09 Feb 2012
Mobile World Congress 2012: the main issues
Our editor Ian Poole looks at some of the main themes and issues we are likely to see at Mobile World Congress between 27 February and 1st March 2012 in Barcelona
Mobile World Congress, MWC, is held each year in Barcelona and it is the main event for the cellular telecommunications industry.
Not only does MWC provide a showcase for the industry in a huge exhibition, but there is also a large conference and it is the best time for getting together in the cellular industry for networking.
Typically around 60 000 people attend each year and there are also over 1000 companies exhibiting.
Everything from mobile phones to Apps and base stations to backhaul as well as a host of other software, hardware and anything else you can think of associated with the mobile industry.
It will be interesting to see what the main themes will be this year.
Speaking to one industry leader, he thought that some of the big discussions would focus around small cells, including femto and beyond.
Updates on LTE with its deployment would also feature highly in many discussions. There are many reports of slower roll out than anticipated because of investment and technical issues.
Then Apps would also feature highly – as they provide much of the functionality behind today’s smartphones, they are an essential element in the financial chain.
Another major issue is bound to be Voice over LTE, VoLTE. Much of the work on VoLTE has been done very late. GSMA announced their backing for the VoLTE system to get some standardisation across the industry at the 2010 MWC and this was after much of the work had been completed on LTE. However one could argue that VoLTE is really only an App anyway.
However there will be many other issues as well. Backhaul is but one to mention.
Broadsoft have been at the forefront of VoLTE work for some time. Said Lesley Ferry, Vice President, Marketing: “The momentum behind LTE in 2011 was enormous. In fact the Global Mobile Suppliers Association announced in May last year that LTE is the fastest developing mobile system technology ever. Last year alone 208 operators in 80 countries invested in LTE, through active and planned trials. Through the GSMA’s One Voice Initiative, launched in 2010 we saw more than 40 global operators, handset manufacturers and network vendors back VoLTE to develop a sustainable ecosystem and increase scalability for devices. While several trials are in place around the world, the operator community is currently remaining tight lipped on the results they have seen so far, and there is no sign yet of LTE handsets hitting the market.”
He went on to say: “2012 will be a definitive year for VoLTE. It is the year we should expect to see a widespread roll-out of VoLTE trials and a heightened impetus on making all future devices LTE compatible, which is exactly what Verizon announced it would be doing at CES in January this year. BroadSoft anticipates that the global operator community and the GSMA will use this year’s Mobile World Congress as a platform to announce further LTE network deployments and handset manufacturers to showcase their first LTE devices to the industry. We should expect at least to see many of the tier-1 operators announcing their ambitions to have deployed fully functional LTE networks in as many markets as possible by mid-2012, which will of course set the foundation for mass-market VoLTE roll-out in the next 24 months.”
The data explosion has long been discussed and is happening. While LTE does provide some improvements in spectrum efficiency use, and there will be gains from further allocations for cellular telecommunications. However these two reasons will not provide the required increase in capacity for the networks. This will have to come from reducing the cell sizes. Indeed, the major capacity increases from 2G to 3G were provided by reducing the cell sizes.
To achieve the reduction in cell sizes to provide for the data explosion that is already taking place, cells must become much smaller.
One way forward that has been at the forefront of news at MWC in years past is that of femtocells. In their basic format they have passed some significant milestones. Notably Sprint in the USA has rolled out 500,000 units and expects to exceed 1 million by 2013. However, several European and Asian operators including Vodafone UK, Japan’s Softbank and France’s SFR, have surpassed 100,000 deployed units. Vodafone, which recently launched a marketing campaign around its UK femtocell offering, now offers femtocells in 12 countries and plans to deploy across the whole group.
However femtocell technology is developing more widely across the cellular ecosystem.
The original concept for femtocells was for deployment in homes and offices as a form of in-building using the users DSL line for backhaul. However many of the major infrastructure vendors are developing “small cell” technology based on the femto concept but for use with the operator’s backhaul network.
As a result of this, femto cells are now tending to be referred to under a more generic “small cell” terminology.
It will be particularly interesting to see how the market is panning out - who is doing what, where and how.
One of the big issues with LTE is that of spectrum. While new spectrum is being allocated for mobile communications and LTE in particular, the issues are not always that straightforward.
Commented Ian Brown, CEO of Axell Wireless: “The industry is adopting different frequencies and spectrum bands in which to run LTE. It’s not just a question of planning operations in new spectrum bands, but also of making use of existing free spectrum or re-farming spectrum that historically has been used for 2G or 3G services.”
“Even if operators are allocated new spectrum for 4G services, they are still considering spectrum re-farming, because they must provide as much capacity as they can and at the lowest cost, which generally means they cannot only rely on huge new chunks of spectrum. So, in order to meet that need for flexible spectrum deployment, architecture not only needs to support the full range of LTE bands, but it also allows an operator to run any combination of 2G, 3G or 4G services within any of those main frequency bands.”
Brown continued: “It’s time for a next generation fibre DAS system that is completely LTE ready and supports frequency bands from FM, VHF and UHF frequency bands right up to 2.6GHz frequencies. Any solution must also support simultaneous support for cellular and for public safety radio coverage to take full advantage of the available spectrum.”
One of the major issues affecting LTE will be that of backhaul. Macrocells will require a much higher data capacity for the backhaul, and new infrastructure will need to be set in place so that the network does not become overloaded.
In addition to this, low cost relatively high capacity backhaul links will be needed for small cells.
Said Adi Nativ VP Marketing at RADWIN: “Backhauling data traffic from small cells introduces unique technological and economic challenges. Small cells will have to be deployed on lamp posts and other street furniture at a typical height of 3 - 8 m. This necessitates non line-of-sight, NLOS backhaul because of obstacles to direct line of sight such as buildings, billboard signs, buses. The small cell (radio) backhauling solutions that will be selected as part of an operator’s portfolio are required to handle dynamic street level conditions, high interference and severe multipath conditions.”
Naturally operators are looking at all forms of backhaul, seeing what the works best for them. While backhaul may not always hit the headlines, it is a crucially important element of any network.
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