MWC Preview: LTE-Advanced, HSPA, video optimization to anchor networks news

Network infrastructure will be the undercurrent keeping this year's Mobile World Congress trade show afloat. Only two network vendors made it onto the GSMA's MWC keynote roster (Ericsson (NASDAQ:ERIC) and Cisco), and vendor events likely will take second fiddle to handset and content announcements. Nevertheless, network infrastructure buzz will buttress most of the flashier headlines from next week's event.

"Mobile World Congress 2011 is very user-centric," noted research firm Strand Consult in a recent report. "There is not a great deal of focus on new network technology or how that technology is developing. It would appear that many are starting to take the networks' technological development for granted--despite the fact that the mobile industry is facing some very large changes and infrastructure investments that will become the backbone of future mobile broadband networks."

But what to expect from the show? Ericsson has scheduled a media event Monday, Feb. 14, where the world's largest infrastructure provider could provide updates on its progress in HSPA and LTE technology. (Ericsson recently demonstrated multi-carrier 168 Mbps HSPA+, dual-carrier 84 Mbps HSPA+ and single-carrier 42 Mbps HSPA+.) Further, Ericsson CEO Hans Vestberg is scheduled to participate in a keynote Tuesday, Feb. 15, called "The Power of Applications"--again reflecting the importance of apps at this year's show.

Meantime, Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE:ALU) plans a media event Tuesday where the company will discuss "moving from a ‘web of pages' world to a ‘web of people,'" whatever that means. In its invitation, the company asks: "How can networks become more responsive and adapt literally ‘at the speed of ideas' to realize the potential of the new multi-function, multi-sense devices and the humanity that is connected through them?" Executives from Alcatel-Lucent, Nokia and Mozilla are scheduled to be on hand to help explain things.

For its part, Nokia Siemens Networks could provide additional details on its LTE-Advanced plans. The company recently announced two new base stations that support GSM, 3G, LTE and LTE-Advanced. The company's Flexi Lite all-in-one base station is to be commercial available in the first half of next year.

And NSN isn't the only vendor talking up LTE-Advanced: Chipmaker Qualcomm recently disclosed plans to discuss the technology too.

But what will be the main themes in networks this year?

Current Analysis analyst Peter Jarich said video-optimization technologies will be a key topic. Why? "It's not just vendors who believe that mobile video is a critical issue to be tackled," Jarich recently wrote. "Operators are buying video optimization solutions for a reason. In part, it's because some, like Clearwire, have already reported video being more than half their traffic."

Jarich also fingered LTE-Advanced and operator monetization strategies as issues likely to rise to the surface.

Monica Paolini, founder and president of Senza Fili Consulting, said she expects two topics to generate interest at MWC this year:  TD-LTE and small cells. Paolini said TD-LTE is being tested by Clearwire (NASDAQ:CLWR), but market watchers are curious about what will become commercially available. As for small cells, such as femtocells and picocells, Paolini said MWC attendees could get a better sense as to how the offerings could increase network capacity.

Though many operators in attendance at this year's MWC will be worrying over their customers' crushing demands for data--Cisco recently found that mobile data traffic grew 159 percent in 2010, roughly 3.3 times faster than fixed Internet traffic--solutions to the situation likely won't catch much interest at a show largely designed to highlight the progress of handsets, content and services.