The Communications Research Centre (CRC) is Canada’s federal centre of excellence for wireless telecommunications R&D and a leading contributor to solutions for wireless demand in a modern economy. Dr. Alex Vukovic, vice-president, networks & systems, for CRC, is appearing on Day One of the LTE World Summit, the premier 4G event for the telecoms industry, taking place on the 24th-26th June 2013 at the Amsterdam RAI, Netherlands.
With so many bands already being used for LTE, can it truly be considered a worldwide standard?
Although there are many bands in which LTE can operate, LTE is considered a worldwide standard. According to the Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA), 163 commercial networks are already launched in 67 countries, with 415 operators in 124 countries now investing in LTE. The same source forecasts that there will be 248 commercial LTE networks in 87 countries by the end of 2013.
What are the best frequencies for operators to focus on if they wish to have a roaming capable band?
This is a real challenge facing service operators. The bands are so fragmented and diverse and often tied to legacy systems. Having globally available bands, which will enable worldwide roaming and interoperability using compatible end-user devices, is currently difficult due to the lack of global harmonisation of spectrum. Moreover, it would be very difficult to render any existing bands due to regulatory and policy challenges presented in each specific administration. To ensure true global roaming, administrations need to adopt directives and spectrum-use policies that support globally harmonised bands for LTE.
It is obvious that there would be many benefits from having global spectrum harmonisation, such as enabling of roaming capabilities, economy of scale, cross-border operation and coordination, interoperability and efficient use of available spectrum. To me, from both technological and practical standpoints, there are several bands of interests for potential solutions to global roaming. For example, the 2.6 GHz band is widely available for LTE systems in both FDD and TDD formats. In the future, we may see the 3.5GHz band and bands in the 600MHz range become home to a collection of LTE systems.
The LTE World Summit, the premier 4G event for the telecoms industry, is taking place on the 24th-26th June 2013, at the Amsterdam RAI, Netherlands. Click here to download a brochure for the event.
Are there any good economic reasons for operators to make LTE roaming more affordable or will lower charges only come through regulatory moves?
Operators have to respect economic conditions. If they see their source of revenue derived from roaming diminishing due to competition, they will be enticed to reduce roaming rates. The bottom line is that mobile network operators always have to look to maintain revenue streams and profitability. However, competition is probably the most viable economic reason for operators to make roaming more affordable.
Nowadays, we have moved into a world of feature-rich content provided over mobile networks, and much of this content is generated by sources other than mobile network operators (from Google, Apple, YouTube, etc.). This poses additional challenges to operators.
Regulatory decisions could indeed impact the affordability of roaming, although the fiscal health of operators would need to be considered before such decisions are made.
Should operators talk to each other on a one-to-one basis or is there a more open way of discussing roaming needs?
Given the type of roaming/equipment commonality problems being faced, I believe that finding a global solution requires more than just service providers discussing amongst themselves. Service providers can easily come up with roaming agreements if their customers’ smart phones and tablets operate on the same bands. This is a complex issue which requires dialog between network equipment manufacturers, end-user device producers, regulatory bodies and service providers.
Traditionally, operators from region to region or country to country establish roaming agreements between themselves. Normally, a clearinghouse is used to transfer billing records and/or perform financial clearing functions among mobile network operators consistent with their roaming agreements.
What lessons do you think can be learned for the technology beyond LTE?
LTE is just in its infancy and all of the features that it can deliver have yet to be fully exploited. We are going to learn a lot about small cells and SON (self-organizing heterogeneous networks) from LTE and its advances. LTE will also teach us about implementing more sophisticated antenna platform technology for smart pads.
We may also make interesting discoveries related to cross-layer communications and to handoff between macro/micro cell systems, such as LTE-to-WiFi handover. This last technology piece will be exciting as it has the potential of devising new kinds of service provisioning concepts that may do much to change the service-provider landscape. The evolutionary development to watch over the next 5-10 years involves the adaptations and evolutions that occur as Wi-Fi and LTE search to find applications niches beyond what they are today.
However, one of the biggest findings so far is that technology interoperability alone, as delivered by LTE, cannot solve the global roaming challenge – a level of global spectrum harmonisation in emerging spectrum allocations is also necessary.
What do you think will be the most exciting development in telecoms in the next two years?
The near future will be very interesting for the global build-out of LTE. Due to the explosive growth of traffic and non-homogeneous nature of traffic in a service area, development of wireless heterogeneous networks will be considered a viable possibility. This will evolve to wireless heterogeneous networks that add to the macro cell capacity by using small cells (microcell, femtocell, handover to Wi-Fi, etc.) as an underlay to the macro coverage. However, the successful implementation of heterogeneous networks faces many challenges in using small cells (e.g. complex interoperation, media-independent handover, billing, interference mitigation, etc.).
Another exciting development will be the emergence of higher-capacity short-range offloading technologies following in the line of Wi-Fi offloading. Unlike heterogeneous networks mentioned above, short-range offloading will focus on the home, office and public hotspot environments by providing hundreds of Mbps over ranges of up to 100 metres.