|Asia-Pacific II 2010
|Chipsets and 4G in Asia-Pacific
|President and CEO
Raj Singh is Wavesat’s President and CEO. Prior to Wavesat, Mr Singh served as VP of Marketing and Business Development at MoSys, a provider of system-on-chip (SoC) embedded memory solutions. Prior to MoSys, Mr Singh served as Executive VP Worldwide Sales at Virage Logic; as the Co-founder, Executive VP and General Manager of 3Dlabs until its acquisition by Creative Technology; and also at Dupont as VP of the company’s Pixel operation. Raj Singh holds an MA English Literature degree from the University of Aberdeen.
There is a massive demand for greater bandwidth service and applications. Wireless carriers worldwide are planning to move to 4G broadband (LTE or WiMAX) networks. Getting the radio bandwidth needed is one of the most serious problems many carriers face; there just aren’t enough frequencies readily available so the frequencies are fragmented and found in a number of different bandwidths. Multi-protocol 4G chipsets for both WiMAX or LTE will cut handset prices and facilitate roaming between the many WiMAX and LTE frequencies.
Spurred on by the massive demand for high-bandwidth, often multi-media, services and applications, carriers are planning, or have already deployed, 4G broadband wireless networks. Clearwire in the US is deploying mobile WiMAX services and Sweden’s TeliaSonera has chosen LTE. Willcomm in Japan operates under still another 4G, or OFDM-based, variant, known as XGP. These and other service providers are attracted to the high throughput capabilities of 4G technologies on both the uplink and downlink paths, today generally in the 50 to 100 Mbps range, to accommodate demanding applications such as interactive TV, mobile video blogging, and mobile gaming. Turning to the Asia-Pacific region, several carriers, such as NTT DoCoMo and KDDI in Japan, China Mobile and China Telecom in the PRC, KTF and SKT in South Korea, CSL in Hong Kong and Globe in the Philippines have announced plans to deploy 4G in their service areas over the next few years. Most operators will migrate to 4G from 3G, however, in some areas of the Asia-Pacific region, such as in Southeast Asia and rural India, the 2G networks are devoted primarily to voice services, often as a substitute for land line services. Thus, the issue of leapfrogging directly to 4G is now being debated in some countries as part of their nationwide broadband services policies. For example, Malaysia’s newspaper, The Star, recently quoted the managing director of a leading national carrier as saying that a ten per cent improvement in broadband penetration increases GDP by an estimated 1.3 per cent. Currently, the country has a broadband penetration rate of 25 per cent; increasing it to 75 per cent, in this case via 4G services, would result in a six per cent increase in GDP and create a more sustainable economy based upon knowledge workers. Many service providers have had success with 2G voice and they continue to invest in it, especially to maintain roaming services with other carriers. Millions of people still use 2G voice networks so many operators will continue to support it for years. Many factors come into play when deciding if 4G is feasible or desirable. These factors include spectrum availability, internal goals and strategies, the positioning of competing operators, end user device availability and the capacity of existing network base stations and other infrastructure. Some service providers, especially those building greenfield network infrastructure, may opt to go directly to 4G to avoid the need to buy 3G spectrum in an auction. “Only two-three operators will get 3G spectrum so the others can move to 4G. Even if the Government allocates 3G spectrum by September 2010, operators will not be in a position to launch the services before mid- 2011. By that time LTE will be commercially available for operators to deploy. Since even 3G players will ultimately move to LTE, we are looking at moving straight to 4G technology in a year’s time,” says a Delhi-based operator that recently launched its (2G) GSM services. Similar issues exist in other Asia-Pac countries as well. According to Informa Telecoms & Media (UK), in some areas in Asia, only 15 per cent of mobile subscribers are currently connected to 3G services, with the majority of users concentrated in developed markets like Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong, Korea and Australia. The biggest stumbling block to 4G, whether migrating from 3G or going straight from 2G, could well be those of spectrum availability and frequency allocation. The 4G networks require relatively large amounts of spectrum, at least two 20MHz blocks, for each service provider. Regulatory bodies, ‘managing the spectrum’, could take some of the needed spectrum from broadcasters or even the military rather than prolong the technology debate between 3G and 4G. The technology debates, and in-fighting between various interest groups, could cause a lengthy delay in the establishment of 4G service, a point made by 3G adherents. According to the ReThink Wireless e-newsletter of April 16, 2010, Dr Chin-nan Hsien, a commissioner at NCC the Taiwanese regulator, recently commented at an industry gathering that it will take three years before the 700MHz spectrum – seen as the main vehicle for LTE in Taiwan – is reclaimed from the current military and police users. After that, he estimated it will take another two years to conclude the LTE licensing process, and another two years for commercial services to be built out. It should be noted, however, that Taiwan already is something of a hotbed for WiMAX services. As opposed to 3G operations – and as one may expect in a nascent service, the frequency situation for 4G is still, literally, all over the map. For example, the US and Europe are using different frequency bands for 4G, but those frequencies are not available in India as they have been set aside for other local purposes. Using common frequencies around the world is important as the practice would keep down the cost of end user devices and would facilitate network interoperability testing. It would also streamline network OAM&P (operations, administration, maintenance and provisioning) 4G networks. Despite these obstacles, a consensus is emerging that as data replaces voice as the dominant traffic stream over wireless networks, the increase in traffic and decrease of revenues will force carriers to move to 4G. Furthermore, both wireline and wireless portions of the network are moving to flat IP architectures to realize network efficiencies and drive down the cost per bit. Accordingly, operators look to LTE and its all IP architecture to provide some important benefits including: decoupling the cost of delivering service from the volume of data transmitted; reducing the number of network elements in the data path thereby reducing operational costs and capital expenditures; and minimizing system latency to enable an application with a lower tolerance for delay. Mobile operators around the world seek to deploy the next generation of networks to create economies of scale. The next generation of mobile broadband chipsets is playing a surprisingly effective role in achieving economies of scale at various levels within the 4G ecosystem – service providers, network infrastructure and consumer-level devices. Perhaps one of the more promising developments is the rise of multi-protocol 4G chipsets that can be configured for either WiMAX or LTE and which shall, soon, be backwards compatible with 3G networks. This type of flexibility facilitates roaming, service handoff between WiMAX and LTE networks, end user devices and the like. For example, it enables OEMs and ODM (original equipment manufacturers and original design manufacturers) to design and manufacture end-user devices for different 4G standards without needing to change the format of the device or increasing the bill of materials cost. Advances in digital RF (radio frequency) interfaces, for example, allow designer to access a broad range of bandwidth frequencies used by both LTE and WiMAX operators; this is especially important given the wide variety of wireless access bandwidth used around the world. OEMs and ODMs are highly motivated to fully leverage the baseband chipset technology to capture as much of the end-user device business as possible at the lowest possible cost. By using a single LTE baseband chipset to support both FDD (frequency division duplex) and TDD (time division duplex), consumer device manufacturers need to develop and test fewer device designs, and they reduce their inventory costs and overhead support. On the network infrastructure side, the multi-protocol movement is giving a boost to interoperability testing between base station and femtocell equipment and to a wide range of end user devices. Upcoming testing will focus on over-the-air interoperability between network radios and chipsets with both TDD and FDD modes of operation on a range of frequency bands used for LTE. The availability of combined, tested technologies will benefit LTE network operators, systems integrators and OEM/ODM system manufacturers and provide impetus to LTE service trials. Service providers are interested in low power consumption and software-driven programmable architectures that are easily adaptable to LTE’s evolving requirements. By having different software stored inside a device’s flash memory, a subscriber (or a programme) could activate the appropriate 4G service for the subscriber’s location. All of these factors will drive sufficient chip production to drive down prices significantly and push benefits throughout the 4G ecosystem. The multi-protocol 4G chipsets are promising, but the establishment of 4G network themselves – in the Asia-Pacific region, indeed, around the world – will take years to complete. The strategy of leapfrogging directly from 2G to 4G is probably more relevant to operators in the Asia-Pacific region and Africa than the rest of the world. This strategy will be helped by the new chipsets; they are a fundamental technology whose effects will percolate up and throughout the 4G ecosystem.