Want to find out more about what comes after 4G? Paul Ceely, head of network strategy at EE is speaking on the subject of evolving beyond LTE on Day One of the 10th annual LTE World Summit, the premier 4G event for the telecoms industry, taking place on the 23rd-26th June 2014, at the Amsterdam RAI, Netherlands. In this interview we find out his views on the impact new technology such as NFV will make and how the carrier plans to maintain its 4G leadership.
Do you feel any pressure for EE to be leaders in terms of network technology?
Our ambition and vision is to build the best network and best service so our customers trust us with their digital lives. And to this end we see network technology and more specifically LTE and LTE-A as a way to maintain network leadership. Technology is evolving increasingly quickly, both on the user device side and the network, and so to maintain network leadership we must maintain technology leadership.
To what extent have you virtualised your network and how important will NFV be in the future?
Some of our network functions are already deployed on standardised virtualised ICT hardware, and we use many virtualised functions throughout the network in order to optimise the efficiency and flexibility of the network. We are very supportive of NFV as a way to further improve core network efficiency and also the flexibility will enable some innovative architectures and service deployment. There are a number of issues to resolve about the management and operating model, but assuming that they are resolved then we believe that it will become increasingly important for efficiency and performance, and an enabler for service evolution including some ideas being discussed in 5G.
Early adopters have reported on average speeds dropping since the initial launch as the network becomes more heavily loaded. What is EE’s strategy for dealing with this?
Our ambition is to maintain network leadership and since launch we have continued to invest in our LTE network to maintain network leadership. We have both increased coverage and also increased the density of our network with more LTE sites. Furthermore we have doubled the spectrum used for LTE from 2x10MHz to 2x20MHz by re-farming more 1800MHz spectrum, and also we have deployed some 2,600 sites with LTE-A carrier aggregation last year, with further deployments planned for this year.
In order to achieve the speeds that this new spectrum and the new equipment is capable of it is vital to have sufficient backhaul, and to this end we have also invested in high performance Gigabit Ethernet backhaul – both fibre and microwave. This has resulted in an increase in our typical LTE speeds from launch, some more than doubling. Although there are obviously hotspots from time to time, we will steer our investment to those locations and are confident we can continue to improve the experience on our network.
The 10th annual LTE World Summit, the premier 4G event for the telecoms industry, is taking place on the 23rd-26th June 2014, at the Amsterdam RAI, Netherlands. Click here to download a brochure for the event.
How important will it be for you to move speedily to LTE Advanced?
We see LTE-A as a key element in maintaining network leadership. We will be using our spectrum that we acquired last year, upgrading our sites to support 2x20MHz of 2600MHz alongside our 2x20MHz of 1800MHz spectrum, which will increase the capacity for all our users to maintain experience. But on top of that LTE-A carrier aggregation both improves the top speeds for users but also increases the spectrum usage and efficiency across both spectrum layers, so will provide an increased performance.
What are the benefits the moving to VoLTE will bring?
VoLTE will provide an enhanced user experience with HD quality voice, similar to our existing 3G voice, but also good cell edge performance, lower drop rates and faster set up times. In addition, it will enable users to maintain the best data service during a call rather than dropping to 3G. When our LTE network coverage reaches further than our 2G/3G network it will enable the voice service in new places. However, our current CSFB service – which uses the 3G HD voice network – is performing very well, with a great and reliable service, so we will move to VoLTE when the end-to-end service from device to core network is better than the current CSFB service. Right now we don’t think it is ready, but we are working hard to bring VoLTE in to the network for all the reasons mentioned.
Will we see small cells all over the UK in the next couple of years?
Yes, there are small cells of various sorts already: indoors, outdoors, 2G, 3G, Wi-Fi, femto, Pico, Nano, Micro, Metro, and we are trying out some 4G femtos in the EE stores. With regard to outdoor small cells for capacity in urban areas, this is a maturing area, with equipment – both cell and backhaul – becoming more and more deployable, and the operating model becoming clear. We are looking at this in terms of building an LTE HetNet of macro and small cells, and think that the solutions will be ready when we need them over the next year or two in city centres. I imagine other operators in the UK may take a different approach, possibly earlier.
Do you believe that eMBMS will make an impact in the next couple of years?
We are very interested in eMBMS as a way to deliver high quality video in a spectrally efficient way. We believe that over the medium term this will be a critical technology to ensure that the customer experience for video over mobile is enhanced, as well as reducing the investment in capacity as video becomes the prime driver of demand. In the shorter term, the clearest use cases will be in sporting and entertainment venues, and we are actively looking at opportunities.
What, in your opinion, will truly define 5G?
The 5GIC discuss the ambition of 5G to give the perception of infinite capacity. For me, it will bring pervasive mobile / wireless connectivity. In the future there will be no question as to whether something – device, gadget, vehicle, building, road, factory – is connected, it will be a fundamental assumption and expectation that they are connected and that it is working. This brings lots of interesting questions to discuss such as sustainability, convergence of industries, reliability, resilience, content/services, and of course, capacity, speeds and spectrum.
What are you most looking forward to with regard to the LTE World Summit?
Now that LTE deployments are widespread, I am keen to hear about the issues and solutions for the initial deployments to see if there is anything that we can learn, and also, to hear how everyone sees the next steps and what are the next important technologies we need to consider.