We need 4G

We need 4G

Ken Wirth, president of Alcatel-Lucent’s
Ken Wirth, president of Alcatel-Lucent’s 4G/LTE wireless networks,

With the sky rocketing adoption of data services by mobile subscribers using handsets and laptops, data traffic is going through the roof; revenue from mobile services will surpass the $1 trillion mark in 2011, while global mobile broadband traffic will reach 14 Exabyte’s during 2014, according to research from Informa Telecoms & Media. 3G usage is pushing the ceiling on threshold levels, and threatening to destroy the end user experience. Here, Heather McLean looks at what is being done with 4G technologies to turn this challenge into an opportunity.

3G and 3.5G networks are increasingly proving incapable of handling data traffic, especially in urban areas and places with a high smartphone density, according to Portio Research. Portio states that facing a need for near constant enhancement of data transfer rates and mobile broadband network efficiency, mobile network operators are planning to move to 4G technologies to accommodate the surge in data traffic and turn this challenge into an opportunity.

LTE V WiMax

Long Term Evolution (LTE) and Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access (WiMAX) are the main pathways to the creation of 4G networks that operators have to choose between, and on which they can build their data handling capacities, Portio says.

Miguel Myhrer, managing director of Accenture’s North American wireless network practice and new product development and innovation practice, notes: “Both LTE and WiMAX provide a significant shift in wireless architecture, and both promise to deliver broadband-like download speeds over the air that are significantly faster than 3G. Both standards are expected to provide wireless broadband speeds on par with existing high speed internet services from wired cable operators or DSL providers.”

 

While WiMAX has enjoyed a first mover advantage and a headstart, LTE’s benefits, not least that LTE is a natural progression for mobile network operators operating on GSM and UMTS networks, and offers the ability to lower the cost of delivering data services, are expected to drive a surge in LTE network deployments in the coming years, Portio states.

Alcatel-Lucent believes that LTE is the next step for most wireless operators (2G and 3G, CDMA, and WiMax). To date, more than 100 network operators in 41 countries have made commitments to deploy LTE starting in 2010, according to the GSMA. There are six commercially live LTE networks today: TeliaSonera in Sweden and Norway (2); Ucell and MTS in Uzbekistan (2); Aero2 and CenterNet Mobile in Poland (1); and MetroPCS in the US (1).

 

What is 4G?

The term 4G is mostly being used to differentiate next generation networks from current networks based on 3G or 3G+ (HSPA+), or in other words to designate beyond 3G technologies, says Ken Wirth, president of Alcatel-Lucent’s 4G/LTE wireless networks.

Wirth notes as part of ITU’s IMT-2000 3G radio standards only LTE Advanced (IMTadvanced) and WiMAX (802.16m) are eligible to be termed as 4G. So from a standards perspective, neither first LTE networks nor current WiMAX (802.16e) networks are 4G.

However, adds Wirth, if you look at it from a technology evolution, we have moved from amplitude modulation (1G) to frequency and time modulation (2G/GSM) to code division multiple access (3G/CDMA/WCDMA), and now to the fourth generation of modulation/multiplexing that is based on orthogonal frequency division (4G/OFDMA).

Wirth continues that from end user perspective, both LTE and WiMAX represent a step function and provide significantly greater quality of experience compared to 3G, hence, lots of stakeholders (operators, device and infrastructure vendors, press) name both technologies as ‘4G’.

 

What should 4G deliver?

Features of what a 4G technology should deliver commonly include:

• Greater speeds, Multi Mbps (vs. Kbps) average speeds in mobile or stationary usage scenarios  
• Provide full mobility
• Be All-IP to deliver a lower cost/bit, and in particular support VoIP services and low latency and bandwidth   hungry applications like video
• Enable service-aware management of QoS
• Provide seamless compatibility with legacy networks and high quality user terminals suitable for worldwide use

 

Natural evolution

Ken Wirth, president of Alcatel-Lucent’s 4G/LTE wireless networks, notes: “In terms of interoperability with existing networks LTE is the natural evolution path for all GSM, WCDMA, HSPA and CDMA, CDMA1x, EVDO networks. A great deal of effort has been spent on standardisation to ensure the smoothest possible evolution towards LTE and interworking between networks based on these technologies. In other words, with LTE all technology paths are now aligned as part of the same family.”

Wirth continues: “WiMAX on the other hand is driven by a different standards organisation called IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers). It has been preferred mostly by greenfield operators that do not have any 2G or 3G wireless network, primarily to serve underserved broadband internet access demand where TDD spectrum was auctioned over the past couple of years.

4G WiMax networks are a few years ahead of LTE on the product ecosystem, so WiMax currently has wider adoption than LTE across the globe. David Penny, managing director at FWA Solutions, notes that the 2.xGHz bands have much better propagation characteristics than 3.5GHz and so can offer better urban coverage, so the lower 2.xGHz bands are therefore the band of choice for the LTE networks. Unfortunately, he adds that this 2.6GHz band in the UK will not be auctioned by Ofcom until end of 2011, so we will be unlikely to

 

Both to succeed

Yet both technologies offer considerable performance enhancements over the current 3G solutions, says Penny. Both 4G WiMax and 4G LTE are efficient at delivering fast IP data in a mobile environment, both can deliver real world users average data throughputs of over 10Mbps, and even higher speeds in very small cells. Consequently both technologies are likely to find a cellular network. WiMax can potentially deliver a more cost effective data service to consumers or workers within a particular area of cover. WiMax could for example carve a niche in offering private networks, providing a region or city wide network for a public sector network, or covering a rural area as a contender for the rural broadband ‘not spot’ challenge,” continues Penny.

 

Differentiation for WiMax

“We see that 4G WiMax will compete with 4G LTE and differentiate its networks by serving fewer users with more capacity to offer a higher usage service, than compared with those packages likely to be available on the 4G LTE,” summarises Penny.

While Wirth remarks: “With LTE networks getting launched in 2010, several operators, including Yota Networks in Russia, who picked WiMAX initially, have turned to LTE for the economies of scale and interoperability with existing networks. LTE is also available for TDD spectrum with large carriers like China Mobile driving the ecosystem for TD-LTE,” he adds.

Wirth continues: “We see WiMAX business opportunities for regional or small scale networks in the future, rather than for large scale global deployments. The latest figures from the WiMAX Forum indicate there are 592 networks deployed in 148 countries. That being said, this number includes several fixed WiMAX networks (both proprietary or based on the earlier 802.16d standard) deployed years ago, with a large number of these networks being small scale, regional networks that are not comparable with typical mobile networks in terms of size, scale and capability.”

However, there are issues associated with 4G technologies, warns Myhrer. He says both LTE and mobile WiMAX are in the early stages of deployment. They require substantial investments from carriers, who currently are still completing and consolidating their 3G rollouts. “In fact, penetration in terms of 3G connections is still about 50% in North America and Europe. On the device side, 4G devices are relatively fewer, compared to 3G, (a majority of them are still data cards for laptops) and will gain popularity as users demand and adopt high bandwidth, multimedia applications.”

 

LTE to dominate

Yet Wirth states he believes LTE will win the popularity race in the long run: “Alcatel-Lucent’s belief is that LTE will be the dominant global technology choice for mobile service providers and will be unmatched in terms of performance, economies of scale, feature capabilities, device and applications ecosystem and delivering what today’s mobile users are demanding,” he concluded.

Nearly 84% of mobile operators around the world will be moving from HSPA and HSPA+ in anticipation of their evolution to LTE; 16% of operators will move from CDMA and EVDO (ITP.net, 2010)

Dan Warren, senior director of technology at the GSMA, states: “An important factor behind the growing momentum of LTE is the availability of a migration path for operators from any legacy technology and the supporting ecosystem that stems from this. The same cannot be said for WiMAX. As a result, all of the major mobile operators around the globe are committing to LTE, including China Mobile, Vodafone, Telefonica, Orange, and Verizon Wireless to name a few.

“The dominant mobile broadband technology today, however, is HSPA with over 330 million connections worldwide,” added Warren. “And HSPA+ is rapidly gaining momentum. T-Mobile in the US announced recently that its existing HSPA+ network is delivering between 5Mbps and 8Mbps download speeds, putting it on a par with Clearwire’s WiMAX network.”

According to Wireless Intelligence, 134 HSPA networks around the globe currently deliver peak data rates above 7.2 Mbps, while 41 HSPA networks currently deliver peak data rates above 14.4 Mbps. Altogether, there are currently over 331 million HSPA connections spanning 129 countries globally, with more than 14 million connections being added each month around the world. Wireless Intelligence’ research also shows there are 64 live HSPA+ networks in service in 37 countries delivering peak data rates in excess of 21 Mbps.

 

Driving changes

Myhrer states the future will be different when 4G networks go mainstream: “With 4G, companies have the opportunity for lower cost delivery of broadband, VoIP, video and internet access beyond current cable network infrastructures. For satellite and cable operators, 4G represents a way of extending their footprints at reduced cost. For incumbent and start up mobile operators, the high speeds promised by 4G provide a potential to open new markets, especially involving Web 2.0 video capabilities, as well as provide products and services over high speed wireless broadband.

“In addition, the impact of video on the radio network can certainly not be underestimated. With 4G’s superior throughput and faster connections, businesses can deploy applications for improved collaboration, such as sophisticated audio-video conferencing, or remote PC access applications, to improve business productivity and workers’ mobility. In addition, 4G technologies’ superior security features will enable secure retail and financial transactions from 4G devices, expanding business reach and enhancing end user experiences,” notes Myhrer.

Warren comments that the arrival of 4G will drive some big changes in mobile devices and applications for both consumers and business users. “The arrival of 4G networks will continue the drive towards smartphones and tablets with bigger and better displays, capable of handling and showcasing high quality video and gaming applications. There are already more than 20 LTE devices, including the Samsung Craft, launched in conjunction with the MetroPCS LTE network in Las Vegas. More handsets and USB dongles are being brought to market, with imminent LTE network launches, such as Verizon Wireless in the US, driving development.”

 

Full steam ahead

On how 4G will affect the direction that the development of applications for business and consumer are taking, Warren states: “Applications will be much more focused on the ‘small screen’, as end users adopt smartphones and tablets as primary devices when on the move. Applications that have been primarily developed for desktop computers supported by fixed line connections will be configured for these connected mobile devices. In particular, video applications, including mobile video calls, will rise in popularity as the capability for high quality streaming and download increases.

“As mobile broadband coverage, capacity and speed increases, mobile cloud computing will become a reality. The ability to store and process data away from the handset is vital in boosting the potential for business services, and mobile broadband is the key enabler. Mobile cloud computing will enable business users to enjoy more and more applications and services with a very high standard of user experience,” adds Warren.

Myhrer states that WiMAX and LTE will find widespread application in consumer electronics, utility and enterprise markets. “The promise of 4G is to allow a mobile device ecosystem that goes beyond the handsets, smartphones, and the tablets we see today. This capability will influence enterprises to use 4G based products to enable a more mobile workforce, as well as to embed wireless capabilities into their existing and future product offerings.

“All of this is being driven by 4G’s ability to provide lower cost per bit of delivery, 4G’s ability to address the growth in data and video consumption, and the proliferation of smart devices, including smart devices in the prepaid market,” he remarks.

 

End user demand

Alcatel-Lucent says that findings from an extensive pan-European study of consumers and enterprises shows that there is strong support and demand for applications enabled by LTE networks. Using the results of the study, Alcatel- Lucent confirmed that this interest in new LTE optimised applications could be translated into a significant market opportunity for services providers.

Findings indicate that more than half of consumers surveyed are likely to sign up for LTE, and 40% would switch network providers to gain access to the technology. The main perceived benefit for consumers was faster speeds. Live messaging, next generation music, and enhanced mobile video were the top three consumer applications tested.

“The survey confirmed that interest in signing up for LTE services was found to be high across all enterprise segments, and was especially high in medium and large sized businesses,” Wirth continues. “Findings indicate that more than half of small sized businesses, and more than three quarters of medium sized and large sized enterprises are interested in signing up for next generation network access for their employees.

“The findings also indicate that more than half of small sized businesses, over 70% of medium sized companies, and over 80% of large sized enterprises report they would change service providers in order to get LTE,” concluded Wirth.

 

Ed says:4G will be the next big thing for mobile operators, it seems. Welcome to the new, brave new world of mobile!