As chief technology officer at the world’s biggest telecoms vendor, Ulf Ewaldsson is no stranger to the complexities that lie behind the super fast mobile broadband services that most people now take for granted.
But Ewaldsson, who was instrumental in helping to develop Ericsson’s HSPA and LTE products, is just as comfortable discussing the broader challenges facing the telecoms industry.
Indeed, Ewaldsson, who became CTO in February 2012 after a five-year stint as head of product area radio at Ericsson’s business unit networks, has a clear view of the challenges and opportunities facing the telecoms sector in the MEA region and beyond, and how the latest technological trends play into these changes.
And one of the main areas of change that he points to is the merging of the telecoms sector with the datacom and mediacom industries, a situation that is occuring owing mainly to developments in cloud computing and the growth of services such as IPTV.
“We are now merging with the mediacom industry and each one of these industries have their own big changes going on in terms of technology,” he says. “If you take the data communications industry, the largest technology impact there has been cloud, and now cloud is rapidly moving on to impact in the telecom industry,” he adds.
“On the medicacom side it is the digitalisation of content that is driving change, so everything will become digitalised, and that has its effect on players and on the way that content is handled, especially highly intellectual content that is difficult to get paid for.”
These changes are no more evident than for users of smartphones, who increasingly consume vast amounts of data in the form of video and use the cloud for storing personal data. The changes are also being driven in large part by smartphone users, and a growing army of tablet users.
To underscore the scale of development in the mobile broadband sector, a recent survey from Ericsson predicted that mobile data traffic is expected to grow 12 times between 2012 and 2018, driven mainly by video. The report also stated that there were an additional 13 million LTE subscriptions in the third quarter of 2012, and numbers are predicted to reach 1.6 billion by 2018.
While truly broad LTE coverage remains some way off, 3G and HSPA+ networks already have significant breadth globally, and this continues to grow. Ewaldsson says that at present about 45% of the world’s population is covered by HSPA or 3G. “We expect that by the next five years to 2017 that figure will grow to 85%, almost full penetration, and that is a tremendous opportunity,” he says. “It means that anything can be covered by 3G and be provided with the communication capabilities of that.”
As mobile broadband networks become more homogenous, so operators will increasingly be able to explore new revenue streams based on services that use technology such as machine-to-machine communications.
“In that sense, one of the key things to discuss here is to make the network into a platform of innovation,” Ewaldsson says. “A lot of the innovation has been discussed where it is over-the-top. Over-the-top players, if you will, are looking at the opportunities to use the platform of the network.”
While many operators often view the OTT players as damaging to their bottom line, Ewaldsson points to some of the potential new services that could make use of the real-time capability of quality, seamless networks. “The network is very good at providing real-time communications, and we need to advocate that much more otherwise you will not be able to, in a car, make an application that can avoid collisions and things like that.
“That has to be extremely high quality and to exploit that quality of network to the OTT industry is one of the big opportunities for the industry going forward,” he says. He adds that many of these types of innovations will be bases on M2M. And much demand for M2M-based services will be driven the growing trend of all types of devices, from cameras to cars to be fitted with their own sim card. “It will also be so you as a person are in the centre of the whole communications sphere.
“Many people have more than one sim and put them in tablets, laptops, maybe a games console, and it’s spreading. Soon you might even be registering your car as one of your sim cards just to make sure you have all of the connections in place,” Ewaldsson says.
While Ewaldsson sees significant opportunities for operators to monetise mobile broadband networks in the coming years, how does he view the sheer challenge of deploying networks to cater for mobile data traffic that is expected to grow 15 times by 2015?
“Capacity-wise, the planning scenarios that we have for equipment and so forth well cover what is happening. We expect that in the next 10 years there will be a thousand-fold traffic increase. We are planning internally with capacity measures to make sure that we can cater for that,” he says. “In the Radio Access Network area, the RAN area of the network, we are using a term we call heterogeneous network, or hetnet, to cater for enormous capacities required by using small cells, WiFi offload and such things.”
Ewaldsson adds that he expects cities of the future will account for about 60% of all data traffic globally. About 30% of the population will live in 1% if the landmass, which is all of the big cities, which will consume 60% of the traffic by about 2017. “We need to plan for that. There is the Radio Access technology, and then there is the IP technology in the core of the network that has to be able to deal with this.
“We believe that the IP network has to be made more intelligent. We ourselves stand for something that we call fourth generation IP, which is when intelligence is brought into IP much more than before.
“This is where technology like SDNs (software defined networking) comes in to play, and gives us opportunity to do traffic engineering, also in the IP space. It is no longer just best effort or packets being forwarded in a random way,” he adds.