Posts tagged ‘LTE North America 2012’

LTE North America: Day Zero – Signaling focus day highlights

The LTE North America conference started as all good conferences do – with a Day Zero, a pre-conference day – this one providing an update on the crucial issue of signaling. But this was no zero-sum game – the packed conference room was treated to a day packed with speakers providing in-depth insights and discussion on one of the major issues facing mobile operators today.

There were numerous in depth presentations, interspersed with useful networking breaks and delegates were fuelled by Starbucks coffee, which certainly went down well.

Breaks provide networking opportunities with the busy crowd

The key buzzword of the day was “chatty apps” – applications that talk to the network too often and how to optimise the network with regards to signaling was one of the key themes of the day.

Things started with Chetan Sharma, president of Sharma Consulting providing an overview of the mobile landscape. There are currently 10 billion connected devices worldwide he revealed and 70 per cent of these are mobile, due to the rise and rise of the smartphone, and its associate, the connected tablet. “Feature phones will soon disappear, at least in the American market,” he said.

He also framed one of the big questions of the day regarding the OTT threat: “Who will dominate, the operators of the internet players?”

Sharma’s figures showing that there were 152 commercial LTE networks across 65 countries in 2012, confirming what we already knew – LTE is the fastest growing mobile technology ever, while voice and messaging are both declining having peaked in western markets in 2007 and are now declining even in developing markets such as China. Because of this operators are facing a steep decline in revenue, but all the while, LTE is becoming an ever friendlier home for apps, which have a huge impact on signaling traffic.

However, Sharma said that networks have no excuse to be surprised the signaling tsunami that started after the introduction of the smartphone in 2007. “Getting blind-sided is no longer a good excuse”.

The solution was to look to what Sharma referred to as, “4th wave revenues”- new sources of income that are adjacent to a network’s core competency such as in home security, eHealth and M2M.

Starbucks coffee keeps the delegates fuelled between panel sessions

In a panel discussion Eric Neitzel, lead engineer and DMTS at U.S. Cellular said that networks were yet to see a signaling tsunami hit core networks as operators have yet to implement VoLTE and RCS so that relatively the transactions going on were light in nature. He observed that networks had pushed back their VoLTE deployments as they are learning that implementing these are a “big learning curve.” Scott Yagel, product management and marketing at Developing Solutions said that the industry has underestimated the policy and billing issues associated with implementing RCS services.

Michael Thelander, founder and CEO of Signals Research group, suggested that operators should strike deals with leading content providers such as Google to offer customers the chance to pay a few extra dollars to get, for example, a stream with a guaranteed higher QoS. “[Operators] are never going to replace the Facebook and Google’s of the world but they can benefit from that.” He suggested that it’s worthwhile for the OTTs as well. “Their business model is based on having a great experience. From the operator’s perspective they want to be more than just the pipe for the bits. It seems to me to be a win-win situation. How that model comes out and who gets what cut of the revenues remains to be seen.”

One of the most interesting talks of the day came from Randy Wohlert, lead member of technical staff at AT&T. He observed that presence was the new dial tone, with knowing the status of a user and what services were available to connect with them as the mark of a useful network. He also noted that standard applications were incredibly inefficient when it comes to signaling and that networks could use their knowledge of user behaviour to reduce signaling across the core network by as much as 95 per cent. This could come through using RCS services and employing smart algorithms that are aware of with whom a user most frequently communicates. He said that research has shown that if a user has 150 social connections on average most of these are weak ties and that 80-90 per cent of communication is between 2-6 people. In addition, usage was ‘diurnal’ – a pattern of frequent usage during the day, giving a lot of scope for signaling optimisation.

Randy Wohlert, lead member of technical staff at AT&T

Continuing on the theme of network optimisation, later in the day there were some notable difference of opinion in a panel discussion moderated by Monica Paolini, president of Senza Fili Consulting. Misbah Mahmoodi, product marketing manager at F5, suggested that tier one operators should negotiate deals with the leading over-the-top providers to increase revenue. However, Stephane Teral, principal analyst of Infonetics research said that this approach wouldn’t work globally and painted a rather more negative picture, at least with regard to European operators. “The world is fragmented. In China there is no Google, Facebook or Twitter and China Mobile, with one billion subscribers doesn’t care. In Europe you talk about a glimpse of hope about increasing revenue, I suggest that you guys get on the plane and convince France and Deutsche Telecom that things are going to get better – ARPU is going down and have been for some time. What are OTTs doing? In the Netherlands they are killing KPN. What’s App is killing KPN. So what are KPN doing? They are saving the boat. You don’t kill a dinosaur overnight – it’s going to take some time for KPN to go under. They are just keeping the boat afloat with lots of optimisation.”

Panel discussions were informative and debate was lively

Jason Emery, director of product marketing at Tekelec countered that US operators should learn from the European experience and work together with OTTs. “Instead of the parasite killing the host, the two should become partners and come together to create revenue streams so that they can both survive”.

With the level of debate and discussion on show on Day Zero, the event itself should prove to be very interesting and informative.

DMTS, Technology Development Group, U.S. Cellular: “The mobile wireless industry is one of the most innovative industries in the world.”

Erik Neitzel, DMTS, Technology, Development Group, U.S. Cellular

What have been the main developments for you over the last six months with regards to LTE?

Well, we’ve certainly been busy with LTE! U.S. Cellular, in conjunction with its partner, King Street Wireless, launched a 4G LTE network in March 2012 that enhanced the wireless experience by providing countless entertainment possibilities, while helping customers simplify and organise their lives. The March rollout of 4G LTE included select cities in Iowa, Wisconsin, Maine, North Carolina, Texas, and Oklahoma, including some of U.S. Cellular’s leading markets. U.S. Cellular is the first wireless carrier to offer 4G LTE in several of these markets. In the second half of this year, 4G LTE coverage is expanding to cover select cities in Illinois, Maryland, Missouri, New Hampshire, Oregon, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and West Virginia. The 4G LTE network currently covers 31 per cent of U.S. Cellular’s customers. By the end of 2012, 58 per cent of U.S. Cellular customers will enjoy faster 4G LTE speeds.

Spectrum harmonisation is an on-going issue. Can it realistically be achieved, and do you think we will ever have a true world LTE phone?

The focus of my presentation to LTE North America in 2009 was this very issue of spectrum harmonisation. It was interesting to me that after years of the major operators running different types of networks using competing standards, we were moving toward a common standard but a fractured spectrum ecosystem. There are now seven or more different bands targeted for commercialisation in North America, not to mention others overseas. It is critical that government agencies, operators, network equipment manufacturers (NEMS), and device OEMs work together to ensure band compatibility for LTE in order to provide complete and diverse coverage options for users. I can’t predict the future, but we’re working hard to push device multi-band compatibility.

Are operators doing enough to deal with the impact of signalling from all the new smartphones and tablets that are appearing?

There is certainly awareness now concerning signalling that wasn’t there a few years ago. Wireless networks today typically are serving data using radio resources that can be an order of magnitude more than what would be needed for an optimised data stream, so there is a lot of room for improvement. I know from various conferences that most operators are looking at various methods for reducing signalling in their networks. Some operators are working directly with large application developers to educate them on the unique properties of radio link design and ways that signalling can be made more efficient. There are also developers working on middleware which resides on the mobile device to act as a traffic cop for autonomously generated signalling that can aggregate requests and also act as a content proxy. I don’t think that there is a single solution. It will be a combination of efforts that will enable operators to combat the signalling inefficiencies that we see today.

What are the basic things operators should do to optimise their networks?

Network optimisation begins with the radio link. Solid RF design principles are a must, but closing the gap between optimisation identification and implementation will be critical in the future. The combination of Remote Electrical Tilt (RET) antennas and Self-Organizing Networks (SON) promise to reduce this optimisation time considerably. Proper core network design, which allows for highly redundant, dispersed network elements will improve network uptime and reduce latency—critical for real-time applications like VoLTE. QoS inherent within LTE will allow even more ways to optimise the network to serve diverse classes of mobile wireless traffic.

Are you excited about the RCS based Joyn technology and do you think it will really help fight back against the OTT players?

RCS Joyn is GSMA branding for set of services based on RCSe specifications. In general, U.S. Cellular and North American operators will be launching RCS services based on RCS 5.0 specifications. Alignment of operators behind Joyn will enable interoperability between networks. The impact on OTT players remains to be seen.

What are your plans for VoLTE?

That is a definite area of interest for U.S. Cellular, as we see VoLTE and RCS as a way to enhance services, while managing future network costs. We are planning on VoLTE trials in middle to late 2013 to develop deployment capability.

Net neutrality remains a contentious issue and has recently been enshrined in law in the Netherlands. What is your stance on this?

U.S. Cellular has taken all the necessary steps to comply with the net neutrality regulations imposed by the FCC concerning internet access.  Unlike some other carriers, we were not so concerned about the rules that we felt compelled to take an appeal.  In short, it’s not a major issue for us.

How do you feel you can differentiate yourselves from the larger players in the market?

U.S. Cellular is focused on providing the best customer experience. We offer the latest phones and tablets, all backed by a high-speed nationwide network and we continue to roll out 4G LTE to more customers across our footprint. Our customers enjoy benefits no one else offers, such as no-contract after the first, free overage protection and free battery swap. U.S. Cellular also provides the only points-based rewards program in the industry, which rewards customers for simple things, such as paying bills on-time, adding a line or referring friends and family. Points may be used for faster phone upgrades, additional lines, devices, accessories, and ringtones.

Is there enough innovation occurring in the mobile network industry? Can you provide some examples?

The mobile wireless industry is one of the most innovative industries in the world. Networks are 100 times faster than they were ten years ago, and we’ve gone from supporting text messaging to HD video in the same period. The mounting challenge for operators is how to keep up with data network traffic demand. The paradigm shift to heterogeneous networks is one innovation that will help operators with this issue.

There’s still time to sign up for the LTE North America 2012 conference,taking place on the 14-15th November 2012 at the Fairmont Dallas Hotel, Texas. Click here NOW to register your interest!

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