Rémi Thomas, Director of the LTE EPC Programme, Orange Group

Rémi Thomas, Director of the LTE EPC Programme, Orange Group

Rémi Thomas, Director of the LTE EPC Programme, Orange is speaking at the LTE World Summit on roaming challenges at the LTE World Summit, the premier 4G event for the telecoms industry, taking place on the 23rd-26th June 2014, at the Amsterdam RAI, Netherlands.

You’re speaking on roaming issues. What are the main challenges to bringing making LTE roaming a reality?

Orange has launched 4G roaming for data services since February this year for customers in France travelling to the UK, Spain, Portugal and South Korea. Further to this, technical readiness to deliver 4G roaming has been achieved in a further five markets including the UK (through EE), Spain, Romania, Portugal and Moldova. We anticipate 4G roaming will be fully available across Orange’s European footprint by the end of 2014, including major destinations outside of Europe.

The primary challenge for all operators however has been the mastering of new protocols because this requires complete testing. There are complexities to do with diameter signalling, especially internationally, and Orange is paying special attention to this. It is also being addressed by mobile operators via the GSMA and is on the agenda of the i3Forum as far as the carrier community is concerned.

Today CSFB is used to provide voice services to LTE roamers. As a consequence the voice services for LTE roamers rely on the present 2G/3G roaming agreements. In order to improve the voice experience (lowering setup delay, additional services), Voice over LTE (VoLTE) technology will be deployed in our networks. Then the next challenge will be the deployment of roaming for VoLTE.

Are IPX services a critical component of your strategy?

Yes, for data, the IPX is the natural continuation of the GRX, as it offers the level of services expected for carrier-grade voice / services. Orange’s International Carrier division already has an IPX offer in its portfolio (including voice and 2G/3G roaming).

Our wholesale division launched a new service in September 2013 that allows mobile operators to provide their customers with a 4G roaming service. Orange’s “LTE Signalling” offer enables operators to provide end-users with the significantly improved service of 4G networks while roaming outside their home country. We have been able to do so by setting up interconnection agreements with the other major carriers. Today Orange is capable of offering connectivity with most LTE networks across Europe, Americas and Asia.

Where is Orange on technologies such as small cells and LTE-Advanced?

We are presently evaluating the different LTE Advanced features which have been standardised by 3GPP.

One of the most promising features of LTE Advanced is LTE Carrier Aggregation (LTE CA) which enables utilising jointly different LTE channels; as a result the customer will experience higher throughputs and an improved QoS. We tested LTE CA in our labs and in the field. This showed that the theoretical performance specified in the 3GPP standard can be reached. As a consequence we will be able to deploy LTE CA in our networks soon.

This will require software development and some development in equipment but we also believe that this development will go ahead in a way that allows compatibility with equipment already in use and will not require as much work as an LTE roll-out. It’s more of a matter of adaptation, comparable to those we experienced when moving from UMTS to HSPA.

We are getting ready to deploy small cells. These small cells make it possible to expand a conventional network at home, at work, and in high-traffic areas. However, our priority today is firstly to complete LTE roll-out across our footprints in Europe.

We expect that the actual small cell ramp up will happen with 4G small cells.

Are you for, or against, the proposals on roaming charges from EU Digital commissioner, Neelie Kroes?

As operators, we are already working with regulators and spending millions to implement a regulation which was voted in two years ago; and the objective of that vote was precisely to bring roaming prices to a competitive level.

The market has already changed considerably and travelling customers have access to very good packages now. We have launched a series of new roaming offers, called Go Europe, across all our European markets which offer very competitive prices, and have started introducing a free roaming component in other offers.

The origin of roaming fees comes from the fact there is a price and so a cost to an operator when its customers roam on another network. The cost of providing such a service can’t be abolished and has to be passed to customers. We therefore do not believe that we need another piece of regulation as we believe it will add more pressure to network costs and investment and reduce legal security.

Nevertheless, should the EU institutions decide to adopt a new regulation that would end retail roaming surcharges, Orange is committed to working closely with the authorities and BEREC to develop substantial safeguards to mitigate against any detrimental effects that new regulation would bring to domestic European markets, especially as this is likely to differ from some of the existing measures under the current Roaming III regulation.

Looking to the future, what in your opinion will truly define 5G?

5G should provide significant benefits compared to LTE Advanced assuming that that 5G should be compliant to some major requirements.

5G should be designed in such a way that it allows low power consumption both on the network side and on the device side; that it is cost efficient and that it provides a homogeneous customer experience over the coverage area.

Of course 5G should provide higher capacity, higher spectrum efficiency but that will not be the main thrust.

5G should provide a flexible future-proof network architecture, allowing an end to end latency of a few ms, that is access technology agnostic, permitting any radio access technology, already existing or still to be defined, to be connected to Core Network.

5G should provide enablers for new services like vehicle connectivity (moving networks, V2V) and Internet of Things which will experience a rapid development as billions of objects are likely to be connected in the future, including “low-end” M2M devices.

Last but not least, 5G should be compatible with the legacy mobile networks.

Orange is presently conducting different initiatives in order to develop a 5G solution that will fulfil the needs of the digital economy of the future:

–          We are contributing to collaborative projects and preparing the technological blocks which will be embarked upon in 5G standardisation; a major part of the technology development will be done through the European 5G infrastructure Public Private Partnership (the 5G PPP), a 1.4 Billion Euro joint initiative between the European ICT industry and the European Commission to create the Next generation of communication networks and services

–          We are contributing to the NGMN initiative the purpose of which is defining the end-to-end operator requirements for 5G in an industry White Paper.


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