Lancom warns of radio equipment problems as EC late on standards update

Tuesday 18 April 2017 | 15:34 CET | Background

The EU's new RE-D (radio equipment directive) comes into effect 13 June, but many devices may not be ready. The European Commission still needs to approve a number of updated standards affected by the RE-D, and then devices such as smartphones, laptops and modems need to be adapted. Telecompaper talked to Lacom business development director Jan Buis about the consequences of the directive, as well as coordinating LTE and Wi-Fi services in the same spectrum and the launch of Lancom's cloud management system.

Lancom Systems has launched a cloud management system aimed at making it simpler to roll out and manage hybrid networks with a single platform. The system is aimed at businesses as well as resellers looking to manage networks on behalf of clients. According to Buis, the "zero-touch solution" reduces significantly the time required for configuring physical and virtual networks (WAN, LAN & WLAN) as well as limiting potential (human) errors through automation of much of the process. 

Why (another) cloud-based network management platform? Buis: "We are network specialists. Resellers using this system for customers can focus on their core activities, like providing security advice. Configuring networks is not really an IT problem, but often ends up being part of the IT provider's job. It has also become increasingly complex because more and more networks use a wide range of infrastructure, part fixed, part mobile or wireless, or virtual network layers based on SDN technology."

Not everything can go over a VPN

Often all the internet traffic runs over a VPN, but this is nonsense to have everything running via the tunnel, said the Lancom director. A lot of internet traffic is searching for things not even on the corporate network. A local break-out to the public internet works fine for this and does not need a costly VPN, he said. Dynamic SD-WAN management can provide this kind of differentiation, both according to device – mobile or PC – and based on location.

The system was developed in part based on feedback from Lancom's partner channel targeting SMEs. The big difference with existing cloud variants, which are also provided by Lancom to its customers, is that resellers can take it as a hosted cloud service or resell it as their own hosted offering to customers. An important USP for Lancom is that the data centres used to host the public cloud management system are all in Germany. 

Given the recent concerns about storage in American data centres, Buis said this is an important differentiator for businesses. Customers know that all EU regulations are respected and US authorities don't have easy access, with or without judicial permission. End-users can also be assured that the system meets all the new privacy and data protection rules coming into force next year under the EU's GDPR. 

LTE in Wi-Fi spectrum

For more than a year Lancom has sounded the alarm about unlicensed spectrum normally used for Wi-Fi (2.4, 5 GHz bands) being used by 4G operators (LTE-U and LTE LAA). Several mobile operators are already testing this, and it's also being considered for private LTE networks, as Huawei recently highlighted at Cebit.  

The WiFi Alliance, of which Lancom is a member, has expressed serious concerns about potential capacity problems and interference if mobile networks use the same spectrum as Wi-Fi. In 2016, Nokia, Qualcomm, Ericsson and Intel started the MulteFire Alliance to develop LTE in unlicensed spectrum, such as the 5 GHz band. As transmission is limited in license-free spectrum, meaning a shorter coverage range, the MulteFire standard is largely aimed at indoor applications. 

Transition phase

According to Buis, this is now in a transitional phase, during which a number of tests are underway to set standards for the co-existence of LTE and Wi-Fi. The US regulator FCC is working especially on this and mandates the use of 'Listen-before-talk' technology for LTE in Wi-Fi bands. 

The LTE-U initiative is looking especially at the use of the 5 GHz band, as LTE equipment vendors understand that the 2.4 GHz band is already saturated and offers only limited capacity. The WiFi Alliance supports this approach, but wants to make sure that there are clear conditions, such as the use of LBT technology, Buis said.

However, this alone is not enough. A system can 'listen' before it 'talks', but if it then takes up all the capacity, Wi-Fi devices will suffer, the Lancom director noted. This has left concerns of a 'takeover' of the 5 GHz band by mobile networks, although in practice this would be true only for networks such as local campuses that use point-to-point connections. In homes, interference should be very limited, Buis said.

Buis said that players looking to deploy LTE in the 5 GHz band could learn from Wi-Fi vendors. The spectrum is often used also for radar systems, for example at airports and for monitoring weather conditions. Wi-Fi equipment vendors must adhere to strict DFS regulations in this area. If a radar system seeks use of the 5 GHz band, Wi-Fi networks must switch to another frequency. Licensed LTE networks don't have to deal with such systems, but it will have to be included if they are to make use of unlicensed Wi-Fi spectrum.


Buis also discussed another potential problem for the radio industry, including every mobile device in use in the EU. This is the Radio equipment directive, known as RE-D, which takes effect 13 June. This updates previous rules on the standards used in radio equipment to communicate over mobile or wireless networks. 

The update was long-needed, according to Buis. However, the European Commission has fallen behind on approving the around 200 standards for radio equipment needing an update to comply with the latest directive. 

The other major standards organisations, such as ETSI, have updated virtually all their standards accordingly, but 'Brussels' is still far from completing the task, the Landcom director said. At the same time the Commission has not announced any delay to the directive coming into effect. This means all devices using radio frequencies must still adhere to the new rules from 13 June.

In theory all devices could be in violation then of the new rules and standards, and vendors could be forced to halt new sales, Buis warned. This affects a wide range of devices, from smartphones and tablets to laptops and networking gear. While in practice few will stop using their devices, bottlenecks could emerge in supply chains, as it takes on average nine months to adapt devices to new standards. Manufacturers have not been given such time, the Lancom director noted. 

Buis called for a longer transition period, something which until recently appeared not forthcoming (the EC has since agreed to a transition period). If member states don't stand up and demand a transition period, the EC won't act on its own, the Lancom director warned. 

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