The rising demand for mobile broadband services is straining legacy wireless networks. Operators face increasing pressure to deliver the rich quality of experience (QoE) their customers and partners expect. To meet these expectations and remain competitive, they need cost-effective and sustainable network architectures that can deliver increased connectivity and capacity on demand.
QoE: The new currency in the mobile value chain
As the focus of mobile wireless communications shifts from voice to data, users attach greater importance to QoE. Today’s users expect fast wireless networks, comprehensive coverage and uninterrupted connectivity. There’s no room for delays, dropped connections or peak-time congestion in their vision of mobile broadband.
Users clearly value QoE, but application and content providers (ACPs) depend on it. Whether ACPs offer TV streams, interactive apps or video conferencing services, QoE plays a central role in their success. They have a vested interest in ensuring that users enjoy the best possible experience. For this, ACPs rely on mobile operators and their networks.
To move up the mobile value chain and attract partnerships with ACPs, operators have to deliver on QoE. Operators can control QoE, for example, by managing bit rates or by making it easy for users to switch between 2G/3G/LTE networks and Wi-Fi hotspots. But they need to control it more efficiently to prove their value as partners and providers and position themselves as the ideal channel for delivering value-added applications and content.
The QoE and capacity challenge
Legacy macro networks were built to support voice services, a task they perform extremely well. But the demand for mobile broadband data services adds new and more complex challenges to wireless networks. Operators who retrofit voice networks for data face a host of new challenges.
For example, operators don’t always have spectrum for mobile broadband services. This makes it tough to meet demand for data. Increasing indoor wireless use also presents problems. Outdoor macro towers can’t always deliver sufficient data rates, coverage and capacity to users in homes and offices.
Today, operators are constantly trying to squeeze more capacity out of legacy networks. One common strategy is cell splitting — adding cells, towers and sites. This can be complex and expensive, and zoning rules can even make it impossible in some areas. Operators that don’t evolve their networks — or don’t evolve fast enough — may be left behind by customers and competitors who embrace next-generation equipment.
Building wireless networks for an unpredictable future
Mobile operators want wireless networks that can help them tackle the challenges of today and tomorrow. These challenges include:
- Adding capacity where users want and need it
- Ensuring that customer QoE is met
- Building a cost-effective foundation for addressing future demand
- Delivering eco-sustainable solutions
Smartphone penetration and mobile data traffic are increasing rapidly. According to Vision Mobile, in the 3rd quarter of 2011 smartphone shipments penetration surpassed 29% globally. People still use their phones mostly for voice — on a time basis. However, they consume more data with apps including video streaming, music, web browsing and social networking from their homes, offices and in the community. They connect to hotspots in high-traffic areas like stadiums, public squares and hotels. Operators have to provide more capacity in more locations to ensure that QoE follows users wherever they go.
While no one can say for certain what capacity needs will be in 5 years, we do have reasonably good models for the next 6 months to a year. However, if a new type of device like the Apple iPhone® or iPad® arrives on the market it could cause a major disruption. What we know right now is that new wireless devices — smartphones, tablets, gaming consoles, in-car devices — will fuel demand by supporting smarter applications and richer content. Wireless networks will need to be flexible enough to handle whatever demand the future brings. And they’ll need to do it while keeping costs low.
It’s not all about delivering more capacity and richer experiences. Operators need to consider the environment, too. The next generation of wireless network architectures must have a smaller carbon footprint. This means consuming less power. It also means deploying elements that use less space and blend in with what’s around them. No one wants to see more towers and more bulky equipment.
The lightRadio™ Network advantage
Alcatel-Lucent has introduced the lightRadio Network to empower operators to deliver on their present and future challenges. It seamlessly increases capacity and extends it to more places, helping operators satisfy users and generate new revenue. It reduces power consumption and footprint, enabling operators to promote sustainability and bottom-line growth. And it provides an effective foundation for supporting future demand, helping operators manage capacity and cost.
For users, it all comes down to QoE. With the lightRadio Network, users get higher throughputs to support the rich experiences they crave. In contrast to traditional wireless networks, this support is continuous: Whether indoors, outdoors or on the move, users switch seamlessly to the best possible network. There’s no need to pause a video or interrupt an application to select a hotspot or enter a password.
A closer look
The lightRadio Network is inherently heterogeneous bringing together a broad range of technologies and different types of access nodes. At the same time, the architecture is homogenous: Its components share the same platforms, control and management. These components can include:
- Small cells, which extend coverage indoors and in hotspots. Small cells perform efficiently in residences and businesses. They work best when deployed close to users, for example, on lamp posts or walls in train stations or shopping centers. In a given network, operators can deliver up to 10-times more throughput by deploying a 1:10 ratio of small cells to macro cells.
- lightRadio wideband active antenna arrays (WB-AAA), popularly known as cubes, that use advanced interference management algorithms to create overlapping zones of high signal strength. Known as vertical sectorization, this increases capacity and coverage for a given area. These comparatively low-power elements make more efficient use of spectrum. When deployed in a macro environment, they can improve capacity by up to 70%. This improved capacity can help operators attract users and generate more revenue.
- Wi-Fi hotspots, that allow operators to offer additional options for access to high bandwidth data users. This has the dual benefit of keeping the end user satisfied and allowing the operator to take some traffic off costly cellular spectrum. The lightRadio architecture uses a common core network to support Wi-Fi and cellular access. Users can seamlessly switch between the two without having to enter a new password.
All of these components support sharing and virtualization, which help operators deliver more flexible capacity and control. For example, operators can connect lightRadio cubes to external baseband units (BBUs) to serve hotspots that require massive capacity, such as sports arenas. Or, operators can scale and share control capacity to cost-effectively improve performance at specific places and times. This can help overcome traffic spikes that arise as new devices connect to the data network.
Making the move
Operators face no significant barriers to making the move to the lightRadio Network. While each operator has a unique starting point based on its own business needs and operating environment they have a number of things in common. They need modular, flexible wireless networks that can address data demand and keep costs in check.
This new network architecture helps operators kick-start transformation with the wireless infrastructure, spectrum and multivendor networks they have now. An effective transformation includes:
- Targeting capacity problems in hotspots and indoors
- Migrating to LTE for efficient spectrum usage
- Adding a WB-AAA architecture for more capacity per site
- Virtualizing capacity and control for more flexibility
Operators can control costs by scaling capacity in manageable increments. These strategies and savings can extend to many parts of the network, including wireless backhaul links, small sites and legacy equipment.
By alleviating concerns about capacity, scalability and cost, the lightRadio network architecture offers operators the chance to rethink the challenges of the present and future. It can help them swap a defensive stance — coping with demand — for a positive approach focused on turning mobile broadband demand into new revenue.
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