handling all the traffic that is sure to come?
No doubt about it, a massive data explosion is under way. Data cards, smartphones, application stores, eReaders, netbooks and more – they’re all feeding the frenzy.
On the network side, operators are responding with upgrades and migration to next-generation technologies. But all of this emphasis on data and connected devices begs the question: Will operators be ready for the onslaught that is sure to come? Is it possible they will get caught in the crosshairs, similar to what AT&T experienced with bandwidth-hungry iPhone users?
T-Mobile USA came to the 3G party later than its nationwide rivals. But Neville Ray, senior vice president of Engineering and Operations, acknowledges what needs to be done for the next generation of mobile broadband data to succeed. Speaking at the 4G World conference in Chicago in September, he outlined a litany of issues that operators must address – from latency, throughput and capacity to backhaul. All the components must be aligned. “It’s a big challenge,” he said.
Historically, the industry has underestimated growth and capacity needs, so “we will get it wrong,” he said. Therefore, “we need very scalable and flexible systems,” by way of techniques such as self-organizing networks and solutions that make the most efficient use of spectrum. “All elements must evolve together for success.”
T-Mobile is going the route of LTE, but first it is rolling out HSPA+, starting with a 20-cell site deployment in Philadelphia. AT&T is pursuing HSPA 7.2, with plans to do LTE trials in 2010 and deployment in 2011. Verizon Wireless is leading the LTE path, with up to 30 markets expected for commercial deployment in 2010. Sprint Nextel has its investment in mobile WiMAX, a technology it markets as 4G, and it is using Clearwire’s network to handle that traffic alongside its 3G network.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
With spectrum being the oxygen of the wireless industry, a lot of operators’ preparedness boils down to their individual spectrum positions. Given the federal government’s inquiry into the state of competition in wireless and its mandate for a federal broadband policy by early next year, the industry naturally is emphasizing the need for more spectrum.
CTIA is calling for the identification and allocation of additional licensed spectrum resources for U.S. broadband providers. In fact, CTIA says the United States is facing a “brewing spectrum crisis,” with its leading position in the mobile world standings at risk if the federal government doesn’t soon focus on reallocating hundreds of megahertz of spectrum for licensed commercial use.
3G Americas also is pushing for a spectrum inventory in the United States. The U.S. government has done a good job allocating certain swaths of spectrum, such as 700 MHz, but with the number of mobile broadband users expected to hit a quarter billion by 2013, “you’re going to need more spectrum,” says 3G Americas President Chris Pearson. Part of the impetus behind doing a spectrum inventory is to find out what spectrum the government agencies are assigned and what they’re actually using. “If they’re not (using it), we know of a good use,” and a way for the U.S. Treasury to make some money to boot, he says.
The job doesn’t end there, however. 3G Americas is in active discussions with regulators and policy makers in Latin America, urging them to lift spectrum caps. The spectrum policies that were created five or six years ago primarily looked at voice, not data, Pearson notes.
At Ericsson’s Business Innovation Forum in Stockholm, Sweden, in June, Håkan Djuphammar predicted in 10 years, some 50 billion devices worldwide will be connected – everything from cameras to toothbrushes. Of course, Ericsson executives are confident their network gear will withstand the onslaught of data demands, and they’re standing by to help operators steer the next course.
Amdocs takes it a step further and talks about the “Tera-play” world, citing analysts’ forecast for 1 trillion connected devices by 2015. Service providers need to act now if they’re going to reap the promises of new revenue. “A trillion is not very far away from what we are seeing today,” says Rami Gazit, manager of market strategy and insight at Amdocs. “It’s moving very fast.”
Alcatel-Lucent spends quite a bit of time with operators around the world to make sure they’re on the same wavelength when it comes to what’s required for the next generation. Unless some pretty dramatic changes are made, the networks will not be able to handle all the traffic, says Derek Kuhn, vice president, Emerging Technology and Media at Alcatel-Lucent. Just the automotive industry on its own will result in a huge number of connections. Add in healthcare, connected text books, signage, banking and more, and it’s clear that a huge amount of traffic needs to be managed.
Kuhn and others in the industry say it’s not enough to trust that the standards-setting process will take care of all the demand coming down the pike. The LTE specification doesn’t necessarily deal with how much infrastructure has to go in to support massive adoption. “That’s up to the operator,” he says. Cell planning, back office and billing are just some of the other areas that need to be addressed.
Alcatel-Lucent’s involvement in the ng Connect Program, which is focused on bringing together a range of companies not always traditionally associated with one another, is one way the company is fostering the new ecosystem. “We’re trying to put solutions in place,” Kuhn says.
|Traffic Type & Volume|
While industry leaders and analysts are forecasting billions of connections in the years to come, the number of connected devices doesn’t really matter – it’s the type of traffic those devices or connections are generating, says Joel Brand, vice president of product management at Bytemobile
If a water meter reports usage via SMS once a month, that’s one thing. If a video camera in a bank is recording 24/7 and sending it to a disc somewhere, that’s another.
Working with more than 100 networks worldwide, Bytemobile sees in aggregate how people are using their devices and what devices are generating certain types of traffic. Video is growing faster than other services, with YouTube and social networking sites among the big drivers. Some drivers are less obvious, like updates for Microsoft’s Windows.
Will the networks be able to handle dramatic increases in video demand? No, not without some action to manage the traffic, Brand says. But he’s also an optimist and believes operators will deploy strategies such as optimization, femtocells, fair use policies, new billing models and other strategies that will allow the networks to handle it.
The folks at InterDigital have been thinking a lot about the implications of billions – or a trillion – connected devices. The company is usually at the forefront – when most people were talking about analog, it was talking about digital. When carriers a few years ago were undecided about how much they would support Wi-Fi, InterDigital engineers were thinking about devices that would incorporate both Wi-Fi and cellular.
But even with its team of engineers and forward thinkers, it’s not Easy Street. Says Jack Indekeu, director of marketing at InterDigital: “We have a pretty good crystal ball, but there’s never any certainty in this game.”
Filed Under: Infrastructure