Opportunities for growth in saturated markets
Date: Tue, 11/10/2009 - 14:20 Source: Andrew press department
Andrea Casini, VP Sales and Marketing EMENA, Andrew Solutions, discusses how mobile operators can boost revenues in developed markets through the deployments of in-building systems in the healthcare and transport sectors
Wireless coverage in developed nations is saturated. In the European mobile market, penetration has exceeded 100 percent in over 20 countries, leaving many of the larger operators looking to emerging markets in order to maintain high growth levels. Despite the obvious attractions in markets such as India, where Gartner projects the cellular services market will surpass US$37 billion by 2012, operators are in danger of overlooking proposition development in domestic markets where there are still several areas that have been overlooked or lack proper wireless coverage.
It is clear, therefore, that mobile operators need to search for more innovative means to boost and maintain revenues in developed markets. Whereas the principal goal used to be signing up customers fast, priorities have now changed, with the onus falling on fostering customer loyalty and encouraging extended usage. How should operators look to achieve this? The answer lies in providing a reliable network service for both voice and data, as well as offering access to a range of value added services in order to increase average revenue per user (ARPU).
The consumption of high-speed data, for example, is an area which has already experienced explosive growth in Western Europe, with research from Forrester predicting that one in four consumers will use mobile internet services by 2013. Research has shown that the most frequent location for mobile internet access is indoors. That said, in-building continues to offer opportunities for operators as mobile enterprises and owners of public buildings look to meet people’s growing dependence on wireless devices and services when indoors.
Dense urban areas, in particular, offer significant potential for growth as buildings such as airports, stadia and shopping malls require dedicated coverage and capacity to support high demand and ensure security. Also, traditional bi-dimensional network planning fails to cater for high-rise office blocks, meaning they too are often starved of wireless coverage. There are, of course, other areas of potentially high traffic and revenue in saturated markets that have yet to be capitalised upon, not least in the healthcare and transport sectors.
The healthcare sector has already recognised the potential of wireless communication with services such as TETRA, which operates over a more secure wireless frequency. This is already being used by ambulance services to communicate with other units and back to a hospital. Other wireless devices, such as nurse-call systems and WLANs for patient data, can improve the productivity of hospital staff and reduce costs, as well as significantly improving the quality of service patients and their families receive.
Despite this, the healthcare industry is not taking full advantage of the capabilities wireless systems can offer. They are hesitant to invest in these systems while a broad range of inconsistent policies over mobile wireless devices exist in hospitals, created in large part by fears over direct and indirect radio frequency interference (RFI) with hospital equipment.
Direct interference occurs when two systems operate on the same frequency channel or a nearby or adjacent channel. For example, multiple Wi-Fi systems within a hospital can interfere with one another since they share the same channels.
Indirect interference, often referred to as electromagnetic interference (EMI), occurs when RF radiation interferes with susceptible devices. For example, a doctor’s mobile may adversely affect the operation of an infusion pump because of EMI. Another type of indirect interference is intermodulation, which occurs when two or more frequencies combine to produce additional potentially interfering frequencies. This is typically caused by multiple RF devices, such as antennas on a hospital rooftop, operating in close proximity.
The EMI issue has potentially catastrophic implications, yet the subject is by no means conclusive. For example, a 2007 Dutch report found that 43 percent of medical devices tested were disrupted when put in the proximity of mobile phones, concluding that critical healthcare equipment is vulnerable to EMI by wireless telecommunication technologies at median distances of about three centimetres. Conversely, a Mayo Clinic report in early 2007 contradicts these findings, revealing that “calls made on cellular phones have no negative impact on hospital medical devices.” The authors suggest that hospital restrictions on mobile devices should be lessened or abandoned all together.
Conflicting reports such as these have prevented the executive leadership or risk management officer of a healthcare system from making a truly informed decision over the future of wireless systems in their hospitals. When considering the difficulty of managing further congestion in the RF spectrum, healthcare authorities may opt to take the easiest and safest option by enforcing strict wireless policies.
The key to increasing the offering of wireless services in healthcare lies with operators assuring healthcare services of their ability to reduce both kinds of RFI to safe levels and concurrently manage their crowded RF environment, effectively allowing ubiquitous wireless coverage in hospitals benefitting patients, physicians and staff, whilst significantly reducing the risk of a catastrophe and possible lawsuits.
Despite the added congestion mobile voice and data would bring to the already complex wireless environment found in hospitals, direct RFI can still be avoided. In order to achieve this, it is imperative that all wireless systems in the hospital operate on interference-free frequencies. Frequency coordination is based upon knowing the existing wireless environment and how wireless systems in one area of a hospital may affect those in another area. This can be accomplished through frequency inventory databases, RF measurements, or a combination of the two.
This cannot be implemented overnight. Proper design, deployment, and use of wireless technologies require detailed planning and hospital-wide coordination. The first step to a successful wireless plan is to involve all wireless stakeholders in the hospital in comprehensive planning discussions. The consultation process will be instrumental in developing frequency-coordination plans to harmonise the use of wireless frequencies and systems throughout the hospital, as well as a proactive interference-management program to address future wireless needs.
In addressing indirect RFI, particularly in terms of its effect upon critical medical equipment, a pragmatic approach is required. The most damning report into EMI states that the median distance of interference between a mobile device and medical equipment was three centimetres (1.2 inches) - a very short distance, with a low probability of interference. Nonetheless, low probability does not mean zero chance. It is at least possible that one of these devices could knock out or disrupt a life-support machine.
Because of this, it is understandable that hospitals may try to limit the possibility of an EMI related catastrophe by banning mobile voice and data devices. Unfortunately this strategy will not completely solve the problem and will succeed in sacrificing the time, cost, and productivity benefits that wireless communications bring to the healthcare team and subsequently, the patients and their family members. The truth of the matter is that by enforcing strict wireless policies in hospitals, healthcare services are still, albeit unwittingly, left open to EMI from permitted wireless devices and by patients who ignore hospital rules by using personal wireless devices, so legislation must be sought for this in any case.
The solution for limiting interference potential posed by wireless devices is to provide wireless coverage inside the building using a distributed in-building cellular repeater or distributed antenna system (DAS). Mobile devices have power control where the transmit power adjusts depending upon the strength of the signal received from the base station. Signal propagation through the building walls tends to weaken the base station signal, causing the mobile device to operate at higher power since it thinks the base station is further away. A DAS effectively brings the cellular base station signal inside the building and better distributes it. By using a DAS, the devices will typically operate at a lower power, thus reducing the EMI potential.
Bustling cities and centres of business and commerce are indicative of developed nations where saturated wireless coverage exists. An inevitable by-product of these hubs is a large population of commuters using public transport. It has become an anomaly of modern society that these affluent individuals who crave wireless communication for personal and business use during their journeys are completely unconnected for up to several hours a day, leaving a largely untapped revenue opportunity for operators.
Revenue potential in this market is likely to increase in the current climate as government initiatives encourage the virtues of public transport over personal transport and the public begin to take more responsibility over their carbon footprints. In addition, rising fuel prices and road congestion mean that public transport can often be a quicker and cheaper alternative to travel for many.
In addition to passenger benefits, OFCOM’s 2008 report into the future of wireless communication predicts wireless coverage in the rail network will offer a host of capabilities that would help improve railway operations. Of particular interest to rail companies is Moving Block Operations, which facilitates quicker, more frequent trains by accurately locating and monitoring their positions to the point where they narrowly miss each other, rather than having to occupy specific sections of the track. The report suggests that the additional wireless spectrum below 1GHz required to support these innovations, will be made available.
Trains represent the biggest opportunity for revenue growth in the transport sector due to the volume of passengers, yet other opportunities also exist, most notably on nautical vessels and aeroplanes. These are attractive propositions for operators as they can profit from roaming charges, especially on long haul journeys as vessels can cross several borders in one trip. In addition, the European Commission, which has issued a set of guidelines supporting the use of mobile devices on planes, has said that pricing will not be covered by EU rules and will be left to operators.
Railway networks are starting to realise that by offering a more comfortable environment in which to travel, they can position themselves as the first-choice method of transportation to a wider demographic, especially considering the financial climate and the increasing willingness of the public to change their habits in recognition of climate change. They have also been encouraged by OFCOM’s 2008 report that advocates freeing up more space in the spectrum to drive wireless innovation.
Despite this, wireless systems on trains are far from widespread, yet the technology does exist. While part of the problem has been a question of engineering, deciding who should actually pay for and install the system has been another. It is illogical for railway networks to opt for single operator-owned infrastructure as they must consider the implications of excluding a large number of their customers. This leaves host-neutral systems, where third party companies provide, install and maintain the system allowing all operators to use it, as the only real alternative.
A major technological hurdle in providing wireless services on trains has been addressing the difficulties presented by diverse terrain and constantly changing signal levels. This can be overcome by either utilising or installing base stations near the railways and fitting in-train repeaters, which transmit and receive wireless signals to passenger’s handheld devices. Andrew’s MIR-T in-train repeaters have provided such a solution on a high speed train running between Beijing and Tianjin in China, to specifically cope with heavy usage from visitors to the 2008 Olympic Games.
Users of over-ground trains are only part of the whole commuter market. Residents of the world’s busiest cities are often frustrated by the lack of connectivity in their underground or subway systems, preventing them from checking emails and making important calls from their mobiles whilst travelling between home, the office and business meetings. Although a solution is available, the technology required to facilitate wireless mobile in this instance differs from that of over-ground trains.
Arqiva’s deployment of its CityCell in Glasgow’s underground system, for example, used ION-M, a robust high power-density fibre distributed antenna system offering excellent indoor performance. The product, supplied by Andrew Solutions, enables a wide range of RF devices to operate over several different radio technologies, such as WiMAX, Tetra and DAB/DVB. Crucially, this project was designed to be host-neutral, demonstrating how this model can work in other underground systems in other regions.
Other cities, such as Hong Kong and Moscow, have also demonstrated how extra revenue can be generated from complex projects. Andrew Solutions upgraded Hong Kong’s Mass Transit Railway Corporation's (MTRC) territory-wide radio network from an 80 megahertz (MHz) trunk radio system to an 800 MHz TETRA system in order to support more advanced functions, including individual call, group call with flexible grouping, and digital data transmission. Andrew Solutions also helped make the transportation of approximately 11 million passengers every day on the Moscow Metro safer and more efficient with the completion of the first phase of a major communications network covering seven lines of the landmark 12-line system.
The business argument for installing wireless systems in the wider transport market is strong, particularly in terms of multi-passenger, long distance travel by sea and air. By implementing on-board repeaters, sea-faring vessels can lower costs and increase capacity compared to the GSM systems that have been used historically. The aviation industry, on the other hand, can now begin to implement wireless systems on planes after a 2008 OFCOM report approved the use of mobile device-supporting picocells. However, any potential revenue in these areas is subject to future regulation from industry watchdogs over roaming data charges and growing public resistance to exorbitant pricing.
Although a number of mobile operators are already exploring opportunities to boost revenues through the deployment of in-building solutions in both the healthcare and transport sectors it remains to be seen who will gain the competitive edge in this market. The only certainty at this point is that operators cannot rest on their laurels. As the wireless communications landscape becomes more sophisticated in developed markets it will be those who are prepared to make the initial investment in the development of new technologies and innovative implementations of in-building systems that will reap the rewards in years to come.