13 Dec 2012

2013 Cellular / Mobile Technology Trends

Our editor speaks to some of the leaders in the cellular industry to find out what they are thinking will happen in 2013 and where the market trends are leading.

With the deployment of LTE in full swing, the cellular industry has reached a major milestone, but the developments are still moving on apace.

2013 will see some many major new development’s and initiatives. Seeing what the real trends will be over the coming year will be important for many following he industry.

Obviously there are some key areas, but what new technologies will start to rise? Another important element for the way the technology to develop is to understand what the user really wants, or can make use of. While the technology may be available to achieve some new function, the cellular technology trends will be governed by the use that can be made of the new facilities.

The background

The needs and requirements for users of mobile connectivity are developing all the time. Cost and availability are two key factors. However users are also keen to run many new Apps on their smartphones, so the ability to buy, and properly run these are also key factors for operators to be aware of.

As Paul Cobos, Sales Director at ZTE Corporation commented: “The emergence of the completely connected business and home, coupled with demand for feature rich services such as P2P, HDTV, 3DTV, Interactive 3D and cloud computing, has created an urgent need for significantly higher capacity bandwidth.”

“The challenge for most operators is how to get more for less. More bandwidth, more data, more customers – all in a market with downward pressure on prices.”

With the trend for revenue from voice calls continuing to fall, along with the cost per bit of data,, operators must be able to increase overall revenues by increasing the amount of data they are able to carry.

Data will continue to rise dramatically. According to Citrix Bytemobile analytics, in late 2012, YouTube traffic generated from mobile devices accounted for 25% of total data usage on networks, and mobile views have risen from 6% to 25% over the past 18 months.

Citrix ByteMobile predicts that not only will video content double in volume in 2013, but also that its overall percentage of total mobile data traffic on networks will rise to 60%. Vodafone Germany, one of the frontrunners of LTE deployments in Europe, already found that 75% of its traffic was from video. Clearly, video and its supporting technology – smartphones, LTE networks and video optimization – will experience an increased demand in 2013.

Nobody wants to watch a video of any kind that stalls 30 to 50 seconds for every 60 seconds of content. With more sophisticated smartphones on efficient, high capacity LTE networks, mobile subscribers can expect a consistently good user experience, but enhanced traffic management will be required to make best use of the additional data.

LTE and LTE-A

LTE is now reasonably well established as a technology. Deployments are continuing apace. The deployments are expanding in countries such as the USA and around Asia, and Europe. Deployments started in the UK as well.

Nokia Lumia 620

Another factor affecting the trends for LTE deployments is the fact that many developing countries, and particularly those without a major investment in 3G, are moving directly to LTE. This is provides not only a voice call system, but also high speed broadband.

As such one of the major cellular trends for 2013 will be the ever growing deployment for LTE.

However as Paul Cobos of ZTE stated: “We expect that the industry conversation in 2013 will be turning to LTE-A as consumers continue to demand better mobile access. A key driver for this, of course, will be the availability of devices that can deliver a better and better user experience at a more affordable cost.”

While LTE is moving onwards to LTE-A, one of the key concerns remains the battery consumption. With the modulation scheme used requiring near linear output stages, these stages that generate the final transmitted signal need to be high power and therefore efficiency levels are key. As a near linear output stage is required, this reduces the efficiency levels. Combined with the numerous bands used by LTE this places further limitations on the output efficiency levels achievable.

As a result of the additional power requirements resulting from LTE and the additional data that can be downloaded quickly, battery life became a real issue. Technology to overcome the problem included the use of larger and more efficient batteries along with techniques such as envelope tracking that enabled much greater levels of efficiency in the RF power amplifiers to be achieved.

These and more ideas are likely to be major trends for mobile technology in 2013.

Small cells

Another area that will receive a lot of attention in 2013 is that of small cells. Although LTE does offer some advantages in spectrum efficiency over some other systems, it is only marginal and will certainly not achieve the step changes required.

Instead this will be achieved by reducing the size of the cells. Only by doing this can the network capacity see a real increase.

Reducing cell sizes enables more users to connect and send their data to and from the network. Macro cells will still be used, but small cells will unlock the data needs for the oncoming data tsunami that is now starting to hit the networks.

To illustrate this, Goldman Sachs expects small cells to drive 18%t of RAN investment by 2016, and crucially, this 18% may be handle as much as 80% of all the traffic.

Although femtocells paved the way and initially took the limelight, operator run small cell technology is now the major driver.

Analyst firms such as Infonetics, ABI Research, and Informa expect enterprise small cells to be the fastest growing segment of the overall small cell market. ABI predicts small cells for enterprise deployments will catch up with DAS by the 2016 timeframe, reaching the $2 billion mark by 2016.

Says Ronny Haraldsvik, Senior Vice President and CMO at SpiderCloud Wireless: “Scalable small cell systems are in the early days of making a bigger impact in metropolitan public access markets, and evolving to include all access technologies in various form factors. The next battleground is for sustainable ARPU and the enterprise markets.”

However an interesting comment was made by Maravedis Rethink: “Building the 4G network around dense zones of small base stations, often creating a dedicated layer beneath the macro network, has become almost received wisdom. However, throwing hundreds of thousands of miniaturized base stations at lamp posts will cost huge sums and deliver more interference than profit. Successful operators will form partnerships to secure the best sites and spectrum, and will invest in the best tools to plan and manage their networks in an agile way.”

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About the author

Ian Poole is the editor of Radio-Electronics.com. Having studied at University College London to gain his degree he went on to undertake a career in electronic development working for companies including Racal. He became the hardware development manager at Racal Instruments where he was in charge of the hardware development activities within the company. Later moving in to freelance work as a consultant he also developed Radio-Electronics.com to become one of the leading publications for professional electronics engineers. He is also a Fellow of the Institution of Engineering and Technology and is an author of over 20 books.

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