Home North AmericaNorth America 2010 Addressing the spectrum and capacity crunch

Addressing the spectrum and capacity crunch

by david.nunes
Bruce BrdaIssue:North America 2010
Article no.:4
Topic:Addressing the spectrum and capacity crunch
Author:Bruce Brda
Title:SVP & General Manager, Networks
PDF size:540KB

About author

Bruce Brda is senior vice president and general manager of Motorola’s networks business. Prior to this role, Mr. Brda gained extensive international sales and marketing experience in Motorola’s mobile devices business and was previously vice president of sales and operations for Motorola’s infrastructure business. Bruce Brda holds a bachelor’s of science degree from Southern Illinois University and a master’s of science degree from Illinois Institute of Technology.

Article abstract

As data use explodes, operators, regulators and technology vendors need to re-think migration approaches to new technology. Smart thinking about how to build, deploy and maintain networks can help mobile operators address the demand for data.

Full Article

Mobile operators are facing a capacity crisis. The fact is we stand at an inflection point as an industry. The way we have managed transitions in the past and how we must manage them in the future are two quite different processes. As an industry, we need to revise our thinking and manage transitions holistically. The first step is for operators, regulators and technology vendors to re-think migration approaches and the way we work together. Here, we address this multi-dimensional approach with various scenarios highlighting the interactions of these variables. Data use explodes The extent of the data explosion is revealed by two major mobile operators. Orange disclosed in 2009 that USB dongle data consumption in the UK had increased by 4,125 percent in the previous 12 months, while AT&T has managed a surge in data use of 5,000 percent over the last three years. And with applications including social networking, video and interactive chat gaining in popularity, burgeoning data demands aren’t slowing soon. By 2011, Motorola estimates that mobile operators will provide per month, on average, 11.1GB of data for students (up from 4.5GB), 5GB for traveling business people (up from 2.4GB) and 6GB for professionals (up from 4GB). Such figures indicate that degradation in performance experienced by some mobile operators will affect more networks in the future. A fundamental shift in consumer usage models is underway and accelerating. These soaring data streams are enabling users to interact with the world in new ways. Consumer usage is one of many variables in the rapidly-evolving telecommunications market. Migration strategies going forward must maintain flexibility to keep pace with this evolution. Consumer usage is just one of the variables in play. Changing apps The popularity of apps and social networking is one major factor behind the capacity strain. The average smartphone – even if the user is not actively using these apps – checks for messages or status updates eight times a minute. Each of these checks ties up valuable spectrum resources. This repetitive behavior is contributing to service degradation just like the amount of data sent across 3G networks. The spectrum battle The industry is pressing for greater access to existing radio spectrum. For example, by reclaiming spectrum bands from the cessation of terrestrial TV service – the ‘digital dividend’. Regulators are using auctions to ensure fair allocation of spectrum. However, in some markets, the process takes time. Legal action is threatening to delay the UK’s auction, which was expected to happen at the end of 2010. Ultimately, the promise offered by commercial services to make broadband more available and affordable is likely to see additional spectrum become available. However, given the demands for data, it’s critical to fully optimize spectrum use now as well as additional spectrum that might become available in the future. Off-load options Migration strategies in these circumstances need to encompass some near-term creativity. A tactic available immediately is to off-load data. A simple way to achieve this is by using unlicensed technologies with mobile operators partnering with existing Wi-Fi mobile operators, or deploying their own Wi-Fi networks to provide customers with seamless connectivity to hot-spots without the need to manually log-in. This convenient access can help remove a significant amount of nomadic data traffic from the main mobile networks in places where network congestion is most problematic. However, the risk of using unlicensed spectrum could cause the operator to lose some control of the user experience where Wi-Fi congestion occurs. Another viable option in the drive to optimize capacity is network sharing – a way for operators to reduce capital and operational expenditures by sharing, for example, base stations and cell sites with other operators. This move has been taken by, among others, Vodafone and Telefonica in Spain, Germany, Ireland and UK; Orange, SFR and Bouygues Telecom in France and Clear, Sprint, Comcast, and Time Warner in the USA. The strategy offers key advantages. The numbers of base stations can be cut, and grouping between peers to share cell-loads ensures service quality remains consistently high at times of peak demand. Alongside diverting traffic from the network, deploying new 4G technologies is fundamental to optimizing spectrum. Advances to licensed technologies Due to the level of data demands, the days of investing in one network type are over. Mobile operators will need to acquire all the spectrum they can and deploy the best technology for that spectrum. The cornerstone of mobile networks in the future will be provided by 4G technologies – principally Long Term Evolution (LTE) – but with a wide range of complementary technologies working alongside it to boost capacity. LTE One of the attractions of LTE, which will dominate mobile network investment, is that it can be employed in a wide range of frequencies and in many sizes of channel bandwidths – from 1.4 MHz to 20 MHz. The flexibility of LTE, coupled with its superior performance, is driving many mobile operators to reserve 2G spectrum – such as 900 MHz – for LTE roll-outs rather than using this spectrum for 3G solutions such as high-speed packet access (HSPA). This is a move that becomes more attractive considering the LTE standards roadmap enables a feature called carrier aggregation, allowing multiple parts of non-adjacent channels to be used as a single channel. This eases the cost of enhancing capacity and service performance while lowering cost per bit. Network profiles are also likely to change with LTE. Many small picocells can be added to boost network capacity in high-use areas. This is particularly attractive with LTE as the technology is capable of self-organizing and optimizing the cells. This ensures the capacity benefits are achieved with much lower deployment, operations and maintenance costs. The case for TD-LTE The rise of TD-LTE as a viable mobile network technology has been boosted by the backing of several global operators including China Mobile which is accelerating TD developments. TD-LTE is an integral part of the 3GPP LTE standard. These standards bodies are ensuring compatibility between FDD LTE and TD-LTE including support for roaming. While the majority of networks have FDD LTE as their primary service platform, there’s a strong case for using TD in combination with FDD solutions. The spectrum will cost less, and TD-LTE is well suited for downlink heavy applications like mobile video broadcasting. In addition, TD-LTE can be used to off-load services away from FDD LTE or to boost indoor coverage quality and double capacity in hot spots. Moreover, the development path of the standard supports in-band relay, meaning that TD-LTE could also be used in the future for providing backhaul. It’s likely that many markets will comprise a mix of TD-LTE, FDD LTE and WIMAX. WiMAX While TD-LTE and FDD LTE provide great potential for addressing the growth of data demands, WiMAX provides a solution that is available now for addressing the burgeoning wireless broadband market. WiMAX is being used for service delivery to mature markets that need broadband as well as to unserved and underserved markets. Tried and tested in hundreds of networks worldwide, WiMAX provides reliable, high-speed broadband. With its capacity and efficiency performance similar to LTE, WiMAX will complement LTE in major urban and rural areas to provide the best data experience to customers. WiMAX supports frequency allocations that cover the world and support channel bandwidths from five MHz up to ten MHz. Future plans for WiMAX include expanding the deployment of innovative features to double peak data rates and increase the average and cell-edge end-user performance by 50 percent without affecting the existing ecosystem of devices. Additionally, with 802.16m, the WiMAX Forum announced in April 2010 that it’s looking to expand the channel bandwidth to 20 MHz to support data rates up to 300 Mbps. The WiMAX ecosystem hosts a broad set of devices to support the end-user needs for data usage. While the majority of WiMAX markets have initially focused on customer premises equipment and USB devices to provide fixed and nomadic broadband services, handsets and smart devices are already arriving on these networks. Supporting dual-mode capabilities, these end-user devices allow operators to off-load the data usage from their existing networks to a more efficient broadband technology. Designed from scratch by mobile operators and vendors for a future dominated by data, LTE and WiMAX will lead strategies to optimize spectrum. As WiMAX and LTE are both OFDM-based technologies, WiMAX can provide the initial base that allows operators a future migration path to 16m or LTE. This said, once systems are in place, it’s advisable to monitor their use to ensure optimum efficiency. A spectrum of possibilities Responses to spectrum and capacity issues could result in two sea changes taking place over the next few years. First, mobile operators are likely to partner with competitors to ensure customers have a great data experience wherever they go. Second, the topology of networks will become much more complex. The complexity of the system is not going away. It is our migration approaches that must evolve. For end-users, nothing will change – apart from a more impressive service – as their devices will furnish them with the best data experiences as they move across systems. But behind the scenes, networks will be much more complex, leading to changes in the way networks are run. Many operators believe it’s simply not possible to invest and retain all the skills they need in-house. For instance, building an LTE network and optimizing architecture and topology according to new and existing frequency plans is a huge task that’s critical to the future of the business. While this is ongoing, existing services and customers need to be managed as other technologies – such as WiMAX and LTE – are brought into play. To meet these demands, many companies are offering complete expertise in helping mobile operators build, optimize and maintain any part of their network. The business case for using these skills is based on the premise that accessing readily available, highly skilled people can be significantly more cost efficient than investing in equivalent expertise in-house. Vendors partnering with flexible mobile operators who commit to pre-agreed service levels and set costs for projects will increasingly become part of the overall strategy to address spectrum and capacity issues. There’s no doubt that with smart thinking about how to build, deploy and maintain networks, mobile operators can continue to deliver a positive customer experience while reducing exposure to risk, operating as efficiently as possible and optimizing revenue opportunities. Overall, on a broader, multi-dimensional level, the industry will continue the relentless pace of innovation that has enabled mobile data services to become essential to daily life.

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