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Huawei: Don't skip 3G for 4G

Operators intending to leapfrog their 2G networks straight to LTE (long term evolution) may end up with higher cost and risk, warns Huawei exec.
Written by Victoria Ho, Contributor

SINGAPORE--Operators in emerging markets on the path to LTE (long term evolution) would be better off making incremental upgrades of their GSM networks, rather than leapfrog the intermediary standards, urged a market player.

Min Chung-Yen, Huawei Technologies' Asia-Pacific senior director of marketing and strategy, referred to a technology migration path recommended by industry initiative, 3G Partnership Project (3GPP), which outlines a gradual upgrade from GSM to UMTS (universal mobile telecommunications system), followed by HSPA, and then LTE. This migration path has been popular with operators, Min said Thursday, during a presentation at the Next-Generation Broadband Forum, held at imbX 2009. Huawei is China's largest networking and telecommunications equipment provider.

Incremental upgrades allow operators to build on existing investments, Min said, adding that HSPA calls for a software upgrade from 3G technology, UMTS, so there is minimal hardware cost involved.

This enables operators to take a more cautious approach when they implement upgrades and gauge customer reaction, he said. It also allows telcos to enjoy added cost benefits from adopting new technologies as they mature, rather than when they are first introduced and therefore, more costly, he explained.

"Even though it looks like more steps are involved in an incremental upgrade, this is a cost-efficient migration path," said Min.

However, a Motorola executive earlier this year said operators following the 3GPP standards may be more likely to delay upgrades in order to maximize their 3G investments, resulting in much slower rollouts of network upgrades compared to operators that choose instead to leapfrog to LTE.

According to Min, operators in emerging markets have been debating the option of moving directly to LTE from 2G technologies such as GSM, GPRS and EDGE. But, he warned that while it is possible to do that, "interoperability [between the two standards] may be a problem".

Operators jumping straight to LTE may find themselves having to support the two "separate universes" of 2G and 4G networks, said Min.

This added cost may not bode well for telcos facing an increasing need to focus on their bottom lines to remain profitable, amid growing competition from Internet service providers that now also provide a multitude of mobile applications and services, he said.

"Internet players are providing freebies like free calls, and telcos have to compete with that," he noted. "[Mobile data] traffic is going up, but [telcos] can't make money off that, so the only way to be successful is to lower cost and invent new revenue streams."

Need for quality of service
Broadband Forum COO Robin Mersh said broadband connectivity, having bucked the ongoing economic crisis, has proven to be a "necessity, not just a luxury".

In order for operators to succeed in the "highly-competitive" race to deploy next-generation broadband networks, quality of service (QoS) levels have become increasingly important, and can spell the difference between success and failure, said Mersh.

"Speed is not enough. Customers want quality experience," he said. Reflecting on the industry group's priorities for this year, he noted that QoS will take centerstage. He added that the Broadband Forum is already working on best practice education for service providers.

Mersh pointed to the Broadband Forum's TR-126 documentation, which outlines the QoS requirements for triple-play services, and noted that such guidelines will help providers roll out services faster.

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