Sometimes a simple number is just what you need to gain a snapshot of how something has changed, evolved or moved on. Krish Prabhu, CTO of AT&T started proceedings of Day Two of the LTE North America conference in Dallas by telling the packed audience that since the launch of the iPhone in 2007 data traffic on networks has increased by no less than 20,000 per cent. As he phrased it, “it’s hard to comprehend whatever that means.”
What it indicates to me is that today data is the new oil, the fuel that powers economies worldwide as much, or even more so, than the viscous black liquid that J.R Ewing, (and now his sons) obsesses over. Spectrum is the new black. Dallas, is the perfect location then, for the LTE North America conference, where over the past few days a fine succession of speakers, panellists and analysts have informed, educated and even at times entertained – though admittedly not usually deliberately for the latter.
Over 1,00 attendees have filled the halls and the tracks (66% up from 2011), and walking around I’ve heard from many people how impressed they have been with the quality of the show, in terms of content and of networking opportunities. Speed networking proved to be a particular favourite!
Back to the opening keynote of Day Two and AT&T’s Krish Prabhu, Prabhu, in perhaps a slightly self-congratulatory tone, said that the industry, or perhaps he meant just AT&T, had done a good job of going from that standing start of carrying virtually no data traffic, to meeting the demands of the myriad American football fans who wants to upload picture from the Dallas Cowboy’s stadium during a game. This was made possible through AT&T’s investments such as portable antennas that could be moved into areas such as stadiums as required. Prabhu said that only recently these were used during the Democratic convention in North Carolina and with tongue firmly in cheek, he said that AT&T liked to think that this was one of the reasons why the Democrats won.
Prabhu revealed that over that last five years, AT&T had spent over $90billion on wireless and spectrum to improve the quality of the network. (A tremendous amount – those Dallas Cowboys pictures had better be good) and that with its well publicised Velocity IP investments, AT&T would complete its LTE coverage by the end of 2014 covering some 300m of the population.
Small cells would increase in number through 2013 and 2014 but would be tricky to deploy. SON had been a success for the network so far, and he claimed that it has resulted in a significant improvement in the network. AT&T had measured a reduction in dropped calls by 10 per cent, retention of 3G traffic by the same amount and 15 per cent fewer loaded cells. Asking the audience if they had noticed this improvement amusingly failed to be matched by a show of hands, leading Prabhu to suggest, again tongue-in-cheek, that perhaps AT&T’s measurements could be wrong.
Following the keynote Prabhu joined a panel session with representatives from Google, MetroPCS and Sony Mobile that raised some interesting discussions around the challenges of harmonising the highly fragmenting ecosystem of LTE. But Prabhu once again had a comment that raised a laugh from the audience when he answered the question of whether carriers had a role to play in the face of OTT dominance and whether their investments in IMS and RCS would pay off. “It’s certainly beyond pipes – we don’t invest billions to get $70 a month just so everyone’s Google experience is better – if we do that we’re not smart businessmen!”
The panel also felt that RCS had a good chance to succeed – and could become Telecoms 2.0. It was agreed that the convenience that you don’t need to download an app or a client could help it succeed, as long as it was backed with a decent UI and that it always works.
The positivity on the panel towards the potential for future success was epitomised most definitively by Prabhu who when asked to respond with a positive or negative to the question, “Will customers still pay for voice and SMS in five years”, responded, “Hope so!” Now there’s optimism.
So as the curtain falls on a highly successful LTE North America we can look forward to the next event in the busy LTE calendar, LTE Latin America, on 16th-17th April 2013, in what is again a fast growing market and we’ll see you all back here again next year for LTE North America in Dallas.