Capacity constraints

Can telecom operators cope with the growth of mobile data?
There was no shortage of bandwidth-hungry devices and apps on display at last month's MWC.
There was no shortage of bandwidth-hungry devices and apps on display at last month's MWC.


Each year, Mobile World Congress, the world’s biggest event for the mobile industry, features ever more bandwidth-hungry devices and applications, and 2011 was no exception.

With numerous Android tablets, handsets designed for gaming, and other applications ranging from healthcare to navigation on display, it is clear that the coming years will see huge strain placed on to mobile networks around the world.

Industry heavyweights including Hans Vestberg, CEO, Ericsson, spoke of the need for smarter networks in metropolitan areas that bear the brunt of data traffic.

Vestberg also mooted the idea that operators will need to divide data traffic according to its importance, opening up the potential for operators to charge a premium for guaranteed, seamless delivery of the most important data.

But as has become standard in the past couple of years, telecom vendors also used Mobile World Congress to demonstrate their ability to cope with the glut of data that looks set to be thrown on to mobile networks, with various displays of LTE technology.

But the difference this year was that vendors were demonstrating network technology that has now been deployed in a number of countries including Norway, Finland, Japan and the USA. It was no coincidence then, that UAE telco Etisalat decided to announce that it would be deploying the Middle East’s first commercial LTE network in the first quarter of 2011.

The timeframe set out by Etisalat seems ambitious, although it is likely that the network will initially be in one of the main metropolitan areas. Either way, the smaller details pale in comparison with the scale of the announcement, which is after all great news for the UAE and the Gulf, and should help put the region at the forefront of the technology.

While bigger players including Ericsson and Nokia Siemens Networks demonstrated their LTE credentials, many smaller companies also showcased a range of innovations that are helping networks to better cope with the surge in data.

Indeed, Arieso, a UK-based company that helps operators monitor the efficiency of their mobile networks, warned that operators around the world are collectively wasting some $500 million by placing base stations in the wrong place.

Arieso estimates that operators worldwide will deploy some 80,000 W-CDMA base stations in 2011 at a cost of about $5.6 billion. But the company reckons that about 10% of that sum could go to waste because many telcos position their base stations poorly.

Arieso used the Mobile World Congress as an opportunity to demonstrate how its approach to network testing can help operators position cell sites properly and boost the efficiency of each site.

But with LTE a dominant theme at Mobile World Congress, one of the recurring questions was just how long will it be before consumers start to see a distinctive LTE ecosystem? Phil Twist, head of marketing and corporate affairs for network systems, Nokia Siemens Networks, pointed out that some 4G enabled devices have already started to appear.

“Once the chipsets are carrying LTE capability as part of the default then I think you will start to see LTE devices taking over,” Twist said.

“Without being too specific we typically see mass market wide-range of devices somewhere around 18 months after the standards are put into play.”

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