% less.

That 60% is an interesting number as it’s also about the difference between the total opening price ($143m) of their licences won and final price. In fact, other than Feenix’s single licence for the YK & NWT, Vidéotron had to pay the lowest cost above opening bid prices. Compare that to say Rogers, who saw a nearly 10x spread between opening prices ($314m) and final price tag ($3.3b). From a network technology perspective, Rogers may have gotten the optimal blocks available to have their own 10MHz contiguous sub-1GHz channels across most of Canada, yet it came at a steep cost.

This leads to the part that confuses me the most. With a network sharing agreement in place for their HSPA+ rollout — and expectations that they’ll continue for 700MHz network — why did TELUS and Bell not snatch up all the C1 & C2 blocks? TELUS saw a 400%+ increase between opening and final bid prices and spent $1.1b to secure them; clearly they were willing to spend for what they wanted. Does this mean that focusing on access to AT&T’s device ecosystem was more important than an ability to provide 10MHz contiguous channels in lower frequency technology? Was it done to prevent Rogers from pairing up with other carriers and having an opportunity for 15MHz channel? Based on the spreads and aggregate prices paid, it wasn’t Vidéotron and other regional carriers preventing TELUS and Bell from owning the ‘Verizon blocks’.

What was TELUS’ thinking on this? Is it that chipsets and devices are supporting more and more bands? The latest iPhone supports both Band 13 (Verizon) and Band 17 (AT&T) for 700MHz LTE. The Galaxy doesn’t do it in one phone yet but clearly chipmakers can do it, perhaps in the new model. Does this mean sunsetting of TELUS’ CDMA network may be poised to be accelerated?

Their network partner-in-crime, Bell purchased nearly the same amount of paired and unpaired spectrum (248MHz vs 254MHz) but only spent about half as much ($565m). They also had a lot less competition for their desired blocks, only needing to spend about 180% over initial bid prices. So Bell got the spectrum they wanted, at half the cost of TELUS.

The last piece anecdote is that Bell and TELUS picked up all the upaired D & E blocks. This suggests they’ll be focusing on LTE multicast that Verzion has been experimenting with — which adds to my confusion around why TELUS didn’t go after C1. As further details come out in the next few months over specific licence costs and carrier plans for network build outs, it’ll be interesting to see where this takes us for Canadian telecom and communications policy.

Due to scheduling challenges and lack of telecom-specific electives in my program (note to all prospective graduate students: if you’re interested in specific courses within a program, check to see they are actually offered), I ended up taking two research methods courses for my program. I’d originally taken Applied Research Methods: Policy & Regulatory Studies last Winter. Based out of York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School, it was taught by Liora Salter, who specializes these days in public and environmental law but cut her research teeth in communications policy.

While many of my classmates were novice researchers from the environmental studies area, Liora was a fantastic instructor and the material was so practical that more advanced students like myself still really benefitted. From the first class, Liora focused on the process of policy studies. This allowed her to equip students with the tools needed to move forward with their own research projects, regardless of what the area was (international or domestic, federal or municipal, education or spectrum governance, etc).

Assignments centred on conducting your own research and discussing, not the results but, challenges and successes with the research process itself, where gaps could start to be identified, and solutions proposed on how to fill them or compensate within the analysis. A side benefit was the assignment write ups becoming much more conversational in writing style — if no less critical and analytical — which was an unexpectedly pleasurable experience after the more academic writing requirements for most of the other courses.

The feedback and guidance from Liora was great, the material practical and useful for both my Masters and any future employment — industry, government or academia, and I was well along the way for my own spectrum policy research.

During the recently concluded term, I took the program’s required Masters-level foundational course in Research Methods. I’d been hoping to replace it with Applied Research Methods (which, being in the Politics & Policy Stream, I am able to do) and then have another elective. But wanting to finish up my coursework as quickly as possible, and not having any really appealing elective choices for Fall 2013, I decided to continue to enhance my research skills and have the Applied course be one of my electives.

Fred Fletcher taught the Research Methods course and his background in political and mass media research (polling) allowed for some interesting anecdotes. But the nature of the course demanded much more of a survey approach of various quantitative and qualitative research methods, providing some useful insight into when and why you might want to use different methods for different projects but a lack of depth to anything specific. Discussions took place around the theoretical basis for different approaches, along with the paradigmatic arguments that qualitative and quantitative researchers often found themselves in — debates that I (and, clearly, Fred) find unproductive. Also, as the class is geared towards helping students write their program thesis/major research paper/major research project proposal (it’s generally one of the last courses students take), it very much felt like I was going through the motions and made engagement, at times, challenging.

Putting together a similar proposal for Liora’s class, I’d sketched out a timeline for completing my project that had me doing foundational research until the end of 2013, finishing up any specific gaps in research at the start of this year while the auction is underway, and writing by the spring. Her guidance was that I was ready to write last April, and that was likely the only way I’d be able to identify areas that needed further research, since I already commanded such a strong understanding of the issues in play. While other commitments kept me from actually writing, her analysis was pretty accurate.

In the end, taking a second research methods class helped me round out some skills in areas outside of policy studies and a much more formal MRP proposal for submission to the program. And while some of Fred’s assignments required more effort than I’d wished, having Applied Methods under my belt definitely made other parts of the course more manageable.

Which was very welcomed in a term where I ran a marathon, crossing that item (ex post facto) off my bucket list!

Although my current research focuses on telecoms and spectrum policy, my interests in ICT are fairly broad. In part, this comes from my political science background and the emergence of Web2.0 services during the latter part of my undergraduate studies. And, of course, my Honours Thesis explored ICT’s impact on democratic processes. During my time at Ryerson, I’ve been able to contribute to three distinct research projects. There’s the current (and longest/best fit) CSPR project, a short stint with the Infoscape Lab, where I supported some quantitative analysis for a book, and a couple of projects with the Privacy and Cyber Crime Institute.

The primary project involved working with Dr. Avner Levin on a report for Public Safety Canada, helping to inform Canada’s developing cybercrime strategy. Along with another graduate student, we conducted a comparative review of strategies of a number of countries, including those in the Anglosphere, Europe, Commonwealth of Independent States, Baltic Region, and China. Our findings argue that states’ strategies can largely be summed up as either a Budapest-approach (named for the Council of Europe’s Convention on Cybercrime) that emphasize law enforcement acting across state lines or a UN-informational security approach, which emphasizes state sovereignty.

A copy of our report can be found online — Levin, A. Research Assistance provided by Goodrick, P., and Ilkina, D. “Securing Cyberspace: A Comparative Review of Strategies Worldwide” Final Report, July 2012.

I assisted Dr. Levin with another journal submission of his that he coauthored with other academics but he always maintained that we should try to take the extensive research we had done for the Public Safety report and explore submitting to a journal. The Canadian Foreign Policy Journal had a call for proposals that seemed very relevant and we conducted some further research and got to writing.

Avner was a great mentor for the process, especially for the peer-review stage. While many comments were useful in strengthening our arguments and enhancing the paper’s grounding in the current literature, I was a bit shocked by some of seemingly petty comments. I clearly understand that some academics have a methodological preference that can extend to a bias. And Avner’s guidance was around the idea that you had to be careful to objectively evaluate whether a reviewer was pointing out a flaw with our paper or instead trying to suggest changes to transform our paper into the article that the reviewer would have liked to have read/written.

Yet, as he warned me before we submitted the first draft, some of the comments were not productive at all and were very subjective. I think my ‘favourite’ was, “My sense is that an intelligent person wrote this paper but…”.

Regardless, we were able to strengthen and clarify our original submission and it was accepted for publication this summer. I was pretty excited to achieve another of my academic goals and all the little milestones that came with it — like the day I did a library search, and, there I was!

LEVIN, A. and GOODRICK, P., 2013. From cybercrime to cyberwar? The international policy shift and its implications for Canada. Canadian Foreign Policy Journal, 19(2), pp. 127-143.

I’m hoping that I can contribute to at least another academic publication (as part of CSPR) before the end of my Master’s and, if I can just squeeze out some more time, perhaps submit something as a sole author. I’m preparing to get work started on my MRP, which may prevent me from taking on additional projects. Yet it may also serve as the basis for a journal submission on the state of Canadian telecommunication policy.

One of the big challenges in updating this site is being so busy between classwork, my ‘day job’, and the work I’m doing with the Canadian Spectrum Policy Research group at Ryerson University. I end up doing a lot of research duties for the principal investigator while also writing for the website. Not that I’m complaining, as it’s some of the more fun and interesting work that I get to do, since my research position is much more focused on my area of studies than most of my coursework.

The most recent update to our site was the page on upcoming 700 MHz auction itself. One of the main tasks of the CSPR project is to help translate the often technical and seemingly arcane information around spectrum policy into something that can be more accessible to the general public. It’s can be a challenge to walk that line between providing enough information and detail to allow interested people to get a more critical understanding of the issues then they find in the media — not to mention the PR war between national incumbents and government.

I think our (my) write up strikes a nice balance, and was encouraged when a (day job) coworker shared that she was able to closely follow along with a radio segment on the auction after having read a draft of the page. Success! I was also glad for the opportunity to sketch out some thoughts under the heading “Potential Auction Results”, as this was my first time to document some of my more industry-specific analysis.

So this post gets to pull double duty. It serves as an update and also links to my Research Associate position with CSPR, which I don’t think I’ve mentioned here.

In Fall 2012, I took CC 8844: Intro to Broadcast Management (Managing In The New Broadcast World) with Doug Barrett. While not an out-of-program course, its home is the Schulich School of Business’ MBA program — so not the standard ComCult course. My aim was two-fold, add a course with a strong, practical component to my MA and provide an increased holistic understanding of the Canadian telecommunications market. It has been one of the best courses in my program and fully achieved both goals.

Going into the course, I knew that I had a strong foundation in the carriage-side of things but I really wanted to ensure that I had a strong grasp on the content-side. Most other students (from the MBA program) had a content background (work with production companies, reporter for a major newspaper, etc), so I was able to effectively provide some technical input when we discussed topics like OTT services. I also was able to provide a pretty detailed response as to why moving to completely wireless home connectivity was unlikely with current infrastructure/business models.

While carriage was confirmed, I was happily surprised to see that I already possessed a pretty strong understanding of the content side of telecoms in the North American market. My voracious feed-reading habits (going to miss you, Google Reader!) include a number of content-specific sites (like paidContent) and a lot of cross-over from more carriage-focused feeds. But the course further increased my knowledge in a number of areas, especially in terms of Canadian-specific production issues such as funding and tax credits, indie producers, etc.

The course structure had numerous guest lectures from across industry (independent production CEO, former CRTC Director, broadcasting executive, etc). The guest lectures were topped off with a meeting with at CBC HQ with Hubert Lacroix, President & CEO of CBC, which was fascinating to receive such an insider perspective of one of the most important Canadian institutions. In addition, one of the course assignments was interviewing an industry executive. The opportunity to meet twice with Corrie Coe, SVP Independent Production, Bell Media was excellent both for her insight of Bell and speaking with an executive of her stature. The “real world” component that the guest lecturers offered definitely contributed to my enjoyment of the course.

One of my challenges for the course was how to write about telecom issues in a broadcasting course. The track I took was looking into how the possibility of full foreign-ownership liberalization of telecommunication carriers (whether telecos or cablecos) might impact the Canadian market, since we have so much vertical integration. I think Canada is closer to allowing for foreign ownership of carriers but seems to be a lot less political will and public desire for fully opening the broadcasting sector.

The below chart is taken from my term paper, which I think highlights that content ownership is really about driving carriage provision. Corrie Coe’s comments about corporate culture upon BCE’s re-acquisition of CTV assets also contributed to this thinking. While not important for the paper, this chart also highlights just how important wireline (tv, telephone, internet) is to the industry, even if traditional voice-services are declining.

CC8844_ 2011 Revenues of Major Canadian Telecommunications Providers

+… Data compiled from companies 2011 Annual Reports; data does not include inter-segment eliminations
* BCE revenues includes Bell Aliant in Wireline
** Shaw revenues include Corus in Media; Satellite distribution in Wireline

Overall, an excellent course and one I’d recommend to any ComCulter that is looking at working in broadcasting or film/TV. And as most analyst opportunities in Canada tend to cover both carriage and content, it was a great fit for me too.

I’ve often been known to say I know more about cellphones then 95% of people, but compared to that 5%, I don’t know much. So one of my primary goals this past summer was to improve my technical knowledge of mobile communication network architectures and technologies. I really enjoy reading Martin Sauter’s blog WirelessMoves — even when it gets a little over my head — so I decided to purchase his book.

Sauter, Martin. 2011, From GSM to LTE: An Introduction to Mobile Networks and Mobile Broadband. UK: John Wiley & Sons.

 

While going on vacation to Ottawa this summer, I remember trying to mentally trace the steps that were required as I sent a Tweet from the train. Working through the permissions and protocols that were occurring — my tablet to my mobile over Bluetooth; my mobile over the 3G cellular network; the radio access network to the core network; the core network to the appropriate gateway to the internet; and, all back again — was pretty challenging. In fact, I couldn’t complete all the steps and identify all the protocols, security, and handoffs that were happening and solemnly declared the whole process must be magic.

Reading the book itself was challenging, both from a content perspective and the technical writing style. I am certainly no radio or electronic engineer. Even after making my way through the chapters on GSM, UMTS, and LTE, the intricacies of protocol stacks still seem to escape me. Yet I do have a much stronger understanding of how phones connect to the network and how it operates, and the basic architecture of the handset. Certainly it was a great help when writing the content for the website of the research team I am part of — the Canadian Spectrum Policy Research group. Attending lectures by telecom engineers, I can follow along easily and ask insightful questions. I am also much more informed about how the technical nature of telecommunication networks impacts (or doesn’t!) spectrum regime governance.

I guess I’ll now to need to note that I know more then 99% of people about cellphones, and even with that 1%, I can hold my own. I still haven’t completely figured out my study focus for this year but it’ll likely dig further into the business side of things.

 

The new iPhone comes out and all I can think of is the broader implications.

There seems to be a $50 pre-tax price difference between the top end Canadian and US models. The US market certainly has scale but there’s 2 models due to network configurations amongst partner carriers. How many for Canada? All the major carriers are running GSM, as opposed to the US’ GSM & CDMA.

I wondered how many bands can the LTE radio support? Clearly the configuration matrix is smaller, with a number of reports noting the limited roaming functionality. So I decided to look at little closer at the band plans. I took the below LTE network data from Wikipedia but it’s probably accurate enough for late night musing.

AT&T Model
GSM model A1428

UMTS/HSPA+/DC-HSDPA (850, 900, 1900, 2100 MHz);
GSM/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz);
LTE (Bands 4 and 17)

  • AT&T Mobility, Cricket Wireless, Metro PCS – Band 4 (2100/1700 MHz)
  • AT&T Mobility – Band 17 (700 MHz) * Only carrier in the world currently to use for LTE
  • Rogers, Bell and Telus – Band 4 (2100/1700 MHz) * Known as AWS

 

Verizon & Sprint Model
CDMA model A1429
CDMA EV-DO Rev. A and Rev. B (800, 1900, 2100 MHz);
UMTS/HSPA+/DC-HSDPA (850, 900, 1900, 2100 MHz);
GSM/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz);
LTE (Bands 1, 3, 5, 13, 25)

  • Sprint Nextel – Band 25 (1900 MHz) * Only carrier in the world currently to use for LTE
  • Verizon Wireless – Band 13 (700 MHz) * Only other carrier in the world currently using is in Uzbekistan

 

No North American Carriers Currently
GSM model A1429
UMTS/HSPA+/DC-HSDPA (850, 900, 1900, 2100 MHz);
GSM/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz);
LTE (Bands 1, 3, 5)

  • Primarily Asian Carriers – Band 1 (2100 MHz)
  • European and Asian Carriers – Band 3 (1800 MHz) * Most widely deployed frequency
  • 2 South Korean Carriers – Band 5 (850 MHz) * Legacy 2G band in Canada

Aside: Kevin Fitchard, writing at GigaOM, notes that there’s no configuration for Band 20 (800 MHz) or Band 7 (2600 MHz) — with Band 7 covering a large number of global countries and Band 20, which Germany and Sweden have targeted for LTE.

 

Because of the configuration, it seems plausible that only the “AT&T model” will be imported into Canada to the major carriers. Apple’s webstore doesn’t appear to offer the choice, though it does come “unlocked”, and I’m assuming that it should run on all the Canadian LTE carriers’ (ie, the Big 3) networks.

This seems to suggest three items. One, the entire Canadian market doesn’t have enough scale to match those of the big US carriers — either Apple won’t discount further or the Canadian carriers are driving the costs up themselves trying to acquire a higher amount of the market. Two, that Apple and/or the Canadian carriers (comparable models $399 on two-year contract in US, $379 on three-year contract in Canada) will find the margins for the launching of the newest iTelephone to be much better north of the border. Three, that if you wanted an iPhone that could roam in countries with CDMA networks, you must sacrifice LTE in Canada.

Areas for further research. Will these radios work if the 700 MHz frequency ends up being widely deployed with LTE-Advanced? Does this suggest that LTE-Advanced is going to have an even longer gestation period? I remember reading sometime ago that the current LTE basestations would be upgradeable to LTE-Advanced through a software upgrade. Maybe it was that they are already “dual mode”?

No matter what anyone says, I’m still clearly no radio engineer. Though I think I was successful with my summer reading.

I’ve been busy working on a specific work project — writing copy for a spectrum/telecom primer website — so haven’t gotten as far along with my own capacity project as I’d like. Though this probably speaks to one of the best benefits that professors have mentioned about grad school, the space and time to just think about things.

Part of my reflecting on capacity issues is thinking how the surplus value is captured and how the benefits are disseminated amongst society. Is there an ideal split between industry, consumers and citizens? Does having the first two groups in competition naturally result in positive benefits for the third? How do power asymmetries influence those outcomes? What kind of policies can be created/instituted that results in the ideal outcome? Is it better for innovation to steadily improve all groups simultaneously or do alternating periods of over- and under-capacity trigger rapid improvement that have better long term outcomes? After all, if necessity is the mother of all inventions…

Back at the end of April, I saw an interesting Tweet about how UK consumers have been grossly overestimating mobile data needs. Apparently a bunch of mathematicians at Oxford, with the approval of the UK regulator, built some tools to analyze people’s cell phone bills. (The tool has been around for a while and seems to be a proven success. Which is interesting itself, when reflecting on Industry Canada developing but never releasing a similar tool that looked at voice and texting, though not data.)

I found ‘The billmonitor.com report on smartphone data usage’ [PDF] to be quite illuminating, with the central finding being that consumers were so concerned about “bill shock” that they were purchasing data plans without coming anywhere near the limits. I wonder what impact does vertical integration of media/telecommunication companies have on ‘informed’ consumer decisions?

The report hit home for me as a couple years into getting a smartphone, I took a closer look at my data usage to determine if I was on the right cellphone plan. I had taken advantage of an initial iPhone promotion for 6GB/month of data but wasn’t sure I was getting all the value from it. Partly this was due to my bill only reporting in KB used for nearly 2 years before finally listing information also in MB, which did not make for consumer-friendly analysis.

While the fact that I had a promotion with a large data cap skews some of the data, I’ve paid for an allowance of 270GB and used “only” 21.63GB. At the time I looked at reducing my data plan, I was told that I only had two options. 1GB for $30, the same price I was paying for 6GB or 500MB for $25. (For comparison, with a 1GB/month plan I would of had a total allowance of 45GB over the same period.) To save $5 a month didn’t see worth losing my promotional offer and drop my cap so massively, especially with the prospect of tethering a new laptop at the time. That said, in nearly 3 years of usage before grad school (including a year after reviewing my plan) I went over 500MB in only 1 month.

I’ve essentially been paying a huge insurance premium for an allowance that I haven’t come close to using and not even halfway to a more “normal” allowance. In fact, even with some extended, tethered streaming sessions during the past couple terms in part to feel like I was getting value, I’ve only gone over 1GB usage 3 times! While one person’s usage case is not statistically significant, it gives me a starting point.

Some these issues deal with the way carriers architect their networks and building capacity that meets the peak load. And certainly I (both unconsciously and quite consciously) am paying a premium for some cost certainty with billing. Also, paying a surplus over current usage allows operators to reinvest surplus capital into increase network capacity. But using less then 10% (or even just under 50%) of the capacity I’ve paid for, it feels like as a consumer that the benefit accruing to individuals is quite small. With a 3-year (plus) contract to get access to a phone I desired, I have also been unable to tap into the higher speeds offered by newer networks and mobiles with faster radio-access.

As my contract approaches the end of its term, I’ll need to seriously consider what the best option is for me and how I can receive more of the value for the excess/unused network capacity I’m paying for.

Just wrapped up the 2012 Canadian Telecom Summit, really glad I was able to go. Being able to access the student pricing was great, so getting one of the Orion Network-sponsored scholarships from Mark Goldberg was much appreciated!

OpenText’s Tom Jenkins reminded me of Cornelia Woll’s book, when he made the argument that industry needed to work with government but to also to lead them in policy formation. So like Woll, but opposite. The other big picture presentation that was quite engaging, delivered by Malcolm Frank of Cognizant, discussed implications of the Future of Work. Of course, the Regulatory Blockbuster panel lived up to its reputation and while the Wireless Spectrum: Paying for Air panel wasn’t as strong, I found some of the comments by Dean Brenner, VP Government Affairs for Qualcomm, to be illuminating regarding some technical issues.

One of the most interesting comments/trends for me was made by President and CEO of the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association, Bernard Lord, when he noted that Canada had 13,000 towers to cover our 34m population versus, I think, 52,000 for the UK. While this number was presented as an achievement of the Canadian telecom’s market, for me this is a contentious claim. Robin Bienenstock, analyst at Bernstein, noted as a comparison that AT&T has 6,000 towers in California versus the approximately 33,000 base stations for Telefonica in Spain with similar populations and topography.

This is important when investigating claims of spectrum crunch, especially those by US carriers. As you can see from this CTIA document [PDF], just prior and post financial crunch, cellular companies were building 20-30,000 towers a year. Because of the challenges in access to funding — and other considerations — we see, “around 15,000 cell sites being constructed from the end of 2008 to the middle of 2011.” With the launch of the iPhone 3G in July 2008 and the Android smartphone platform really taking off in early 2010, there was a huge surge in data consumption. Respecting that more BTSs increase both capex and opex and it takes time to respond to demand, carriers’ network build outs appear to be a significant factor in causing the “crunch”.

The other, lesser, trend that I was interested in was the challenge of increasing signaling loads. This is an issue that I don’t think is generally a discrete issue for the general public when hearing about the data explosion/spectrum crunch. Not a matter of throughput demand but potentially 00s of apps on a person’s smartphone/tablet constantly — in general, automatically in the background — checking and delivering updates. If usage of location-based services reaches a critical mass, the demands on networks could further explode. That said, I noticed a couple days after the summit that Cisco announced a new core gateway, specifically engineered to provide, “an elastic core that dynamically adapts to handle different levels of signaling and throughput as required.”

In addition to showing me that my foundational knowledge of the telecom industry — both internationally and Canada’s — is increasing, I was also able to meet a number of Industry Canada officials, which was fantastic. Helped with some ideas on where can I continue rounding out my skills to enhance my value as an analyst. The summit also gave me some further avenues to explore as to how issues of “capacity” might relate to my thesis.