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Prime Time for 4G

LTE/4G is set to make a much bigger impact than 3G did, and for so many reasons than you can shake a stick at.

The pub party for our latest edition of the Mobile Operator Guide rages on over here at SAP Mobile Services. LTE and all the changes it’s bringing to the industry are the unofficial themes this year. In a recent post, I introduced the guide, and covered LTE’s high-level benefits for consumers (faster, better) and operators (cheaper, more efficient). But wait. There are even more facets to the gem that is LTE.

Greater interoperability

LTE allows for better interoperability between operators for two reasons. First, LTE is the new common standard for further evolution of competing groups of telecom technologies such as GSM and CDMA. Verizon is a CDMA operator and AT&T is GSM, so in the new LTE world these two will be operating on the same technological standard. Even non-3GPP access technologies such as Wi-Fi complement LTE through Hotspot 2.0 air interface, and these can be imagined to interwork with LTE to enable seamless data access for the customer.

And second, in the LTE world operators will have to rely more on competitor networks to enable efficient roaming.

Smarter roaming

Just as subscribers expect their data service to be available when they roam, they will expect the same for new 4G services.

With current networks, roaming is (basically) limited to voice, messaging, and data. Operators handle each service independently, and often in a fairly arcane manner. For example, if two tourists from Shanghai sit on the same park bench in Addis Ababa and text each other, their messages travel all the way back to their home country first. Mobile data can take an even longer route.

LTE enables operators to ‘borrow’ visited networks, offloading roaming traffic to local operators rather than carry it around the globe. However, that can only work if there are systems to support it, and, more important, there is a higher level of trust and co-operation among operators.

With the increase of subscriber-facing services (more below), we really need to think about service-based roaming. When you roam, video (sharing), location, presence, IM, and HD voice will now be available, in addition to voice, messaging, and data.

Simplifying infrastructure

The traditional approach to adding a new service to a mobile network was to purchase a new network element and install it in your switch. Now with LTE (and new infrastructure such as IPX), there’s an opportunity to simplify.

Moving to an all-IP network enables operators to create architecturally flat networks, with few network elements in the call (sorry, data) path, which reduces cost, decreases latency, and improves reliability.

Operators will also be able to move services completely out of their networks, as the new architectures support cloud-based services. That trend started with services such as SMS hubbing, but now the entire service can move away from the operators’ switch to the cloud.

Rich Communications Services (RCS) looks to be one of the first of the services that operators will deploy, but more will come. Whilst operator services will be the first to go this way, an IPX enables services for enterprises such as video streaming to move also to the (telco) cloud.

LTE Broadcast

RCS have already gotten a fair amount of coverage, but LTE has provision for other new services as well. One of the more interesting is LTE broadcast. It enables operators to broadcast, much like traditional TV services, to all devices with a cell. Imagine a large sporting events or concert, where all subscribers in the audience could receive camera feeds, play guides, or even a ‘referee cam’ direct to their phones.

It’s prime time for 4G

LTE/4G is set to make a greater impact than any of the previous generational leaps managed to do.

With the previous jumps, either the technology or the consumer wasn’t ready, and so a hard sell was needed. 2.5G came with neither the right devices nor the actual capabilities to match the hype. Similarly, 3G was launched ahead of devices needed to make it a success and (to the consumer) seemed fixed on services that were of limited interest.

But LTE/4G is different. Consumers (and many smartphones) are looking for network capabilities way ahead of what current networks can deliver; moving to an all-IP network finally enables operators to simplify networks and not add incremental complexity. Finally, the technology will enable operators to create new services to meet consumer demand and regulatory requirements.

Get the latest on LTE from analysts and industry insiders from around the world in the 2nd edition of our Mobile Operator Guide.