Operators should put the focus on services, not speed

Another day, another announcement by an operator that it is trialling LTE Advanced services. BASE Belgium is the latest company to reveal that it is testing what is in fact "true" 4G, if you stick precisely to 3G and LTE guidelines. Indeed, BASE said it is the first operator in Belgium and one of the first in Europe to test this high-speed network technology.

LTE Advanced is gaining momentum, as operators seem intent on moving to the next stage of mobile network innovation. Vodafone is trialling the technology in Italy and Germany, while EE is testing it in the UK and SFR and Bouygues Telecom in France, for example.

In its announcement BASE, like many, places the emphasis on the higher speeds that LTE Advanced will enable. The Belgian operator said the tests in Hasselt together with ZTE used 2x20 MHz Carrier Aggregation combined with MiMo 2x2 technology, and allowed maximum speeds up to 300 Mbps.

"Even this is still a test phase, we clearly see the advantages for our customers: this LTE-Advanced tests show data speeds over 250 Mbps," said Suzanne Kelder, CTO of BASE. "For the customer, that means a 10 MB file is downloaded in less than one second, compared to 90 seconds 2.5 years ago."

More importantly, BASE also gave at least one example of services that would not be possible without high-speed and high-capacity networks, such as Ultra HD video services. However, operators need to do more. As things stand, the focus is still too much on the advancements in speed, even though for many consumers figures such as "250 Mbps" are virtually meaningless.

Telling users they could watch a 3D HD video on their tablet or smartphone with no buffering would be a great deal more meaningful, for example, and would provide a far more compelling reason to upgrade when services become available.

In its assessment of announcements at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last week, Current Analysis noted that the event was marked by a number of network innovations including demonstrations of LTE Advanced.

"Yet despite some service-related work around technologies like LTE Broadcast, it was disappointing to see so much of the attention focused on the raw speeds that carrier aggregation can deliver versus the new services that could be delivered," observed Peter Jarich, VP consumer and infrastructure at Current Analysis. "Competing on speed has proven to be of limited long-term value."

If that's the case, why are operators still so bad at communicating the real advantages of network advancements to their own consumers?

The concern is that operators will do the same for "5G", even though operators and vendors generally admitted during MWC that they still do not really know what 5G is.

As Jarich noted, we're still got five years to link differentiated service propositions to 5G. It's also to be hoped we'll see the communication of more compelling use cases for LTE Advanced in the coming 12 months.--Anne