Some interesting news stories on wireless issues. Especially check out
Malaysia's strategy to combat the inefficiencies of redundant wireless
systems from multiple carriers.
Malaysian operators share infrastructure
By Tammy Tan
SINGAPORE?Malaysia has launched a common antenna system
in its newly opened Kuala Lumpur International Airport
(KLIA), paving the way for future cooperation among
cellular operators in projects around the country.
The project, which started earlier this year, is the
first development in the new regulatory framework
formed by Malaysia?s Telecommunications Department, or
Jabatan Telekomunikasi Malaysia (JTM), on sharing
That new policy directive, announced 1 August, was
taken to boost Malaysia?s telecommunications sector by
preventing the duplication of resources and reducing
investment costs, resulting ultimately in lower
JTM Director-General Datuk Hod Parman said the move
would result in not only wider coverage, but also fewer
??This sharing of infrastructure is a symbolic venture
into new frontiers of development, an excellent
headstart toward facing the dynamic progress of the
telecommunications industry,?? he said.
Under the old framework, the nation?s six cellular
operators?Binariang, Celcom, Mobikom, Mutiara, Telekom
Cellular and Times Wireless?pursued individual
interests and business advantages, resulting in
non-optimal usage of network resources as well as a
lack of proper planning and coordination of nationwide
infrastructure, he said.
This is all set to change with the new guidelines.
Now the operators will be made to ??supply
telecommunications services to the customers in an
effective and efficient manner, thereby enhancing the
telecommunications industry?s ability to experience
higher growth stimulated by a competitive
According to Datuk Parman, the end result will be a
??better and more efficient telecommunication network
and services to the customer, and a market that is
stimulated by a healthy and fair pricing.??
He said the government recognized efficiently and
effectively providing telecommunications network and
services were essential prerequisites for the continued
growth of the Malaysian economy.
??Telecommunications is an important utility for the
public. In encouraging the network operators to enter
into agreements amongst themselves to share the
radiocommunications infrastructure, the government
would have met its objectives of minimizing wastage in
duplication of radiocommunications infrastructure,?? he
The first product of this new directive, the KLIA
project, brings together all six cellular operators in
the country at a cost of M$5 million (US$1.3 million).
In all, some 15 kilometers of coaxial cables will be
laid, with more than 600 antennas installed under the
Analysts say the decision to make such an investment
during an economic downturn shows the foresight of the
country?s telecommunications players.
Indeed, the benefits look set to be reaped almost right
from the word go.
Haji Pamlan Othman, general manager of Time Wireless
network engineering department, said the new system
would not only result in cost savings, but also boost
customer service. ??If we went in alone, it would cost
us three to four times more,?? he said.
Binariang?s director, YM Dato Seri Tunku Mahmud Tunku
Besar Burhanuddin, said, ??With this technology, we are
able to extend Maxis Mobile coverage to KLIA, which is
in line with our objective to cover all ports of
arrival and departure to the country. Furthermore,
Maxis Mobile has continuous coverage on the expressway
to KLIA to ensure our customers always stay in touch
Besides the main KLIA terminal building, other areas
covered under the common indoor system are the Contact
Pier, Satellite A building, Malaysia Airports Bhd
Administration building, Pan Pacific KLIA hotel and
Bunga Raya building for VIPs.
According to Mutiara chief executive officer, Richard
Shearer, the launch was geared to open the way for
future cooperation among the cellular operators in
projects involving major buildings in Malaysia and
around the world.
It is understood that with the launch of the KLIA
system, Malaysian operators soon will start on shared
indoor coverage systems in all new buildings.
The supplier of the Malaysian shared infrastructure
system, L.M. Ericsson, said more of such facilities are
expected to be installed both in Malaysia and around
Already, its system has been installed in more than 300
indoor sites around the world, including Australia,
Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Switzerland. In the
Asia-Pacific region, Ericsson has implemented a similar
cellular indoor solution for Singapore?s Changi
Commenting on the difference between the Malaysian
project and other installations thus far, Ericsson
spokesman Dominic Tan said the ??main difference with
this project is that, never before [have] so many
operators and mobile standards come together to share a
Wireless savior required:
By Stuart Sharrock, European Correspondent
OXFORD, United Kingdom?Romances don?t always last
forever. Mostly they decay gracefully at the close of a
seemingly predetermined life cycle. Sometimes they
blossom into universally admired permanent
relationships. Other times they collapse suddenly and
acrimoniously, leaving bitterness and recriminations.
The telecommunications and financial industries have
been enjoying a period of romantic involvement. The
telecommunications sector managed to retain its glamour
while other industries lost their emotional appeal to
investors. The fixed network sector is still a relative
favorite, wooing the financial markets with a series of
mega deals that owe little to trading performance but a
lot to maximizing asset value. Just the sort of
scenario the financial markets like.
The wireless sector has been less fortunate. The
wireless sector seems to have been suddenly jilted in
some quarters. Wireless operators no longer find
funding easy to come by; the presence of established
competition and the burden of outrageous license fees
has destroyed the appeal of their business case.
Wireless operators are increasingly being funded by
infrastructure manufacturers, reducing the vendors?
margins and in turn destroying their appeal to the
The financial community can relate to the fundamental
changes affecting the fixed network world. It?s a world
that has been turned upside down by the Internet, and
the Internet is still sexy and full of promise. Massive
opportunities in the fixed world arise from the
combination of globalization, massive demand and the
need for new technologies.
The wireless world is also about globalization, massive
demand and the need for new technologies. But that
message has somehow not goten across. The wireless
vision is nowhere to be seen.
Manufacturers are suffering. Alcatel has seen its share
price plummet by almost a factor of two. L.M. Ericsson
is implementing yet another massive reorganization
plan. Nortel also has reorganized, dropping out of the
wireless terminal market and pulling away from the
radio access business following the Ionica debacle in
the United Kingdom.
Lucent Technologies Inc. and Philips Electronics N.V.
abandoned their wireless handset joint venture.
Motorola Inc. is struggling, suffering badly from the
glut in semiconductor manufacturing.
The list goes on.
The root causes are complex. Repositioning for the
shift from a voice-centric to a data-centric world,
from a circuit-switched to a packet-switched
environment, is not an easy task for traditional
telecommunications vendors. Changing the culture of the
slow-moving, standards-dominated telecommunications
community to encompass the rapidly changing, anarchic
environment of the IT and computer worlds is even more
But the biggest challenge is to convince the financial
and investment communities that wireless is still an
area of unfulfilled promise. The wireless vision needs
to be promoted if the romance is to come back into the
Promoting visions requires visionaries. Where are they?
Where are the Bill Gates and the Rupert Murdochs of
telecommunications? You may not like these gentlemen or
even admire what they do, but you cannot deny their
effectiveness in promoting the computing and
broadcasting worlds. Such people are needed.
Effectiveness matters; effectiveness gets things done.
Outstanding candidates for telecommunications
visionaries within the industry are hard to find. I can
think of a few possibilities from the fixed network
sector. I have more difficulty with wireless. Who is
there within our industry who could really drive it
forward, who could communicate the vision to the
outside world, who could provide a focal point for the
It?s a serious question. Answers on a postcard please.
Better still, send me an e-mail.
By Sara Frewen, African Correspondent
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa--Iridium, the first GMPCS
(Global Mobile Personal Communications by Satellite)
system is set to become commercial worldwide on 23
September, but will not have a signal over South
''If we do not receive a license to operate ground
facilities and services by September this year, users
(in South Africa) will have to wait until June 1999 for
the Iridium service to become operational,'' said James
Rege, regional director for Iridium L.L.C.
A draft policy document on licensing conditions for
satellite telephony has been issued by the South
African Department of Posts, Telecommunications and
Broadcasting, with a formal policy to be issued after
interested parties have had an opportunity to comment.
This then will be handed over to the South African
Regulatory Authority (Satra) for discussion and debate.
The process is not likely to be completed before April
''We are moving into the rest of Africa,'' said John
Richardson, Iridium's chief executive officer for
Africa. Tanzania already is ready to receive the
Iridium signal, and more than sixteen other African
countries have followed suit.
In the next few weeks, most countries contiguous to
South Africa will be licensed. Those that do not have a
licensing policy in place have permitted Iridium Africa
Corp. (IAC) to operate through letters of
authentication to use the frequencies--subject
ultimately to GMPCS legislation being introduced at a
GSMPC operators have been complaining for more than a
year that the licensing process in South Africa has
been too slow.
Says Richardson: ''We have been holding discussions
with (the) government since 1997 and submitted our
formal application in February 1997. We have complied
with all the requirements laid down by Satra to become
eligible for the license. We are negotiating with black
empowerment groups to form strategic alliances. We have
employed well over 50 local people, have sent most of
them for intensive training in Dubai and Washington,
D.C., before returning to IAC's offices in Cape Town
''We should not be considered as a threat by existing
operators such as Telkom (S.A.), but rather as a useful
incremental service with formidable benefits especially
for rural areas. It will be a great loss for South
Africa's future economic development and technology
deployment if satellite technology was 'left out in the
If delayed in South Africa until 1999, Iridium will
lose its competitive edge locally, as it will begin
service almost simultaneously with other GMPCS
entrants. These include Globalstar L.P. and ICO Global
Communications, which plan to begin services in 1999.
Airships over Japan may become base stations for mobile
By Yaeko Mitsumori
TOKYO--The Japanese government is funding research for
a 1 trillion yen (US$6.85 billion) Skynet project,
scheduled to be ready for commercial launch in 2002,
that would use up to 200 airships floating in the
stratosphere as base stations for cellular networks.
While the Iridium mobile satellite system (MSS) project
is about to be launched and other MSS systems are
scheduled to begin services in 1999, the retro airship
technology may provide a challenge to advanced
satellite systems in the next century.
The system of airships, which would be launched to an
altitude of 20 kilometers above the Japanese islands,
is being planned to relieve cellular base-station
congestion in metropolitan areas of Japan. The
government says the airships also could be used as base
stations for next-generation multimedia communications,
as well as to monitor the global environment.
Proponents say airships are more beneficial than
satellites because they are cheaper and can transmit a
much larger amount of data, including motion pictures.
In addition, according to project planners, cellular
phone users using Skynet would be able to communicate
with a smaller terminal than an MSS terminal--possibly
as small as a wristwatch. Each airship would be
designed to serve 20,000 channels.
The Japanese Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications
(MPT) and the Science and Technology Agency (STA) are
promoting this project and jointly have allocated 900
million yen (US$6.17 million) for 1998 to promote the
project's first-phase studies.
Japan hopes a company or companies will launch
commercial service based on technology developed by the
The project will comprise three phases:
The first phase, scheduled to be completed by mid-1999,
will involve launching a small, 30-meter airship to an
altitude of 300 meters. Using the experimental airship,
scientists will study airship design, technology for
using millimeter wave band and sensors.
In the second phase, scheduled to be completed by
mid-2001, a 100-meter airship will be launched to an
altitude of 17 kilometers.
In the third phase, to be completed by mid-2002, a
prototype 200- to 300-meter airship will be launched to
an altitude of 20 kilometers.
The stratosphere, especially at the altitude of 20
kilometers, was chosen because conditions there are
stable all through the year. The average wind velocity
at that altitude is 20 meters per second--though it
changes depending on the season and on the location.
The airship for commercial launch is scheduled to be
270 meters long and equipped with a one-ton
communication mission. Using a global positioning
system, the airship will maintain the same position
over the Japanese islands. When it is blown off
position by wind, it will recover the original position
by spinning a propeller, using energy generated by
solar panels. The airships would be brought down every
couple of years for maintenance by releasing air from
Takao Arai, deputy director of MPT's Satellite Mobile
Communications Division, admitted it is quite difficult
to develop the technology necessary for this project.
''This is a completely new concept of airship,'' he
said. For example, conventional airships use fossil
energy, such as oil or coal, and float at 200 meters in
height--compared with using solar energy for an airship
all the way up at 20 kilometers.
When the system is completed, Arai said, it will
provide great advantages to both users and operators of
cellular. For example, since it uses an extremely high
frequency (EHF) or millimeter wave band, it enables
data to be sent at up to 25 Megabits per second.
Another advantage compared with satellites is that
construction and maintenance costs would be much lower.
The construction cost per airship is 4-5 billion yen
(US$27.4 million - US$34.3 million), about one-fourth
to one-tenth the cost of a geostationary satellite,
according to the MPT.
If 200 airships are launched, the total cost would be 1
trillion yen (US$6.85 billion). The government says
projected revenue for a company launching commercial
service would be 3 trillion yen (US$20.56 billion).
Russian crisis may slow VimpelCom's buildout
By Antony Bruno
If all goes as planned, Iridium L.L.C.'s vision of a
global wireless phone network--based on a constellation
of 66 low-earth-orbit satellites interconnected to
several terrestrial-based networks--will begin
commercial service on 23 September.
While the company continues to put the finishing
touches on the satellite network, which has experienced
a few failed satellites that are being replaced, the
primary effort now is to secure distribution and
roaming agreements with service providers in every
country possible, and to market the service to
According to Craig Bond, Iridium vice president of
market development, Iridium went about this by dividing
the world into 15 regions, each overseen by a franchise
partner that owns or shares one of the 12 Iridium
earth-station gateways, which connect the satellite
constellation to terrestrial-based networks. Some
regions are small enough that they can share a gateway.
All are investors in Iridium with the right to
distribute the Iridium phones and service by recruiting
local service providers and others.
There are two types of agreements--distribution and
roaming. Distribution partners agree to market
Iridium's portfolio of products and services. These
partners don't have to be service providers. For
instance, some distribution partners sell various types
of equipment and supplies to the mining, natural gas,
oil and shipping industries, of which the Iridium
communications program would be one.
Roaming partners are service providers that allow
Iridium customers access to their network and in
return, their customers can roam on any other Iridium
roaming partner's network in the world. Some roaming
partners also are distribution partners.
At press time, Bond said the company had secured 250
contracts in 113 countries for both roaming and
distribution. It is signing five to six new contracts a
week and adding one or two new countries in the fold.
Most countries have contracts with several providers.
For instance, Iridium signed 23 such contracts in
Sufficient agreements have been reached to cover North
America, South America, Europe and Eastern Europe and
parts of Southeast Asia, Bond said. However the company
is still working on extending partnerships in Africa,
the Middle East and other areas of Asia.
''The reason we have some delays, or have taken longer
in some areas, is because the global mobile satellite
service we're offering is the first of its kind out
there,'' Bond said, and not everyone understands what
exactly the company is offering.
Iridium will offer two kinds of service: satellite or
cellular. Planned satellite users will be people who
expect to be outside of any type of cellular coverage
for an extended time, such as remote mining operations,
and they would use a satellite-only phone.
The cellular service will be for global business
travelers, using a phone with a slot for cartridges
that will allow it to roam on any cellular network with
which it has agreements. The phone also defaults to
satellite mode if no such network is available.
Iridium places a universal translator throughout its
roaming networks. This allows an Iridium subscriber
with a CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) home
network roaming on a GSM (Global System for Mobile
communications) network to be verified with Iridium's
aid. The GSM network sends a query to the roamer's home
network to verify the customer's right to roam there.
Usually, this query is not understood by the CDMA
network because it is in GSM language. Iridium takes
that query from the GSM network and translates it for
the CDMA network, then translates the CDMA network
reply into language the GSM network can understand.
This rather confusing system gave some potential
partners the wrong idea.
''Some cellular operators in other countries viewed us
at first as a competitive threat,'' Bond said. ''It
took time to explain who we are and what we are.''
These operators had to be shown ''that through one
contract agreement, Iridium will provide for inbound
roaming onto their network from anywhere in the world
and outbound an unlimited extension to the rest of the
world ... They instantly have coverage everywhere and
instantly become a global competitor in one contract.''
The hurdles didn't end there.
''Not only did we have the technical challenges of
building the infrastructure and marketing challenge of
getting distributors signed up, but we also had
educational challenges with governments. That's where
we've had some of our biggest complexities.''
Many were confused about how to tax and monitor a
service that has no physical presence within their
borders, essentially using a switching center in space.
''We provide complete coverage in a country without any
infrastructure there,'' Bond said. ''They had to figure
out how to regulate us.''
Iridium also had to contend with disinformation from
''Let's just say it's in some companies' interest for
us not to be understood,'' Bond said.
One area of particular concern was China. For a time,
Iridium thought it might be prohibited from operating
in the world's largest wireless market. Bond said the
biggest challenge in China was that a competitor,
Globalstar L.P., had strong Chinese partners that were
well-connected to the Chinese government, which had
considered only allowing one satellite provider access
in the country. Iridium had to convince the government
otherwise, then faced a long regulatory process.
He said the experience in China is indicative of what
the company faced in each region.
''As soon as we've gotten the chance to talk and get
through to them, we've had almost complete success,''
Finding the right marketing partners is crucial. Even
Iridium's most ardent supporters say the company must
generate a substantial number of paying subscribers
quickly in order to pay off the US$3.4 billion start-up
price tag, as well as to prepare for the network
upgrades expected in the next five to seven years.
''They really need to get a large audience and get a
lot of money,'' commented Larry Swasey, analyst at
U.S.-based Allied Business Intelligence Inc.
And while Iridium has a strong global brand and
marketing presence in Motorola Inc., the consortium
leader, and recently kicked off a US$140 million
advertising campaign, it will rely heavily on the
efforts of its local service provider distribution
partners to acquire customers.
''Anytime you do a global marketing campaign, you have
a very hard road ahead of you,'' Swasey said. ''It all
depends on your local marketers getting it to people
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