As over 60,000 delegates converged on Barcelona for the annual Mobile World Congress conference, many wondered if the age-old rhetoric of unsustainable traffic growth would dominate the conversation, as it has in previous years. Whether network vendor booths would be littered with science experiments, or pragmatism would be the order of the day.
As one would expect, all of the above were on the menu, but as we braced ourselves for an entourage of LTE-Advanced announcements, many of us were pleasantly surprised to see greater emphasis towards network architectural changes, with many vendor announcements focused on small cells and advanced antenna technologies.
With radio technologies approaching theoretical capacity limits, network architectural changes that increase the spatial density of radio signals are necessary to deliver on mobile data capacity demands.
Alcatel Lucent had a lightRadio metro-cell overlay running on Telefonica’s network at the show, demonstrating their advanced base station with integrated WiFi and cube active antenna array. Ericsson dedicated “beach-front” territory in its booth to tout its hetnet solution which incorporates BelAir WiFi in its pico-cell portfolio and high capacity E-Band microwave backhaul.
NSN introduced its Flexi-Zone solution for small cells, which boasts an advanced controller that manages the provisioning, configuration and much of the operations of small cell clusters. NSN also demonstrated an active antenna system at the show, having opted to develop the solution in-house rather than relying on its former partnership with Ubidyne. Huawei also demonstrated an active antenna system and its atomCell solution – to provide modular radio base station architectures, which it believes is the smallest and most efficient base station platform in the industry.
The emphasis towards network architectural changes observed at MWC is a clear illustration of technology vendors responding to the demands of mobile operators, who themselves are coming to grips with the network transformation required for mobile data services. With small cells, operators will see the number of base stations increase by possibly a factor of ten or more, and with active antenna systems, the optimum coverage and capacity characteristics of cell sites will become highly dynamic.
Operators can no longer manage their mobile network via traditional means and as is the case with provisioning and configuration management. Solutions being introduced under the guise of self-organizing networks (SON) are critical, as are the requisite operational and organizational changes within the operators. A variety of SON solutions were presented at the show, with Alcatel Lucent demonstrating the real-time capabilities of its solution, Ericsson touting the integration of the Optimi solution that it acquired in December 2010.
NSN announced its SON core solution which optimizes and load balances core network resources via a unified OA&M interface. We expect that SON innovations will feature prominently over the next 24 months and increasingly be focused towards enhancing customer experiences as mobile operators advance with network upgrades and transformation.
Throughout 2012, we expect mobile operators to invest heavily in technology upgrades and radio spectrum licenses to further the capabilities of their networks. As this occurs, we believe operators must capitalize on network architectural changes to lower their overall cost of capital, and improve customer experience and their overall competitive market positioning.
Phil Marshall PhD is chief research officer of Tolaga Research. For more information visit www.tolaga.com