Readying for 4G
Purushottam Kaushik,VP Sales,Cisco India and SAARC
With the convergence of the Internet and wireless communications, mobile data services are undergoing tremendous growth. As users increasingly enter the network and create an enormous surge in mobile traffic, mobile operators need to focus on the quality of experience they provide to their users. Broadband network technologies such as 3G, enhanced 3G and now 3GPP Long Term Evolution (LTE) or 4G specifications are being deployed to meet user expectations for speed in an increasingly mobile, wireless environment.
Changes in mobile communications have always been evolutionary and the deployment of LTE is expected to be the same. The 4G mobile specifications is expected to provide multi-megabit bandwidth, more efficient use of the radio network, latency reduction, and improved mobility. This would enhance the subscriber's interaction with the network and further drive the demand for mobile multimedia services. With wireless broadband, users can more readily access their Internet services such as online television, blogging, social networking, and interactive gaming on the go. Talking of numbers, the global LTE market is expected to grow from $2.28 billion in 2010 to $262.05 billion in 2015. This represents a CAGR of 158.2% from 2010 to 2015.
Why transition to 4G
The demand for higher data rates, the increase of bandwidth-intensive applications, long duration services, and signalling overheads are demanding a transition to 4G. However the transition from 3G to 4G can take a period of several years and mobile operators will need strategies and solutions that will enhance their existing 3G networks, while addressing their 4G deployment requirements.
As mobile operators prepare their networks to support 4G broadband services that will improve the user experience and yield new revenue opportunities, they need the multimedia core network to be readily upgradeable to the requirements of another 4G architecture called Systems Architecture Evolution (SAE).
There are solutions already deployed in the market which include many of the elements required of the 4G network, including integrated intelligence, simplified network architecture, high bandwidth performance capabilities, and enhanced mobility.
Evolving the Packet Core
Radio access solutions are a primary consideration of the LTE deployment strategy, as LTE impacts the mobile operators most valued asset, the 'spectrum.' As an equally important part of this equation, the multimedia core network will play a central role in enhancing mobility, service control, efficient use of network resources and a smooth migration from 2G/3G to 4G.
There needs to be a transition to a "flat," all-IP core network, called the Evolved Packet Core (EPC), which features a simplified architecture and open interfaces as defined by the 3GPP standards body. This will enable mobile operators provide the best multimedia core solutions to deliver an optimum user experience and build an efficient network.
As they migrate networks to LTE, operators will seek to minimize costs and maximize subscriber usage. This will require core solutions that can address 2G/3G network requirements and be utilized for 4G network introductions. Operators will want to avoid a "forklift" upgrade, while deploying best-in-class solutions based on open standards. Additionally, mobile users will expect a uniform service experience across both networks, with consideration to the bandwidth differences.
Originally LTE was seen as a completely IP cellular system meant only for carrying data, therefore, to carry voice, operators would have to either use 2G / 3G systems or VoIP. However, The Voice over LTE (VoLTE), a system for providing a unified format of voice traffic on LTE, which is being debated in the country at the moment, will be a huge business driver if enabled.
The introduction of the 4G LTE service changes the market dynamics because it will immensely improve quality of VoIP and Video on mobile. It will also enable the operators to use VoIP optimally and in more cost effective manner. However, readiness of ecosystem is critical for running successful 4G LTE services.
Depending on the frequency bands used in that market, it will be essential for LTE devices to be multi-standard and multi-band capable. Spectrum availability is a key factor for the deployment of LTE and alignment within as well as between regions is required to support roaming. The LTE ecosystem will incorporate a breadth of devices and components, software applications and services and will result in the creation of many new business models.
Challenges in India
While it is true that a transition to 4G will bring in numerous benefits to the customers and service providers, the upgrade to 4G comes with its share of apprehensions purely from demand and ROI perspective. In India the uptake of 3G has had its share of problems owing to high tariff, the devices ecosystem, limited footprint etc.
The spectrum auction results for 4G indicate that only few operators are ready for an LTE/4G upgrade. Most of them do not have existing 3G networks; those who are expected to continue to do city pilots with 4G till they see success in existing 3G deployments. Most of the operator environment is also clouded by spectrum issues and launching 4G needs the resolution on same. Current spectrum allocations in 2.3 GHz band is being debated as it has indoor penetration issues.
To build a strong case for new technologies like 4G in India, we need more devices and cost effective mediums to meet the consumer demand. The device eco system is still very nascent on 4G, especially in frequency band that India is opting for. Although cost-effective smartphones are coming into the Indian market we need more devices...more content to meet the consumer demand of entertainment, education etc.
Given the above many operators are looking at SP wifi as a strong complementing technology (micro cell option) and 3G/4G as an overlay network.
The future scenario
It is imperative for mobile operators to identify the multimedia core elements now that will most effectively migrate them to a 4G network in the future. Solutions designed for the specific requirements of the next-generation multimedia core network must include the capability to support both 2G/3G and 4G functionality in a single platform. Mobile operators that want to smoothly migrate their networks must be able to maximize their investments and offer an exceptional experience to their customers.
Even as LTE evolves, many 3G, 2.5G, even 2G networks - whether 3GPP or 3GPP2 - will remain operational for many years to come. Mobile operators will benefit from solutions that can provide 2G/3G functionality now and evolve to 4G functionality later without replacing costly systems and equipment that will still be needed to support legacy networks while subscribers transition to the new network.
Key to creating and delivering high-bandwidth multimedia services in 2G/3G and 4G networks - and meeting subscriber demand - is the capability to recognize different traffic flows, which allows functional elements to shape and manage bandwidth, while interacting with applications to a very fine degree and delivering the quality of service required.
While the deployment of 4G radio access networks receives considerable attention, the EPC has emerged as a critical element in the delivery of next-generation mobile broadband services. As such, mobile operators will benefit solutions that provide the highest levels of flexibility in architecting their networks, including collocation of 2G/3G and EPC functionality in a single platform, open interfaces, and the high performance and intelligence required for an enhanced subscriber experience.