Canada’s iBwave is the leading software provider for engineers planning and designing in-building network deployments. At Mobile World Congress 2012, it jointly unveiled with Ascom Network Testing, a new interface for collection tools that enables the seamless exchange of files from iBwave’s flagship software, iBwave Design, with other collection tools.
The company says this new open standard for information exchange will help operators meet quality expectations set by subscribers with greater efficiency and economy.
The solution is the latest software upgrade to emerge from iBwave, which was founded in late 2003 by Mario Bouchard, its President and CEO. Bouchard’s experience in working for an operator revealed to him that there were no tools to help engineers design networks within buildings or places where multitudes of people congregate such as stadia.
‘I left and created my own tool,’ says Bouchard, ‘but we were a bit early as in-building wireless design was not so important back then, now it is really taking off. But the fact that we were the first one, and no one really cared about this market back then, has really helped us to position ourselves. Now the market is waking up to it and the standard platform we have created is being used by 300 customers in 80 countries.’
All the tier one operators in North America are using its software, which means iBwave's tools have become the default format for exchanging files between the rest of the eco-system. It is a very nice position to be in, but Bouchard is quick to stress that the company is at pains not to abuse the leading position its success has brought it.
The company’s products are sold and licensed to three different types of business: mobile operators; equipment vendors, such as in-building companies like Zinwave, CommScope and Axell Wireless, along with the major mobile equipment vendors like Ericsson and Huawei; and finally system integrators – engineering firms designing for equipment makers or operators themselves.
Mobile version for field engineers
iBwave licenses its software, but does not provide design or consulting services, as that would mean competing with its own customers. ‘We’ll help companies improve the model and accuracy of their designs, but we are not providing actual services;we let our tools empower engineers,’ says Bouchard. He points out that iBwave’s tools are also applicable to standards such as TETRA, although he says it is a tough market to crack in terms of converting people.
A critical part of iBwave’s offering is to ensure that its tools are mobile, so engineers can take them into the field and access cloud services so they can do data mining on all the projects they are working on. It has produced an app of its iBwave Design software, which engineers can download onto smart devices.
The cloud-based application is called Unity. ‘We put all the files in the server, aggregate them and data mine that information,’ says Bouchard. ‘It provides a real time dashboard, a bit like salesforce.com, where you can see how many projects you have in each market and how much money you are spending in each market.
‘You can pull up a report on a particular component to find out how many you have in the network, where are they and check how much it would cost to upgrade or replace that product. You can also see their propagation and data files and if you want to change a product you can properly plan how to reconfigure the network after installation,’ says Bouchard.
The system allows a field engineer to pull any building design from the cloud and see the wireless equipment installation. He can take pictures and upload photos, so a design engineer or project manager back in the lab can see the building and advise the person in the field what to do or not to do. Previously the design engineer would have had to visit the actual site to make a decision, so this helps address the needs of everyone in the entire ecosystem.
In-building design for multi-band, multi-carrier environments
The need for iBwave’s predictive in-building wireless design modeling is becoming more urgent as the trend for multi-band, multi-carrier systems grows.
‘These networks are so complex,’ says Bouchard. ‘Look at the London Olympics, for example. You need a system to handle all the UK mobile operators, Wi-Fi, PMR and first responders on the TETRA network. All those systems on the same backbone, the same DAS, and the mobile operators are also transmitting on multiple frequency bands.
‘How do you mix that lot, work out the coverage, cancel RF interference and run predictions as to how the signal will react with the anticipated amount of people using it?’ asks Bouchard. ‘What our software tools do is predict data rates and capacity. If you have 80,000 people in the Olympic stadium what kind of quality of experience will they get if half are streaming or uploading videos, while the other half is using voice and so on – our tools can model all these factors.’
Stadia are a hot topic at the moment. iBwave technology was used to design the recent Indianapolis Super Bowl and it is being used to design the wireless requirements for the Brazil World Cup.
‘AT&T, one of our biggest customers, decided last year to concentrate on stadia as this is where you aggregate 80 to 100,000 people at every game,’ says Bouchard. ‘They had a lot of traffic issues while covering all the basketball, football, ice hockey arean games and so on, so we’ve improved our modeling for this particularly complex environment and that’s a big market worldwide.’
Managing RF interference
Bouchard says the key to modeling wireless networks for in-building designs is to understand the issue, which usually means understanding where the interference is coming from.
‘If the interference is coming from outside the building there are two ways to approach it. You either take measurements by reading formats from all the data collection tools out there, including Ascom,’ says Bouchard. ‘Or, if there is no existing data collection, you read formats from the outdoor planning tool by mapping the towers on rooftops to understand what the expected signal will be around the building. Then you flood the interior of the building with that signal and use it as interference. You then do the assumption and data rate calculation based on that interference,’ he explains.
In a subway the issue is that you have no signal at all. In a skyscraper the issue is that you have too many signals, as your mobile is exposed to 50 to 75 base stations when you are 30 floors up. ‘It’s like a cocktail party,’ says Bouchard. ‘Everyone is shouting, so the only way to hear clearly is to get close to the other person and listen. Phones react the same way. The in-building solution for a skyscraper is to bring one antenna closer to the end user, so the phone only listens to that one base station or antenna.’
Bouchard feels in-building is still quite new to the market, although the US and Canada are a bit more advanced and are pushing it forward. The Middle East is very strong, as the high temperatures mean people spend more time indoors, so the demand for in-building coverage is very high. But demand is starting to rise in Europe now.
‘It’s kind of a like a religion,’ says Bouchard. ‘You have to wait for people to be converted.’ Judging by all the discussions at this year’s MWC it looks like the conversion is well under way.