While technology, in the form of smartphones, tablets and other new devices, has undoubtedly been a driver of change in the mobile industry, the take-away from Barcelona’s annual tech-fest that is the GSMA’s Mobile World Congress, has too often been that networks are struggling to continue delivering profitable services while managing the challenges wrought by increasingly data-hungry users.
Technology innovation appeared thin on the ground at this year’s Mobile World Congress, but the challenge of enhancing performance and capacity by better utilising existing network resources remained a key focus for many network vendors.
The newly-announced small cell hosting service from Virgin Media Business, dubbed Small Cells as a Service (SCaaS) by the company, is designed to address some of the mobile operators’ key concerns about small cell deployments – in particular with regard to site acquisition and backhaul. But the UK cable provider admits that its talks with potential operator customers still have some way to go before any contracts are likely to be inked.
Small cells promise to boost capacity and throughput in areas of high usage more cheaply than macro cell deployments, while allowing more efficient use of spectrum than macros, and providing improved coverage at the cell edge and indoors. Bringing the radio signal closer to the user should also help to improve device battery life.
For anyone who thought that voice over LTE (VoLTE) was the only thing sustaining the case for IMS, the evidence from Informa’s IMS World Forum, which was held this week in Barcelona, would suggest otherwise.
While acknowledging the need to relieve capacity bottlenecks by offloading data traffic from their networks, mobile operators are looking for ways to better manage the process in order to maintain customer contact and build value.
A number of high-profile setbacks in recent weeks have further dented the already weakened business case for WiMAX.
In a widely anticipated move, Russian operator Yota revealed plans in May to switch tack and start rolling out LTE. The company, which has always preferred to describe itself as a mobile broadband provider rather than a WiMAX operator, had been rumored for some time to be contemplating the change. It will start to deploy LTE networks in five cities later this year.
The traditional macronetwork model is under fire as operators look for more cost-effective deployment strategies that target network capacity where it is most urgently needed. It is a trend that doesn’t end with the RAN but extends into the backhaul and core networks and is coupled with the drive to reduce the per-bit cost of transporting data across the entire network.