Looking Further Down the Mobile Road

Comms Business Magazine columnist Bob Emmerson says he is not a guru but his work does bring him into contact with companies that make the future, so he has a good idea about where we’re heading. He adds that a recent supplement in The Economist was pointing in the same direction and indicating the emergence of a wireless sweet spot. ‘Revolutionary concepts but evolutionary paths’.

“Three key developments are converging. Moore’s law continues to deliver more functionality for lower prices. One result is that mobile phones get more powerful without getting bigger. A few years ago the idea of using a mobile to take high-resolution photos or listen to hi-fi audio clips would have seemed absurd but now we take it for granted.

Mobile video is coming but what’s really important is the intelligence. More on this in a moment.

The industry has made much more efficient use of radio spectrum and this has enabled much higher data rates for less cost. Bandwidths are high as 100 Mbps on the downlink and 50 Mbps on the uplink are just around the corner.

The third development is more complex. 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. Applications will be decoupled from transport, so more and more will be hosted in the Net; and the transport layer will aggregate fixed broadband, wireless broadband, and cellular broadband, so you can use the same device to access the same service/application in the same way. And finally, the network is getting smarter.”

Put it all together Emmerson says that smart devices and smart networks can 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 services and applications to be accessed from different networks and ideally there will be a seamless transfer between the two. Further down our mobile road the transport/aggregation layer will enable access to all services via different networks using your preferred device.

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 (listed in next section) 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 is controlled by software, so upgrades will come via downloads, which is the PC model.

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.

The network knows what service you’re using; it senses the stronger Wi-Fi signal and will transfer when the relevant fixed device is switched on.”

Wireline access will be xDSL which will go to 100 bps and fibre, which is out of sight. 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.

This can’t be done on the network side alone, as users and their devices many have several subscriptions and also use municipal and free networks. In this case the device must assume overall responsibility.

WILL IT HAPPEN?

Will network operators cooperate and accept the fact that the Internet model will prevail, so forget walled gardens. The new breed of Internet-centric service providers like Google will go down this road and voice will be free. It will be the foundation service on which everything else is built. Thus, they will have to go with the flow or go out of business.

This short article can only cover the key highlights of a set of interrelated developments that will take us into a brand-new communications and collaboration space. There are a number of formidable obstacles to overcome, but the industry has the requisite technology. That begs the question; do the operators and service providers have the will?

The answer has to be a qualified yes because of the size of the 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. And the figure for the number of Internet users by that same date is the same: 5 billion.

The great majority of those new subscribers will access the Internet over a wireless broadband connection. FMC is a meaningless concept since there isn’t a legacy copper infrastructure.

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.

SHAMELESS PLUG
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Bob Emmerson is a freelance writer who lives in The Netherlands. Email: b.emmerson@electric-words.org. Web: www.electric-words.org