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Thursday, October 22, 2009

LTE needed immediately!.... er, or else what?

Interesting story in today's Fierce Wireless that apparently LTE is needed urgently in 2010 to avert a capacity crunch for mobile broadband.

Well, I guess that means we're on for a crunch, then. I'm not expecting to see any major deployments of LTE in Europe until 2012, with no real massmarket availability of devices and coverage until 2014-2015.

In practical terms, the lack of devices, lack of spectrum auctions and early-stage nature of the network technology (plus the perennial "what about voice?" question) means that:

- Expect to see even more emphasis on offload to Wifi and femtocells (I'm currently working with Telco 2.0 on a specific and detailed look at managed offload, more details to come soon)
- Some operators are going to start giving serious consideration to putting HSPA/HSPA+ in 2.6GHz instead of waiting for LTE and/or will be pushing harder on 900MHz refarming. Places like Germany even have spare 1800MHz around.
- Lots of opportunities for HSPA optimisation in terms of radio network planning and tweaking
- Various attempts to keep a lid on traffic volumes, with new tariff plans based around time-of-day and so forth.
- More sensible pricing for data tariffs that aren't based solely on marginal costs
- Possibly some more opportunities for WiMAX in those tempting unused bits of TDD spectrum
- Some interesting stuff around sideloading, in an effort to get people to use local content rather than the web... maybe "free 8GB of movies on a memory card with this phone"
- Various attempts to compress web images and other traffic from the Novarra's of this world. All great, but unless you have a robust solution on the client side as well as the server (and that means PCs) it's just rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.

We'll also hear a lot of talk about application-level filtering ("you can't do video over 3G") instead of flatrate plans, but frankly a lot of that is just hot air. It's rather tricky to go to market with a proposition which states "it's just like ADSL. But you can't look at that funny clip that your friend has posted on Facebook".

The fact remains that most of the 3G traffic in Europe still comes from PCs and iPhones, neither of which the operators have any real control over in terms of application or, critically, user expectation of openness.


Anonymous said...

Geez, has Alastair Brydon not heard about the whole supply-demand curve thing? He says that the surge in demand has been driven by a reduction in price. OK, I'll buy that. But when a commodity gets scarce, the supplier has pricing power and the price goes up. Then demand goes down, until equilibrium is achieved. So, why do we not expect the price of mobile broadband to go up when the bandwidth gets scarce?

I think you nailed it when you said "More sensible pricing for data tariffs that aren't based solely on marginal costs" Crisis averted. Whew!

Owen Geddes said...

WiFi in high footfall public locations is cheap and effective on devices like the iPhone - exactly the kind of devices that use the most bandwidth on cellular networks

It costs a fraction of cellular base stations to cover city centre areas and provides more bandwidth.

More importantly you can deploy it out of city centres into communities with no 3g coverage for next to nothing.

Mobile operators should spend more time on multi bearer networks.

Anonymous said...

It could be that the study is wrong or done with unrealistic assumptions...?

The problem is that you need to pay a lot of money to get the details of the report to see if the study has been done correctly.

Almost nobody does that, so the conclusions are taken as "truth" without anybody questioning them...

What was that statement again? "Don't assume..."

Dean Bubley said...

To be fair, I'm commenting on the news article (and presumably press release) rather than the full study.

However, the bottom line is that LTE isn't the white knight riding to the rescue of congested mobile broadband networks, at least in 2010-11 and maybe a year or two after that.

So there will need to be alternatives - probably quite a few tactics, like WiFi in public places, femtocells & WiFi in homes, higher/differently-structured tariffs and so on.

The main problem is that mobile broadband is often marketed as a direct alternative to fixed broadband, so it's unsurprising it gets used in similar fashion