LTE to set new stage for mobile operators; small cells and all-IP networks amongst the challenges
Korea, Japan and China lead LTE deployment; rest of South-East Asia, including Malaysia, to follow
THE wireless industry is at an inflection point as customers are not only demanding more raw bandwidth to support new Internet-based services, but also a better customer experience to go along with these services, according to telco giant Alcatel-Lucent.
The Franco-American telco gear maker said these demands are in turn driven by other prevailing factors – the advent of Long Term Evolution (LTE) utilising small cells and the pervasive use of the Internet Protocol (IP) as the de facto service delivery mechanism for modern telecommunication networks.
Speaking to Digital News Asia in an interview, Lindsey Newell (pic), vice president of marketing and communications networks at Alcatel-Lucent, noted that with LTE, the concept of the ‘small cell’ serving subscribers as opposed to larger cells has come to the fore.
“Small cells can be sub-divided into cells that are used to serve a metropolitan (metro), enterprise or residential environment,” he said. “But by far, the greatest opportunity for small cells is in the metro environment as they cater to large dense markets.”
In telecommunication parlance, small cells refer to the use of low radio frequency (RF) powered base stations to carry signals to and from the mobile phone. Traditionally, large base stations were used to carry the signals; hence the term macro cells as opposed to small cells.
Stephen Vogelsang, vice president of strategy and chief technology officer of core network division for Alcatel-Lucent, concurred, noting that the real push for adopting small cells is to scale both capacity and coverage.
Traditional small cells in 3G networks were deployed more to extend RF coverage, but the industry is witnessing the deployment of small cells in metro areas, the goal of which is to provide more capacity to users using LTE as the technology of choice, Vogelsang added.
“Small cells are also more advanced in that they have self-organising properties via a technology called SON (self-organising networks),” he said. "SONs have much higher degree of automation and the goal is to get very high capacity out of these small cells so that they can support higher bandwidth demands [in LTE networks].”
Newell also noted that with small cells, base stations could be easily mounted on light poles and sides of buildings without being too obtrusive.
“The big challenge for operators today is not about the functionality of the RF equipment itself but where it is placed, how to get power to it, and how to connect it back [to the data centre],” Newell said.
“There are also challenges with aesthetics such as how to make the equipment blend in with the environment as well, as the last thing people want to see is ugly technology attached to sides of buildings that aren’t pleasing [to the eye].”
While small cells relate directly to increasing coverage and capacity for soon-to-be-deployed LTE networks, the use of an end-to-end IP infrastructure is another factor operators are grappling with, said Newell.
Noting that today’s residential broadband networks are basically an evolution of the dial-up and DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) connections, Newell said operators are no longer merely providing IP as a means of connecting to the Internet but to also provide multi-service platforms.
“What we’re seeing now is a large scale replacement of older technology that is capable of doing high-performance subscriber management and can manage services such as managed IPTV (IP television) service, over-the-top (OTT) video, all with an integrated WiFi gateway functionality attached to it.
“These devices are essentially intelligent service routers as they do not just route IP packets but also have the capabilities to understand how much bandwidth to deliver, subscriber contexts [who is using what], and can manage multiple services all at the same time.
“In the past, this was achieved through the use of multiple networks but today, it’s all on one network,” Newell explained, adding that such networks allow operators to realise the promise of convergence.
Asked who were some of the mobile operators in Asia Pacific that could be already experiencing some of the aforementioned challenges, Rick Clark, vice president of marketing strategy and public affairs for Alcatel-Lucent Asia Pacific, said that Korea and Japan (Softbank) lead the way in LTE deployments, with China going big this year.
“There has been dynamic LTE take-up of up to 60% penetration in Korea after only 18 months deployment,” Clark said. “And this is bearing in mind that they have one of the most robust 3G networks in the world.”
Clark said the next mega market will be China as its largest operator, China Mobile, is already running trials with 20,000 base stations, with 10 times that number to follow when LTE is fully deployed.
“Malaysia and Singapore too with their vibrant [wireless] operators will also be a market for us [Alcatel-Lucent] to look out for,” Clark said. “We’ve not be been strong in the 3G market in the past but we've re-focused ourselves and preapared for the LTE [era] and we’re looking forward to the LTE market, especially in Asia, in the coming years.”
LTE gestation to take time
Mobile operators vs OTT: No end in sight
Will LTE rescue mobile operators?
Maxis claims first to launch 4G LTE service
A brief history of LTE
For more technology news and the latest updates, follow @dnewsasia on Twitter or Like us on Facebook