Those of us lucky enough to have seen Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band this summer in Europe (especially those of us lucky enough to have seen the band twice) will have marvelled at the songs, the musicianship, the showmanship and the energy on stage. The Boss shows no signs of slowing down as he approaches his sixtieth birthday on 23 rd September. Indeed, he seems to spend more time in amongst the audience than he does in front of the main microphone. As he gazes out over his adoring public each night, he’ll see a sea of fluorescent screens waving above people’s heads. It’s all a long way from when he was sending us greetings from Asbury Park, New Jersey in the early 1970s. Without radio spectrum, the modern Springsteen concert could not happen in the way it does. Just by way of a few examples of what is happening on stage: - the band’s instruments have to talk to the amplifiers - the microphones have to talk to the sound system - the show’s director has to talk to the lighting and sound technicians - the band’s in-ear monitors have to be in touch with the sound system All this has to happen with no downtime or noticeable delay and without any technical interference. Gone are the days when Rick Wakeman, keyboard player with 70s band Yes, had to cope with his playing being drowned out by the soccer results from a BBC radio station. To support these demands for wireless quality, the relevant frequencies have to be licensed, allocated and managed (and charged for). Indeed, the changeover of some of these frequencies (for so-called PMSE: Programme Making & Special Events) is part of the debate on the digital TV switchover in Europe, as they fall within spectrum range affected by the switchover. As if worrying about having working spectrum to make the concert function were not enough, Bruce also has to think of his image rights while he is dancing in the dark. One of the reasons the phones are waving in the air is that many of us are using them to take photos and video of the concert, then sending the results to friends. Some people may even be attempting to record much of the concert to sell as a pirate bootleg. Putting a sign on the door saying “no mobile phones” is not an enforceable way of dealing with 60,000 fans. I wonder whether we will ever see the day when famous artists put pressure on mobile network operators to pay “rental” for the airtime they provide in an arena during a major concert. Radio spectrum could be seen as being as essential an item of a band’s income as is a share of revenue from ticket sales and “official” merchandise and beer and hotdogs. Maybe we’ll see Bruce Springsteen and the UHF Band on tour before 2015?
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I'd like to give a perspective from Europe as to whether femtocells are a petaopportunity or an attodiversion. I've attached a short paper I wrote following the Barcelona Mobile World Congress of 2008. Some of the technical and cost issues have moved forward since then, but less progress has been made on figuring what market gap femtocells will fill - at least in developed fixed & mobile markets in densely populated European countries. Below is a summary of the paper. A femtocell can be thought of as a mobile basestation for the home. It provides enough capacity for about four phones and has a range of about 200 metres. However, instead of being a direct part of a mobile network operator (MNO) network, it plugs first into the home broadband connection. Voice and data traffic to and from a handset connected to a femtocell therefore involves the assets of an MNO (the femtocell has to use licensed spectrum), an Internet Service Provider (ISP) and a local line fixed telecoms operator at the very least. Femtocells must overcome a number of technical barriers if they are to be considered “fit-for-purpose” as an alternative to current network architectures or competing developments like WiMax. One way to identify whether a real opportunity exists is to consider what problem a player would be trying to solve with this product, what product they are using today to solve that problem and therefore to ask what kind of a difference will the new product make. Using this approach it would appear that: femtocells could make a significant difference to MNOs’ problems of margin loss and cost improvement femtcocells can make some difference to fixed telco/cableco/ISPs, but this is unlikely to be significant, compared with other initiatives they could undertake Crucially, femtocells do not appear to represent a major breakthrough for any problem a user faces, so it is not clear what market gap they would be able to fill. As a result, femtocell developers and vendors are generally in the “sounds great in theory but revenue is behind in practice” state of evolution. The reality is that technical challenges have not yet been overcome and that mobile operators are reluctant to move to large-scale trials or deployments until costs are further down and the technical and business case more proven. Even when this is achieved, it is not clear that mass market users will be interested in a femtocell solution.
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