Kevin M. Kleinsmith, Director of Engineering, Union Wireless (USA)

Kevin M. Kleinsmith, Director of Engineering, Union Wireless (USA)

Kevin M. Kleinsmith, Director of Engineering, Union Wireless (USA) is speaking on the subjects of VoLTE and backhaul at the LTE North America conference, taking place on the 21st-22nd November 2013, in Dallas, Texas, USA. Ahead of the show we speak to him about the details of what is required to implement VoLTE on a network.

Is there any difference between the challenges of VoLTE roaming within the US, and roaming internationally?

There are several key differences in domestic roaming and international roaming. The biggest challenges come from the way the VoLTE call would be handled by a local breakout or would it have to go all the way back to the home network. Breaking it out as local as possible would be ideal, however, now we have to change the way the billing is currently handled. The GSMA-NA groups related to this, such as IREG and BARG, are trying to resolve the best practices, but until the industry agrees on a practice, a lot of smaller companies are simply going to have to rely on their major partners or third-party vendors on the proper solutions given their specific relationships.

The LTE North America conference is taking place on the 21st-22nd November 2013, in Dallas, Texas, USA. Click here NOW to download a brochure for the event.

What are you timescales for VoLTE and how do the challenges of implementing VoLTE differ for a rural carrier compared to a Tier 1?

Right now we are still in a wait-and-see approach on VoLTE, mainly due to the high costs related to the platform as a whole. Device availability is also paramount to any successful launch.

Once a carrier has achieved full 4G coverage on its network, is VoLTE the last stage necessary for retiring legacy networks?

Getting rid of 2G and even now 3G is a long way down the road. Most US carriers have a date projected of 2-5 years out on shuttering the legacy 2G platforms and no one really has mentioned anything about the same process for 3G technologies. I think the key here will be how well we can work the inter-platfom capabilities of VoLTE to RCS. Most people tend to forget that VoLTE is an LTE-only technology, so if you have a VoLTE only phone, it cannot work on any other RAN technology, not even Wi-Fi. So carrier offloading to Wi-Fi would still have to require some other voice capabilities. The same is true for EV-DO or HSPA – neither support VoLTE calls. So if a carrier relies on CSFB or RCS, how will the calls work with one side doing streaming class services and the other using best efforts? This was a recent work item at the GSMA-NA and no one really has an answer, except that the legacy networks will be there to support the calls. But if we are LTE only, what is the plan then? So in order to really answer this question, one has to fix the VoLTE island issue of voice calls to other voice over IP solutions and then we can consider shuttering legacy networks.

What are the challenges of delivering backhaul to rural locations, and what are the key technologies you are using?

This is really the $1 million question today. In urban and suburban markets, people take for granted the availability of bandwidth on the terrestrial side. Even in many ‘rural’ classified markets, people are addressing this with fibre to the tower as most are partnering with companies to do this in the majority of their sites. Where we are in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, fibre simply is not a reasonable option. You cannot plough across granite, and overhead lines do not last due to the weather. Here the minority of the sites are fed with fibre and the majority is fed with microwave. We have over 475 microwave paths today feeding around 400 tower sites. This worked well in the TDM days, but now with IP, you simply cannot have eight hop paths due to latency and bandwidth aggregation. For the future we are focusing on building a hub-spoke model, where the hubs are built with fibre and they spoke out as far as possible with microwave, with only two or three hops off each spoke, as the latency requirements allow. When you are dealing with over 200,000 square miles, crossing mountain ranges over 13,000-14,000 feet, this is a very interesting challenge to say the least.

How important is Diameter based signaling and IPX to your plans?

Diameter is the heart and soul of the future of all signaling related to LTE. Just as the data core was key to the success of rolling out 3G type data services, Diameter binds the ability to do IMS, roaming with IPX and is key to VoLTE services with local breakout. A company could theoretically skip Diameter, if they were only looking to do LTE as a data centric play, but once you want to add voice and/or roaming, you simply must have a solid deployment of Diameter, not to mention the services on top that enable LTE to blossom to its full potential as a RAN technology.

What is the LTE North America conference such an important date in your diary?

We first came to this show a few years back when we were looking at how we would be able to meet our license build out requirements and quickly learned that LTE was more than an overlay on top other 3GPP networks. Our eyes were opened to a new thought process of bringing the IP as far out to the customer as possible and the ideas of services on top of the RAN instead of within the framework. For a small carrier, one could quickly drown in all of the standards, roaming concerns, integration pieces for IMS, and on and on. Being at a conference where the focus in nothing but LTE and having all the key thinkers within the industry discussing this openly, we were able to build a framework that enabled us to successfully deliver a network that exceeded our build out requirements and now enables us to commercialise the system we originally intended to be nothing but a license save. Hopefully now, we can help pass along our best practices to others who are where we were a few years back and we can continue to grow LTE for North America to being the showcase for the world.

The LTE North America conference is taking place on the 21st-22nd November 2013, in Dallas, Texas, USA. Click here NOW to download a brochure for the event.

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