Schoolar: Stray observations from the 2015 LTE World Summit

Daryl Schoolar ovum

Daryl Schoolar

Did you miss all the news coming out of LTE World Summit the other week? Did you even know it took place? You might not have known it was even going on if you weren't there. That, however, isn't exactly a bad thing.

Conferences that have a narrow technology or topic focus have a limit life cycle.  They start off with a bang, especially when there is lots of uncertainty on the topic, and then slowly wind down as uncertainty gives way to certainty.  For LTE World Summit it is clearly on the winding down side of its life cycle. There are no more big debates. WiMAX versus LTE has long since been settled. LTE deployments are no longer novel. At Ovum's last count there were 350 commercial LTE networks. Given all this it comes as no surprise that the latest edition of the LTE World Summit was so quiet.  But, don't confuse quiet for interesting. I certainly saw and heard some interesting things at the summit.

·       Abundance of 5G talk: Obviously LTE has long legs and will be a major part of the mobile ecosystem for at least the next decade.  5G on the other hand won't be standardized until 2020.  But, from my perspective 5G was a much hotter topic at the LTE World Summit than LTE. 5G even had its own conference track at the summit.  Vendors and operators were very eager to talk about what they are doing when it comes to the next generation of mobile networks.  As a hot topic clearly the shift from LTE to 5G is well underway. In fact, next year's LTE World Summit will become a 5G summit.

·       LTE broadcast still has work to do: During a roundtable discussion with operators on LTE broadcast it became clear that there is plenty of work to be done for it to be more widely adopted. The biggest complaint I heard about LTE broadcast was that the spectrum could not be dynamically configured. If an operator commits 30% of spectrum for broadcast at an event and then finds only 10% of traffic is actually related to the broadcast, the operator can't just change the spectrum allocation on the fly. This leaves 20% of spectrum underutilized. Secondly an operator I spoke with who is trialing it said there isn't adequate feedback channel with broadcast. The operator has limited information on the quality of the broadcast, which is contrary to good customer experience practice management. Along with just technical hurdles, the business case for LTE broadcast remains clearly undefined at this time. National video services were discussed, but fragmenting viewing habits make it difficult to decide on what content to actually broadcast.

·       Plenty of curiosity around LTE-LAA/U: On the first day of the conference I chaired a track on HetNets and backhaul. Without a doubt the most popular presentation in terms of attendance and questions was on LTE and unlicensed spectrum. The value of using unlicensed spectrum to increase network capacity is a given. What clearly isn't a given is how well LTE will play with Wi-Fi and what regulators will do about it. With all of this uncertainty around LTE in unlicensed spectrum, I still remain puzzled why there isn't more discussion regarding LTE and Wi-Fi aggregation (LTE LWA).

·       2G could well out live 3G: Grandfathering of older mobile networks to free spectrum for LTE, and eventually 5G, remains a common topic.  While there is no consensus, there does seem to be increased agreement that 3G will go before 2G.  2G remains valuable for supporting M2M services and the case of switching those connections to LTE isn't there yet.  3G on the other hand is primarily about mobile broadband, something that LTE can more than accomplish now. Operators EE, KP, Orange, and Vodafone all spoke of this at the summit predicting 2G still has a long life.

·       Cellmining, Cohere, and Kumo are worth watching: I spoke to plenty of different vendors at the LTE Summit. Some were well known, others still in the process of building their awareness. Three of the newer vendors that stood out as companies worth watching from the event were Cellmining, Cohere Technologies, and Kumu Networks.  Cellmining does centralized SON based on call detailed records. This is different than other SON solutions I have seen that are based off data taken directly from the network. Cohere is working on a possible 5G modulation scheme called Orthogonal Time Frequency and Space (OTFS). I had previously meet Kumu Networks at the 2014 CTIA. This Silicon Valley-based technology company has developed a networking solution to support full spectrum duplex. This would allow for a radio to receive and transmit in the same spectrum channel, essentially doubling network capacity.

One final observation: The big three of European RAN vendors had very limited presence at the summit.  Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson, and Nokia were nowhere to be seen on the floor.  Ericsson was involved in the co-located connected car event and Nokia had a speaker at the summit.  Maybe 5G will get them more excited next year as I suspect it will get others as well. 

For sake of full disclosure Informa, who is Ovum's parent company, also owns LTE World Summit.

Daryl Schoolar is Principal Analyst of Wireless Infrastructure for Ovum. Daryl's research includes not only what infrastructure vendors are developing in those areas, but how mobile operators are deploying and using those wireless networking solutions. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him at @DHSchoolar.