Author's Picture Issue: India 2008
Article no.: 13
Topic: Broadband without borders
Author: Rajaram Balajee
Title: Head of Business lines
Organisation: Midas Communication Technologies Pvt Ltd
PDF size: 215KB

About author

Rajaram Balajee is the Head of Fixed and Mobile Wireless Business Lines for Midas Communication Technologies Pvt Ltd; he has had 18 years of end-to-end experience in telecom and networking, in a range of management positions from product management and design to software and engineering. Prior to Midas, Mr Balajee worked in the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras and W.S. TeleSystems Ltd among others. He has been a presenter/keynote speaker in several conferences and industry forums and has published several articles on wireless and broadband. Mr Balajee has also guided several student research projects at IIT, BITS and other Universities for post-graduate students. Rajaram Balajee received his B.E. in Electronics and Communication Engineering from Madras University. He earned postgraduate certifications from IISC Bangalore, WIPO and ETDC among others.

Article abstract

Broadband wireless technologies promise Internet access to people everywhere. The rapid evolution of network architecture and equipment generate challenges and risks for telco operators and a great deal of hope and opportunity for many people. The 4G technologies are a real breakthrough in terms of network architecture, the radio interface and the services made possible. New equipment, such as software defined radios, can reduce the telco’s costs and the risks and speed the availability of affordable Internet access to all.

Full Article

Change, they say is the only constant aspect of nature. “Neither a wise nor a brave man lies down on the tracks of history to wait for train of the future to run over him” said Dwight D. Eisenhower. This fear of what the future brings is what is actually driving the world more towards change. Mobile wireless technologies have started slowly to distribute the power of Internet. Mobile is becoming another form of media. Mobile will bring real broadband to hand-held devices. Several technologies are currently competing to provide mobile broadband access – LTE, WiMAX, 802.16m, UMB and standards are evolving. The good news is that the technologies are all made of the same OFDM (Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiple Access) batter. Changing the network There are three fundamental dimensions of mobile technology evolution: the network architecture; its physical air interface, and services provided. While technologies up to 3G are evolutionary, 4G technologies are not. They offer a fundamental shift in the approach to wireless technology. As Carrier Ethernet and DSL technologies matured, much that was learned about these technologies has now passed into the wireless domain. We know that although voice remains the single largest telco revenue earner, voice can be reliably handled on data networks; IP’s reliability has been proved beyond doubt. The synchronization of wireless base stations using GPS or via Ethernet backhaul links is also accepted. The Internet has shown that video, audio and photo-sharing applications can be big revenue earners. The success of cameras in mobile phones combined with low bit rate video services like YouTube, have made us realise the importance of publishing applications. The Internet has grown from a mail service to one that covers a wide range of lifestyle activities including socializing and publishing. The business case for mobile phones as a channel for Internet and broadband services is compelling. The 4G architectures bring in a fundamental shift by being totally IP data centric architectures. Instead of the three-stage architecture – core network, BSC (base station controller) and BTS (base transceiver station) – of technologies up to 3G, the 4G architecture is a two stage, flat architecture. This is primarily because 4G architectures are totally data centric and remove any conventional voice services from their makeup. Hence, 4G architectures talk about BTS and Access Service Network (ASN) Gateways; with radio, resources and interfaces are completely handled at the BTS level, while services are handled at the IP level in the ASN Gateway. Radio Resource Management and Control, typically present at BSC up to 3G systems, have started moving to the base station site for better scheduling; this is enabled by the high-speed back-haul that a 4G BTS sits on. (Fig 1) The transport layer has matured and become much ‘lighter’ in the wireless design. Services have also matured; combined with IP transport, much of services can be centralised for better management. Though radio has become much more complex, processing power has evolved and helped to implement much of the complex processing at the edge of the wireless network. Today’s wireless network architectures are becoming increasingly similar to metro-Ethernet and DSL networks; the power of the network has gone to the edge and services to the centre. Broadband architecture convergence Architectural convergence brings huge cost advantages by combining and simplifying multiple networks into one, and reducing operational and maintenance expenses. It has also simplified the deployment of broadband wireless networks. Broadband wireless means more than simply using wireless for broadband Internet access. Broadband wireless promises radical changes to our way of life – not as a technology, but as a media. It is disruptive; it is already redefining the way we communicate and socialize across physical and logical boundaries. It is already changing the way many of us act and interact socially – re-defining our behaviour and creating a different ‘social animal’. The Internet is growing; its power as a media is recognized in both developing and developed economies. Internet growth is currently limited by the availability of both broadband Internet access and simple cost-effective multi-media access devices. Although wireline solutions have been providing broadband Internet access, computers have been the main end-user devices enabling the spread of the Internet. Computers, nevertheless are too costly and complex for large scale adoption. Mobile technologies have not yet become an effective means to distribute and access high bandwidth Internet. So far, they have mostly provided limited access through simple end-user devices. The mobile success story is still voice service, but that is rapidly changing. With the convergence of broadband and wireless, mobile technologies acquire both broadband capability and simpler end-user devices for a multitude of services, setting the stage for mobile media to emerge on a large scale. Although, for now, typical end-user access speeds will be in the range of 256kbps with some higher peaks, this speed does wonders for a mobile device, allowing mobile TV, video phones, more effective mobile blogs, mobile books, mobile broadcasts, mobile desktops and much more. Mobile devices even with these speeds can become the window of the world, not only for the affluent, but for many whom today have no way to see it. By bringing connectivity to common people, wireless broadband has the potential to empower people more than any other device. Technology – progress vs. adoption When technology is mature, it becomes cost-effective and adaptable to any environment. The success of GSM for mobile services in so many countries across the globe is an example. It took ten years for GSM to settle down in Europe, but from then on there was no looking back. The biggest threat mobile broadband technologies face is the unsettled business environment that rapid technological progress often brings. This could cause operators waiting for the technology to settle down before they expand services. Should this happen, the benefits of technology will not spread readily to large sections of society. Will the rapid progress of technology slow the adoption of broadband wireless technologies? Although the danger exists, it seems increasingly remote. The next generation technologies will continue using the current IP centric architecture; only the radios will advance. Hence, rapidly changing radio technologies will be the main challenge. The evolution of Software Defined Radio (SDR) might even offset this. SDR is very flexible; software enables SDR equipment to handle multiple frequency bands and multiple standards using the same hardware. This makes it possible to expand operations using other frequencies or standards without investing in expensive new equipment, just by adding software. While some multi-standard solutions are already possible, a lot of work remains to digitally enable complex transceiver functions and make a radio’s operation with a variety different bands and standards possible. Borderless broadband Mobile devices and services have already succeeded in breaking many cultural, linguistic and cost barriers. With next generation broadband wireless technologies, they are breaking speed and multimedia service barriers as well. Nevertheless, mobile broadband services need to be ‘borderless’ with respect to different standards and adapt to new technologies and standards as they evolve. Even today, voice is the main revenue earner for most telcos. There is little revenue incentive for operators in many regions to deploy broadband services immediately, since it would take some time for data services to start earning revenues. This, and the potential for technological obsolescence given the rapid transformation of broadband wireless technologies, will make many operators think twice before investing in broadband at this time. Hence, it is important to define hardware and software platforms that work with multiple standards and technologies. This is feasible with today’s architectures and evolving technologies. Technologies for smaller communities that economically combine WiMAX, DECT and broadband data are already in use in India. In the future, with standardised hardware and software architectures for multiple technologies and standards, such platforms will certainly be available from a variety of vendors. The evolution of mobile wireless architectures have followed a path that moves the power of the network continuously towards its edge, transport complexities reduced and services become centralized. Broadband wireless platforms, adaptable to any technology, that permit broadband access to everything the Internet offers via mobile phones; will soon open a window on the world for all sections of society.