Converging Developments – Where are we heading with Mobile?

Comms Business Magazine writer Bob Emmerson says, “I’m not a guru but my work does bring me into contact with companies that make the future, so I have a good idea about where we’re heading.”

Three key developments are converging. One: Moore’s law continues to deliver more functionality for lower prices. Mobiles are more powerful, they can handle multimedia content, screens are bigger, but they’re still hand-held devices.

Two: The industry has made much more efficient use of radio spectrum and this has enabled much higher data rates for less cost.

And three: Networks are getting flatter; they’re transitioning to IP — wireless as well as wireline, which reduces OPEX and in turn this is going to drive flat rate models. The new architecture will allow applications to be decoupled from transport, so more and more apps will be hosted in the Internet space. In addition, a new transport layer will aggregate fixed broadband, wireless broadband, and cellular broadband. And finally, the new networks will be smarter.

PUT IT ALL TOGETHER

Smart, powerful devices and smart networks will work together in spectacular ways. Only time will tell what emerges and to a certain extent the functionality will depend on operators cooperating with each other for the greater good: their own and that of their subscribers.

Fixed Mobile Convergence (FMC) can be seen as the first step. FMC allows the same applications to be accessed from different networks. Further down the road the transport/aggregation layer will enable access to all applications via different networks using your preferred device. Thus, apps will be access agnostic and the end user experience will be consistent.

The device will select the best available signal and transfer to another network when a better signal is available. Note that we are not talking about today’s dual-mode Wi-Fi/GSM devices. There will be several air interfaces and the phone will be able to detect them all. That’s due to the processing power of the chips plus the fact that a lot of functionality will be controlled by software, so upgrades will come via over-the-air downloads.

The combination of smart devices working in conjunction with smart networks will even enable the service to be transferred to a different device. For example, you may be watching a football match (it has to be Chelsea) on your mobile and when you get home it will transfer to the TV or a PC.

MULTIPLE ACCESS NETWORKS

Wireline access will be xDSL, cable and fibre. On the wireless side there’s 3G, Wi-Fi, WiMAX, HSPDA and something called LTE (Long Term Evolution). The device will select the optimum network. However, enabling robust connectivity over multiple access networks can only be achieved when security and identity management systems are in place and when they interoperate seamlessly.
That can’t be done on the network side alone, as users and their devices may have several subscriptions and also use municipal and free networks. In this case the device must assume overall responsibility.

WILL IT HAPPEN?

There are a number of formidable obstacles to overcome, but the industry has the requisite technology for the new architecture. That begs the question; do the operators and service providers have the will?

On one hand Internet-centric service providers like Google and Skype are challenging them. So something has to give. On the other there is a huge opportunity. Around 5 billion people will have a mobile subscription by 2015, most of the growth coming from the emerging markets, principally China and India.
Conclusion: it’s going to be a broadband, ubiquitous wireless world, and a decade and a bit after the bubble, the Wireless Internet will be a reality that we take for granted.

Bob Emmerso Email: b.emmerson@electric-words.org. Web: www.electric-words.org Bob edits his own “Euro Innovations”, a free, monthly newsletter. Send an email to get a copy.