Here is a continuation of my earlier presentation on Wireless Technologies – Part 1. These presentations trace the evolution of telecom from basic telephony all the way to the advances in LTE.
Published in The Hindu “Scarce spectrum impacts mobile broadband”
Published in Voice & Data: Spectrum: The Big Crunch is Coming
The ubiquity of the mobile phone and its ability to access the internet has been nothing short of miraculous. Mobile broadband has had such a powerful impact in recent times that it was described as the “Mobile Miracle” by the ITU-T.
A report by the Broadband Commission (set up by ITU-T and UNESCO) says that mobile users grew from 740 mn in 2000 to 5 bn in 2010, of which 1.8 bn were mobile broadband users. And this report says that for a 10% increase in mobile penetration, there is an increase of 1.38% in the GDP of the region.
Powerful smartphones, extremely fast networks, content-rich applications, and increasing user awareness, have together resulted in a virtual explosion of mobile broadband data usage. This explosion has begun to ring warning bells the world over. For it is predicted that with the existing spectrum availability, the world will run out of spectrum capacity by the middle of this decade.
The reasons behind this are fairly obvious. The growth in mobile data traffic has been exponential. According to a report by Ericsson, mobile data is expected to double annually till 2015. Mobile broadband will see a billion subscribers this year (2011), and possibly touch 5 bn by 2015.
According to IDATE, a consulting firm, the total mobile data will exceed 127 exabytes (an exabyte is 1018 bytes, or 1 mn terabytes) by 2020, an increase of over 33% from 2010.
There are 2 key drivers behind this phenomenal growth in mobile data. One is the explosion of devices-smartphones, tablet PCs, e-readers, laptops with wireless access. All these devices deliver high-speed content and web browsing on the move. The second is video. Over 30% of overall mobile data traffic is video streaming, which is extremely bandwidth hungry. The rest of the traffic is web browsing, file downloads, and email.
The growth has been fuelled by advances in wireless technology, as it evolved from EDGE, HSPA to LTE. There’s high growth of HSPA networks in the US, Canada and Latin America. And there will be over 25 operators with commercial deployments of LTE by 2015. EDGE, HSPA, and LTE have been enabling the delivery of extremely high-speed data to and from the internet and between devices.
However the ability to squeeze more and more bits per hertz of spectrum comes with additional costs and increased complexity. And despite all the advances, there is a technological limit to the bandwidth possible in the existing spectrum. This upper bound is determined by Shannon’s theorem, which provides the theoretical limits to the capacity of a channel for sending or receiving data.
Given the current usage trends, coupled with the theoretical limits of available spectrum, the world will run out of available spectrum for the growing army of mobile users. The current spectrum availability cannot support the surge in mobile data traffic indefinitely, and demand for wireless capacity will outstrip spectrum availability by the middle of this decade.
According a report published by the International Telecommunication Union–Radio (ITU-R), the spectrum requirement for regions in the world will be between 500 MHz and 1 GHz by 2020. The demand for spectrum bandwidth, based on average mobile broadband spectrum usage, clearly indicates that this demand will exceed the supply of spectral capacity by the middle of 2014.
Mobile Spectrum is a scarce resource and the governments of all the nations must work to optimize the usage of this resource. The ITU-R allocates spectrum frequencies for the use of various countries. In this context, the NGMN alliance (a global alliance of operators) states that “a timely and globally aligned spectrum allocation policy will play a key role in the development of a viable ecosystem on a national, regional and global scale, whose benefits will last well beyond the next decade”. Hence, there is a need for global harmonization in spectrum allocation, to prevent fragmentation, and to promote innovation for the next generation of networks.
The issue of spectrum scarcity is the real problem which must be addressed immediately by all nations going forward, given the fact that it typically takes some 6 years for spectrum to be operational, from the time it is allocated.
Published in Voice & Data – Bright Future
Introduction: The close of the 20th century will long be remembered for one thing. The dotcom bust followed by the downward spiral of many major telecom and technology companies. For those who believe in the theory of the 12 year economic cycle this downturn is right about to end and we should see good times soon. Even otherwise there is good news for those in the telecom domain. We could shortly be witness to golden years ahead. There are many signs that seem to indicate that the telecom industry is on the verge of many major breakthroughs. Technologies like LTE, IMS, smartphones, cloud computing point to interesting times ahead. In fact telecom is at a inflexion point when the fortunes seem to be pointed northward. This article looks at some of the promising technologies which are going to bring back the sunshine to telecom.
3G Technologies –Better Quality of Experience (QoE): The auction of the 3G spectrum ended after 131 days of hectic bidding for this cutting edge telecom technology. 3G promises a whole new customer experience backed by extremely high data speeds. 3G promises download speed of up to 2 Mbps for stationary subscribers and 384 Kbps for moving subscribers. It is very clear that such high data speeds will inspire a host of new and exciting applications. Applications that span location based services (LBS), m-Commerce and NFC communications will be simply be irresistible to the users. Moreover the ability to watch video clips or live action on mobile TV or on laptops enabled with 3G dongles will have a lot of takers for 3G technology. App stores for 3G are bound to do a roaring business as 3G takes off in India.
Smartphones – The game changers: In the last decade or so in the telecom industry no other invention has had such a disruptive effect in the telecom domain as smartphones. Smartphones like the IPhone, Droid or Nexus One have changed the rules of the game. The impact of smartphone has been so huge that it actually spawned an entire industry of developers who developed applications for smartphones, content developers and app stores. The irresistible appeal of smartphones is the ease of use and the ability to browse the net as though they were using a normal data connection. Users can watch youtube clips, play games or chat on the Smartphone.
IP Multimedia Systems (IMS) – Digital Convergence: IP Multimedia System (IMS) , based on 3GPP’s Release 5 Specification in 2005, has been in the wings for quite some time. The IMS envisions an access agnostic telecommunication architecture that will use an all-IP Core for the transport of medium be it voice, data or video. IMS uses SIP protocol for signaling between network elements and SDP for exchanging media between applications. The IMS architecture promises a whole slew of exciting application ranging from high quality video conference, high speed data access, white boarding or real time interactive gaining. IMS represents a true convergence of the telecom wireless concepts with the data communication protocols. The types of services that are possible with IMS will be only limited by imagination. With the entry of smartphones and tablet PCs, IMS is a technology that is waiting to happen and will soon become prime time
Long Term Evolution (LTE) – Blazing Speeds: Already there are upward of 5 billion mobile devices and a report from Cisco states that the total data navigating the net will exceed ½ a zettabyte (1021) by the year 2013. The exponential growth of data and the need to provide even higher Quality of Experience (QoE) led to the development of the LTE. LTE is considered 4G technology. LTE promises speeds anywhere between to 56 Mbps to 100 Mbps to users enabling unheard of speeds and applications. What makes LTE so attractive is that it promises better spectral efficiency and lower cost per bit than 3G networks. The competing technology for LTE is WIMAX which is also considered as 4G. But LTE has a better evolution path from 3G networks as opposed to WiMAX, While LTE is a packet only network there are sound strategies for handling voice traffic with LTE. The standards body 3GPP offers two options for handling voice. The first is the Circuit switched (CS) fallback to 2G/3G network. In this scenario data access will be through the packet network of LTE while voice calls will use legacy 2G/3G voice networks. The other alternative is the switch voice traffic to the IMS network with its all-IP Core. This method is supported by the One Voice initiative of many major telecom companies and accepted by GSMA. This strategy for handling voice through an IMS network is known as VoLTE (Voice over LTE)
Internet of Things- Towards a connected World: “The Internet of Things” visualizes a highly interconnected world made of tiny passive or intelligent devices that connect to large databases and to the internet. This technology promises to transform the network from a dumb-bit pipe to a truly “computing” network. The Internet of Things or M2M (machine-to-machine) envisages an anytime, anywhere, anyone, anything network. The devices in this M2M network will be made up of passive elements, sensors and intelligent devices that communicate with the network. The devices will be capable of sensing, identifying and responding to changes in the immediate environment. Radio Frequency Identification (RFIDs) is one of the early and key enabler of this technology. The uses for this technology range from warning when the structural integrity of bridges is compromised to implantable devices in heart patients warning doctors of possible heart attacks. The impact of the Internet of Things will be far-reaching. There are numerous applications for this technology. In fact, ubiquitous computing or the Internet of Things allows us to distribute processing power and intelligence throughout the network into a kind of ambient intelligence spread across the network. This technology promises to blur the lines between science fiction and reality.
App Stores – The final verdict: The success of App Stores in the last couple of years has been nothing short of phenomenal. It is a complete ecosystem with App Store Developers, App Stores, and the Content Developers and Service Providers. Apps and App stores have changed the rules of the game so completely. No longer is a mobile phone’s snazzy looks enough for it to be a best seller. The mobile should be supported by cool downloadable apps for the user to use. App Stores and apps will play an increasingly important role with apps being developed for smartphones and tablet PCs. There are bound to be several interesting apps spanning technologies like Location Based Service (LBS), mobile Commerce, eTicketing, Near Field Communication
Cloud Computing – Utility computing: Cloud Computing has been around some but is slowly gaining more and more prominence. Cloud computing follows a utility model for computing where the cloud user only pays for the computing power and storage capacity used. Cloud computing not involve any upfront Capacity expenditure (Capex). Users of public clouds like EC2, App Engine or Azure can pay according to the usage of the resources provided by the cloud. Cloud technologies allow the CSPs to purchase processing power, platforms, and databases almost like a utility like electricity or water. The cloud exhibits an elastic behavior and expands to accommodate increasing demands and contracts when the demand drops. Cloud computing will be slowly be adopted by more and more organizations and enterprises in the years to come.
Analytics – Mining intelligence from data: Nowadays organizations all over are faced with a deluge of data. For raw data to be useful it has been analyzed, classified and important patterns determined from the data. This is where data mining and analytics come into play. Analytics uses statistical methods to classify data, determine correlations, identify patterns, and highlight and detect key trends among large data sets. Analytics enables industries to plumb the data sets through the process of selecting, exploring and modeling large amount of data to uncover previously unknown data patterns. The insights which analytics provides can be channelized to business advantage. Data mining and predictive analytics unlock the hidden secrets of data and help businesses make strategic decisions. Analytics is bound to become more common and will play a predominant role in all organizations in the years to come.
Internet TV – Hot off the net: If IMS represents the convergence of Telecom and the internet, Internet TV represents the marriage of TV and the internet. Internet TV is a technology whose time has come. Internet TV will bring a whole new user experience by allowing the viewer to be view rich content on his TV in an interactive manner. The technology titans like Apple, Microsoft and Google have their own version of this technology. Internet TV combines TV, the internet and apps for this new technology. Internet TV is bound to become popular with complementary technologies like IMS, LTE allowing for high speed data exchange and the popularity of websites like Youtube etc. Internet TV will receive a further boost from apps of smartphones and tablet PCs
IPv4 exhaustion – Damocles’ sword: While the future holds the promise of many new technologies it is also going throw a lot of attendant challenges. One serious problem that will need serious attention in the not too distant future is the IPv4 address space exhaustion. This problem may be even more serious than the Y2K problem. The issue is that IPv4 can address only 2 32 or 4.3 billion devices. Already the pool has been exhausted because of new technologies like IMS which uses an all IP Core and the Internet of things with more devices, sensors connected to the internet – each identified by an IP address. The solution to this problem has been addressed long back and requires that the Internet adopt IPv6 addressing scheme. IPv6 uses 128-bit long address and allows 3.4 x 1038 or 340 trillion, trillion, trillion unique addresses. However the conversion to IPv6 is not happening at the required pace and pretty soon will have to be adopted on war footing. It is clear that while the transition takes place, both IPv4 and IPv6 will co-exist so there will be an additional requirement of devices on the internet to be able to convert from one to another
Technologies like IMS, LTE, and Internet TV have a lot of potential and hold a lot of promise. We as human beings have a constant need for better, faster and cheaper technologies. We can expect a lot of changes to happen in the next couple of years. We may once see rosy times ahead for telecom as a whole