The Price Issue
First and foremost, there are cost issues related to the massive performance increase. For instance, if you have a mobile broadband bundle with a capacity of 2 GB, this could quickly be consumed in roughly 15-20 seconds. If you’re a heavy user today and spend about 30 GB a month, at maximum capacity, it would not last long in LTE-A. Depending on how the service is put to market, consumers could end up paying a fortune for its speed—hindering adoption and prolonging the transition to LTE-A.
So why will it be so pricey? There are a few fundamental reasons. First, the cell in LTE-A is smaller but much faster than those found in previous generations. So this means that we will have more cells (think of these as the roadside ‘towers’), but they will most likely be built into streetlight poles and other facilities in addition to physical towers. Here’s where the price comes into play—each cell has a cost. In addition, each of those cells needs to be connected to the core network somehow (typically microwave radio or optic cable), and with more cells comes more cables and more complex networks.
Also, each cell needs to transport more data as bandwidth grows. Thus, the infrastructure to support such bandwidth requires major investments by communications service providers (CSPs), including in new technologies like small cell devices for more specific locations. We can also expect more fibre rollouts, which will need to be connected to all kinds of routers, switches and repeaters in the telecom network. These will all need to be planned, installed and operated. While we assume that efficiency increases in hardware over time (smaller space and faster speed) and power consumption decreases, all this infrastructure will have a major impact when it comes to cost. In addition to the purchase and operations, the cost of labour for actually digging up the ground, laying the cables and filling the ground can really add up.
What about Vendors?
This means a lot of various things for software vendors like Comptel and others in the OSS/BSS and Service Provider IT (SPIT) field? We believe the infrastructure rollout will need to be as automated as possible to drive the need for an excellent fulfillment process, logical network connections and efficient resource management. This will, in turn, reduce wasted time and money. The increase in bandwidth will likely drive more customer offerings and drive the need for service orchestration and catalog-driven order management. The complexity of the service must be conveyed in a way that makes sense for customer segments using the network capacity, and various service bundles should be prepared and proposed.
One may, however, discover that there are so many different ways to bundle these services that they completely avoid it and allow customers to self-personalise their subscriptions in advance or just in time. CSPs will naturally want to charge and control this usage and the bandwidth that customers are getting, such as services without quota restrictions like music streaming with a fixed monthly fee. Perhaps they can consider time-, location- or service-specific profiles of policies that enable customers to enjoy the vast capacity at full speed.
With this in mind, we already enjoy a degree of granularity like watching a TV series at full capacity, while others view it at a lesser quality, all enabled by policy control and online charging systems. We’re also starting to see CSPs analysing and adapting their customer engagement through intelligent interactions like free services and campaign offers, better matching service profile configurations and other things that better suite personal preferences of usage. All of these services need to be activated, changed and deactivated in real time with a provisioning and activation engine that can scale to the vast speed and low latency.
Likewise, the usage data will be so diverse and vast in its volume that a next-generation mediation system with massive scalability is needed to enable managing the online feeds of data and transactions securely and to adapt the data from various sources and formats with all of the potential various destinations (and their formats). This layer we saw formed in the CDR/file world will also be very necessary in the new online/diameter world.
In summary, behind the acronym LTE-A, there is a promise of vast bandwidth, which no matter how you look at it, will surely benefit us, especially as many other innovations can then be applied to it. There are some hurdles to overcome, but just as many opportunities presented with the technology.
If you’re interested in talking about LTE-A a bit more, please leave a comment or come to our booth at the upcoming Management World 2012, taking place in Dublin in May, to chat with me about it.