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September 22, 2023

The 5G Connection: An Interview with Toby Forman, CEO at SmartCIC

We discuss 4G and 5G Networks capability for enterprises

In today's hyper-connected world, ensuring consistent and high-speed network capabilities is a necessity. SmartCIC, the cellular division of CELLSMART is a frontrunner in the connectivity and field services sector. Specializing in testing the breadth and depth of 4G and 5G networks across diverse terrains, their insights are rewarding organization’s with mobile connectivity in more places. As we witness the 5G revolution, we sit down with Toby Forman, CEO of SmartCIC, for an exclusive interview to discuss how they are powering enterprises to roll out cellular solutions.

Neil: How is it that you would test the 5g capabilities within an area, and how would you ensure that the sample is representative of its capabilities?

Toby: I think the important thing to point out is it's not just 5G. So, what we're looking at is the performance of a cellular network. So, if an area is 5G capable and we pick up 5G signals for a carrier in that area, we're testing the capability of that carrier in that area. If it's 4G, 4G plus, or if it's 3G, then we're testing that as well. Our objective really is to understand the true performance of cellular networks. So that sits outside of what carriers are saying is available in the network. It sits outside of what technology provides for it. So the methodology is quite simple, really, as far as drive is concerned, and that is we have got devices on a vehicle, and they're basically every 60 seconds running a speed test, and we're running a comparative speed test against a basket of carriers, a basket of operators in that area as our vehicles are driving around. Now, the more tests that we have in that area, the more tests that we do, the greater the saturation of those tests, we have a better understanding of what is the performance of each carrier in that area, and this gives us an indication overall, what is that cellular network capable of delivering in that area. Whether that is a 5G network, 4G network…

Neil: Okay, that leads on to the next question. Are there any particular critical metrics you're using to evaluate this?

Toby: Yeah, so we're using, I mean, top-line metrics. Clearly, upload download speeds, that's important for fixed wireless. Latency is clearly an issue. Particularly when you're looking at applications that are going to run over the top of this. So what we're talking about, about fixed wireless access, fixed wireless access for us is utilizing the publicly available cellular networks and using that as effectively an access to the internet, and then you can overlay services on it. So, in the same way that if you're looking for fixed-line access, we are also pulling RF information, so we're pulling RSSI information SI and R information, and we're pulling jitter as well. So that all helps build a picture of how stable that connectivity is in that area and the sort of applications typically that we could look to run over that type of access.

Neil: And given the variation with 5G infrastructure, how do you adjust or standardize your testing to make findings comparable and usable?

Toby: When we're looking at results, and so far, our database has got somewhere in the region of 65,000 results, in 70 countries from about 44,000 unique locations. So what it allows us to do, at a top line, is to look from a country-by-country basis. So we can look at our country based on the number of results that we've got. The more results we have, the more statistically robust that is, and we can pull, and we can infer information around the stability of networks. We can then dive down, and we are, as we're getting saturation of results, dive down into particular areas so that we can look at things. But we try, and what we're trying to do is build up a database that it really effectively will allow us in certain areas where it makes sense for us to do that, to be as granular as down to the city block to say, okay what are the carriers that are available here and how are they performing with this technology in that area?

Neil: And how do your findings support businesses' decisions regarding the adoption of FWA?

Toby: So ultimately, I mean, as I said before, it's really about speed. So it's about download speed, it's about upload speed, it's ultimately about jitter, and it's about latency. So, what we're able to do is we're able with this information, we're able to talk to our customers about how this technology is developing and talk to them and understand what their use cases are and actually explain to them whether and on a journey whether that use case is going to work with that technology. So this is about discovery; it's about understanding, it's about bringing intelligence to those conversations as opposed to just saying, okay, yeah, look, 5G's available in this area. What you should do is you shouldn't be using fixed-line connectivity. You should be using wireless connectivity. We feel as a service provider that what we need to be able to do is we need to be able to justify that claim, we need to be able to justify using the technology, and where we've used it, you can show to a customer that they can be disruptive, and the value of fixed wireless comes in its ability to be able to deploy. So, as an organization, we can deploy anywhere in Europe in 48 hours, that means for an enterprise, that means you can be incredibly dynamic, you can be very, very disruptive in the marketplace, as opposed to waiting weeks for the fixed line, so it helps build that case up. Then, we can have an honest conversation to understand the applications that they want to run over this access. So, we treat this access in the same way we treat any access and say, yes, look, this works, this doesn't. If it's very video intensive and the speeds and the latency and the jitter aren't going to work, we can say, look in this area, it's not going to work, and in others it will.

Neil: You touched on this in your first question as well, what other intelligence does your system capture that business enterprises can use?

Toby: We're capturing specific cell tower information, we’re capturing what was the power of that signal to that particular cell on that tower, and we're using that information to really understand how that technology with its 5G or 4G is actually being deployed over that particular area. So it's pretty powerful information that we're gathering.

Neil: In the face of developments within 5G in technology, how is it you prepare testing methodologies for that?

Toby: We're constantly looking at how we do things. We've got some additional testing methodologies in the pipeline that will allow us to be very, very granular. So at the moment, for example, we're using a vehicle, but the vehicle travels at speed, and actually, what we want to do is we want to slow that down so that we can conduct more tests. So we're working on equipment at the moment that will allow us literally to be able to walk from around the city block and do that testing as we're walking around a city block. And that means that we can be incredibly granular with that sort of information. So that's likely to come out at the beginning of next year, and we'll start testing and start using that equipment to pull this information in , and the thing that makes it different is that we're running these comparative tests. So, there are other tools out there that you can use. So, there are speed test tools that will allow you to understand what your performance is, and those providers will call that information back, and that is sort of crowd-sourced. We have a tool that does exactly the same thing. What we're doing here, and the thing that is really different is the fact that we're doing comparative testing, so we can say with some degree of confidence about how different carriers are deploying that technology. It's not about finding which carrier is the best carrier, but carriers implement the technology in different ways and in different areas because it makes sense for them to do that. and it allows us to be able to create that picture, really understand what's going on.

Neil: Can you share any success stories of businesses utilizing your intelligence gatherings to make connectivity decisions?

Toby: Yeah, absolutely. I mean we work with major carriers. So, for example, we rolled out 600 sites for a petrochemical company in Germany and Poland, and we used our insight and knowledge to be able to roll out fixed wireless access in gas stations effectively in that country. Now, 60% of those gas stations are still on cellular as primary, and that's because we were able to inject a degree of intelligence into that project. That gave the end customer confidence and ultimately was born out by the performance of those circuits.

Neil Hodgson Coyle
Neil Hodgson-Coyle
Editorial chief at TechNews180
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