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Manx Telecom UMTS Network, Isle of Man




Key Data


Manx Telecom, a subsidiary of UK mobile telecoms operator O2, officially launched a 3G UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications Standard) service on the Isle of Man on 5 December 2001. The service was the second UMTS network in Europe, having been beaten by just a few days by the Norwegian state carrier Telnor's network coverage of Oslo (1 December 2001).

The network, according to O2, was always treated as a test-run of the technology for a new UK-wide 3G UMTS coverage in 2003 (postponed until 2004 due to new demands from OFTEL). The opportunity to introduce a 3G network to the Isle of Man was also partly due to a telecommunications licence being granted to Manx Telecom in return for 15% of future earnings from it for 15 years in order to help develop an offshore e-commerce centre on the island.

Manx Telecom has a history of being the first to introduce new technology; they had the only GSM network in the UK when the new 3G network was first planned in 1999. Manx was also one of the first to introduce an ADSL (Asynchronous Digital Subscriber Line) system on the island, and the first to introduce a full ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network).

UMTS NETWORK CONTRACTORS AND CONSTRUCTION

Manx Telecom accepted bids for the construction contract of the UMTS network in September 1999, and awarded the contract in the first quarter of 2000. The lead contractors for the project were NEC of Japan and Siemens of Germany. The two companies cooperated through a joint venture called Mobisphere for the duration of the project.

The contract involved the supply of core network infrastructure, terminals and applications. These companies were responsible for project management, application support, radio and network planning, design and installation and operation and maintenance. Their remit also included the integration testing of external systems and non-NEC terminals, training and site surveys.

The cost of building a 3G base station is in the region of £10,000 but some of the costs were saved on the Isle of Man by upgrading 2G base stations with additional equipment and new masts. The potential interference problems were an unknown quantity at the time.

Cerillion provided the management system that dealt with the billing of customers. A problem was highlighted with this, as Manx could either charge for data transfer per volume of data transferred or per time unit, and they could not decide which method to follow. Manx Telecom also worked with Alatto, a 3G consultancy service based in Dublin, to determine the most efficient revenue-raising applications and the best way to develop 3G. Much of the research work into the problems surrounding the construction of the network was researched at the Siemens R&D subsidiary, Roke Manor Research, UK.

UMTS NETWORK INFRASTRUCTURE

NEC Corporation and Siemens Mobile supplied the complete network infrastructure for UMTS operation. This included the core network as well as the complete technology for the radio network UTRAN (UMTS Terrestrial Radio Access Network) and the application 'Isle of Man on Air' that was developed by Roke Manor Research in conjunction with BSkyB.

30 UMTS base stations, known as Node B, were intended for UTRAN but the final figure was 28. They were all linked via a central control unit known as a Radio Network Controller (RNC) and integrated via the core network into the existing network. The transmission process, known as FDD (Frequency Division Duplex) or W-CDMA (Wideband Code-Division Multiple Access), was used to provide radio coverage throughout the region.

Data transmission was allowed by both circuit switched and packet switched connections. Circuit switched connections exist when there is a permanent connection between two mobile radio subscribers. For packet switched transmission however there is no exclusive transmission channel. The data to be transported is divided into packets, just as for Internet Protocol, meaning that the available bandwidth can be used more efficiently. FDD or W-CDMA mode enables a theoretical data transfer capacity of 64kbps in the uplink (from the user to the network) and 384kbps in the downlink (from the network to the mobile radio subscriber). This is 40 times faster than GSM and ten times faster than GPRS.

NETWORK TESTING AND COMMISSIONING

The first successful voice call was made over the UMTS system in May 2001. Shortly after this successful test an integrated software fault was found with the NEC handsets, and the initial rollout was delayed until December 2001 (allowing DOCOMO to beat Manx Telecom in the race to commission the first 3G network in the world).

In June 2001, the first video call was made using the NEC palm size Image Viewer Terminal (IVT), which showed the potential and benefits of a larger colour screen with an MPEG-4 video compressor and H.324/M conferencing standards. In August 2001, the first IP packet data call over UMTS provided fast Internet and data application access at a high bandwidth. The network went live in December 2001, with 24 out of 28 base stations operative covering 85% of the 33-mile x 13-mile island.

Limited numbers of the NEC 3G-compliant handsets meant that only a limited trial was possible. A few hundred of the NEC IMT 2000 handsets were distributed around the island free of charge; most went to businesses and government offices (over 60 banks have offices on the island and each got at least one phone), and ten were distributed to private residents (chosen by lottery from 75,000 people). The handsets were only single-band, and therefore could not be interactive between the 2.5G GSM and 3G UMTS services as would probably be required in the UK.

3G DEMONSTRATION APPLICATIONS

The mobile applications tested by customers in the second quarter of 2002 from various interested developers included:

· 'Isle of Man on Air' from Siemens and BskyB · Mobile Office from Manx Telecom · Video content from Manx Telecom and BTOpenworld · Video telephony from NEC · Enhanced WAP from Infinite · Live video from Imagecom · Gaming services from Gameplay

3G LOCATION-BASED SERVICE - ISLE OF MAN ON AIR

'Isle of Man on Air' was the first location-based service providing UMTS users with location-specific information respective of their location on the island (using GPS Global Positioning Satellite signals.) The 'Island Guide' would provide users with extensive information in words, images and sounds about the tourist attractions on the island. In addition it provided a restaurant guide, information on golf courses and taxi companies, or the nearest pub on the Isle of Man. The hotel finder part of the application was able to make finding accommodation on the island easier due to comprehensive maps, navigation system and an online reservation system.

FUTURE FOR THE NETWORK

The network was closed down in mid-2004, less than 30 months after being brought on-line. The decision to do this has puzzled some observers, but Manx Telecom and O2 insist that the network was only ever a test bed for a full network across the UK, Germany and the Netherlands. The companies used it to learn of potential problems in constructing larger networks and to seriously test some of the applications which would be used by subscribers. The future for the Isle of Man 3G service now is that it will be rolled out at the same time as the rest of the UK 3G network, scheduled for late 2004.