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.
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