As a director of technology development, I try to predict what wireless networks architectures will look like in the years ahead. Obviously, no forecaster is perfect. But as I survey what’s occurred over the past few years and look at trends today, I believe there will be a re-ordering of the key influencers determining future wireless network architectures. For this discussion, let’s focus on the US. I believe the key players in the US will be the following, in descending order of influence:
- Content providers such as: Google, Apple, Amazon and media companies such as Disney, CBS, CNN, Fox, Cablevision and Comcast
- Device manufacturers such as: Apple, Samsung, and Google
- Network operators such as: AT&T, Verizon, Vodafone, T-Mobile, and Sprint
- Equipment manufacturers such as: Ericsson, Huawei, NSN, ALU, Cisco, IBM, and HP
Why this order? Because content providers and handset manufacturers are the most profitable, empowering them to have more influence over the networks of tomorrow. Thus, the choice of network technology standards (such as LTE) will be driven by device manufacturers and not solely by infrastructure OEMs and operators. This likelihood is supported by how AT&T is accelerating its LTE deployments today, Verizon’s migration from CDMA to LTE, and Sprint’s abandonment of WiMAX for LTE. The content and devices are increasingly impacting how operators evolve their wireless networks.
Content providers typically want to sell information, advertising, and content to anyone, anywhere. Therefore, mobile applications will impose new requirements on the network architecture. Since mobiles likely won’t have adequate storage or processing capabilities to address newer applications, cloud-based storage and applications will become the norm. Content providers will want to provide wired backhaul (fibre and/or copper) as close as they can to the end user.
The challenge for the wireless infrastructure vendor then is to move this content from the backhaul to the mobile user. I don’t believe a single wireless channel will ever have adequate capacity to support the full range of intended applications. For example, 10 MHz LTE can only provide 75Mbps (peak) for all users. Therefore, data aggregation over multiple channels (Wi-Fi and LTE, licensed and unlicensed) will likely become the norm. Hence the base stations of tomorrow will need to aggregate data across multiple paths and transfer seamlessly to the mobile. Innovations will be required to manage the quality of service and delays across such implementations. LTE will become the norm since most new mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets support LTE.
Attend LTE North America 2012 to hear from the leading US carriers including AT&T, MetroPCS, Verizon, US.Cellular, T-Mobile USA and Clearwire. To see the full speaker line up click here. The conference is on the 14-15th November 2012 at the Fairmont Dallas Hotel, Texas. Click here to download the full conference program.