2015 is bringing significant changes to the radio access network (RAN) environment as the insatiable demand for mobile data continues to accelerate. These pressures are forcing operators to rethink their business models and how they operate. CSPs are aware of the need to improve the Quality of Experience for subscribers while also continuing to invest in delivering ever higher data rates. The RAN will play a critical role in enabling this transformation, and conveniently, is also where I come in, as Empirix’s RAN Solution Manager. Part of my role is to look at the current state of the industry and where it is heading.
Below are a few items that operators need to be thinking about for 2015 and beyond:
- LTE is clearly mainstream with 360 commercial deployments. Operators now need to think about how they will deploy LTE Advanced as it is being rapidly adopted with approximately 49 commercial deployments so far. Another factor to consider is TDD which is better suited for the typical asymmetric use of data services (with more demand for downlink traffic than uplink). 3G TDD had limited success but 4G TDD is already more widely deployed with 48 deployments.
- The LTE spectrum auctions are generating mind numbing prices ($45B in the US alone!) as the opportunity to leverage new frequencies to generate revenues heats up. The 1800 MHz band is the most widely deployed LTE band due the large availability of spectrum, the ability to refarm from GSM to LTE and also because it offers a balanced combination of coverage and capacity.
- Service providers continue to monetize existing assets, as revealed by the fact that GSM/EDGE is still the dominant radio technology, accounting for 57% of all mobile subscriptions.
- 5G is still undefined, with no clear timeline for standardization. Ambitions for 5G revolve around the need for ubiquitous connectivity, mass machine to machine communication (otherwise known as the Internet of Things – IoT), improved spectral efficiency, and lower OPEX and CAPEX costs through improvements in network architecture.
- Virtualization, already widely deployed in the enterprise, is now gaining widespread acceptance by operators (in the form of NFV). For the RAN environment, this is represented by acronyms like C-RAN, or Cloud RAN, which is gaining traction as a concept and while there will be early adopters for 4G it will realistically be 5G before C-RAN is accepted by the mass market. Like what we saw with the enterprise space, don’t be surprised if some “cloud washing” occurs! (many vendors will suddenly be a cloud something)
- There is a strong demand for open and scalable interfaces (to help lower OPEX and CAPEX as well), this will act as an enabler for virtualization, SDN (Software Defined Networks) as well as increasing the choice of suppliers.
- The real battle ground in RAN will be over End-user Quality of Experience. Poor quality of service is still a major reason (between 40-80%) for customer churn. Conversely, expect those with superior quality to leverage this a marketing tool.
- Mobile data traffic is expected to increase at a CAGR of 40% with the bulk of that traffic driven by mobile phones (as opposed to tablets, mobile routers). In fact 2014 was the year that mobile devices supplanted fixed devices or even laptops as the number one access point for web and data searches. Service providers need to be able to meet all current and future demands. Expect the demand for voice will remain relatively static.
- Big brother will definitely be watching, expect geo-location services to rank highly on the marketing teams wish list so they can monetize their platforms with advertisers who want to run targeted campaigns.
These are just a few of the things I am keeping an eye on in 2015, but I would love you hear from you. What do you see as the next innovation worth watching in the RAN space?
Written by Gerard Carroll – Gerard on LinkedIn | Posts by Gerard
Gerard is Empirix’s RAN Solution Manager and has worked on radio interfaces for over twenty years with companies such as Ericsson, Siemens and NEC. He is an expert in the field of mobile telephony, with extensive experience in mobile network monitoring for 2G, 3G and 4G RAN’s.