AIRCOM International has announced today that mobile operators should be looking at options other than LTE. For networks that are struggling to keep up with the explosion in mobile data usage, AIRCOM says they should consider the much cheaper option of HSPA+
What are you talking about?
Smartphones and high-end feature phones have made it far easier to access the internet over your phone. The rocketing usage of mobile data for both the internet and applications have seen some operator networks fighting to keep up with demand. Famously, AT&Ts Ralph de la Vega made dire but non-specific threats against high data users last year. Having jumped on the smartphone bandwagon, many operators are now discovering they don’t have the infrastructure to keep up with consumer demand.
The solution seems to be LTE. The next evolution of mobile networks has been in development for well over 10 years, and is now nearly ready to be rolled out. The new network infrastructure will vastly increase the speed and reliability of mobile data, as well as decrease costs for operators. However, in order to upgrade to LTE, operators will need to invest a lot of money: Alcatel-Lucent has already won a hefty upgrading contract from Verizon, and in the Netherlands it’s being suggested that multiple operators should share a single LTE network in order to reduce costs.
What’s AIRCOM suggesting?
AIRCOM International helps operators to manage their networks and data needs. It has done a lot research into what upgrades will actually need to be made to network infrastructures in order to deal with increased mobile data. And what it is saying, in essence, is that while LTE is a fantastic solution, it may be overkill for some operators – very, very expensive overkill. AIRCOM suggests that an upgrade to a more advanced form of 3G will solve the data problems for a lot of operators at a much cheaper price.
And it’s not being shy about its recommendation either. AIRCOM is promoting HSPA+ as the technology that operators should be considering instead of LTE.
As simply as possible, it’s what you might call “Super 3G”. A slightly more detailed explanation would be that High Speed Package Access (HSPA) is a technology built on top of WCDMA 3G networks, and enhances the speed and performance of WCDMA. HSPA+ is simply the next version of HSPA. It’s even faster than HSPA, and allows operators to create an all-IP network. All-IP networks run every single network function through Internet Protocol – allowing voice, data and SMS to be bundled together into a more easily manageable service. For a more detailed explanation, check out our report on Next Generation Networks.
LTE proponents are saying it can hit download speeds of 100 Mbps, but AIRCOM is asking whether or not you really need that? According to their report, HSPA+ can offer 21 Mbps – which is about 5 times faster than current average speeds of around 3.5 Mbps. That boost would not only ease the data burden hugely but also come at a much smaller cost, since it can be built on currently existing networks and doesn’t require the new infrastructure that LTE needs.
AIRCOM claims the price saving could be as much as $1.2 billion for an operator in the US. Operators in the UK could save up to 500 million dollars – where those in Gulf territories and APAC could save $225 million and $155 million respectively. You can see its workings here:
What we think?
If it weren’t for the fact that AIRCOM is suggesting HSPA+ as a “short term” solution, I’d disagree with them completely. The problem with people is that if you give them something new, they’ll want to use it. This was a mistake that operators made. They seemed to think that data services could be fed slowly to the public, but what they got was closer to a feeding frenzy. In December, O2 admitted to being “overwhelmed” by the data use it was seeing.
So the problem here is that HSPA+ is the apex of its technology. It’s the best 3G that money can buy. If an operator invests in HSPA+ and its subscribers use up all of that bandwidth, it doesn’t really have anywhere to go. The next step is to invest in LTE anyway. The great thing about LTE is that it has been specifically designed to be easily upgradeable. So if your subscribers manage to clog up even that massive channel, you have someplace to go from there. As it stands, the best HSPA+ can be is a stop gap before you have to invest in new infrastructure anyway. But for networks that don’t have a many data-using consumers, it looks like the cheap option while they’re waiting for mobile internet use to increase.