Once again the mobile industry is entering a new phase of technological change. With the proliferation of data services and smartphones, the mobile operator community is working to address the increasing need for bandwidth with the rollout of next generation 4G networks.
As operators launch LTE services in their home markets, consumers will naturally expect the same quality experience everywhere— especially when they are abroad. In view of this, mobile operators that deploy LTE networks in their domestic markets are starting to review available options to ensure LTE services allow seamless roaming overseas.
The first users of LTE will typically be VIP customers or key corporate accounts, a segment made up of high-end users and frequent travellers. To serve these premium customers operators will need to address LTE roaming requirements sooner, rather than later.
Prepare for roaming
LTE enables new services such as video streaming, HD voice and Voice over LTE applications. However, these services also put high demands on the data roaming backbone and require much more bandwidth and resilient network connectivity. As mobile operators review their LTE Roaming connectivity options, they will need to consider the following business and technical factors in preparation to enable LTE Roaming:
1. Diameter Signalling
The build-out of high-speed LTE networks is different from the technologies that preceded it. LTE requires a completely new signalling protocol. Put another way, SS7 MAP— which has been the rule for 2G / 3G mobile networks — is no longer needed. A new signalling protocol has been introduced, called Diameter.
2. New Roaming Connectivity
In a roaming environment, the existence of this new protocol will require mobile operators to establish new roaming connections. As operators launch LTE networks over the coming years, new roaming connectivity will be required with each new operator. Effectively, the work performed over the last 10 years will need to be repeated!
3. Diameter Relay Agent
To enable this connectivity, operators require a Diameter Relay Agent (DRA). However, in the initial build-out of LTE networks, the majority of mobile operators did not deploy a DRA into their networks. The result is that operators are now facing challenges of the immediate business requirements to enable LTE roaming versus the need to obtain CAPEX budget approvals for the required DRA equipment.
4. An IPX Provider
It is widely accepted that LTE roaming with Diameter signalling will be connected across IPX networks. As LTE roaming proliferates, there will be a need for IPX providers to enable peering both at the data level and at the signalling level. Consideration will also be needed to ensure Quality of Service (QoS) SLAs re implemented.
This is just the first step though. Mobile operators will have some more important choices to make when it comes to providing LTE roaming services – working with LTE roaming hubs or directly connecting with other operators. I look forward to seeing how operators tackle these challenges in order to provide a seamless service for their customers.