Amid last week’s media huddle over the iPhone 4S and the rollout of iOS 5, a report gently crept past the radar attracting little to no attention. The report detailed the speed at which U.S. carriers are rolling out LTE: A speed so rapid that the U.S. is now the global leader in LTE deployments. The country can now claim 47% of all LTE subscriptions. This figure is further strengthened when you consider that Americans will own 71% of LTE handsets by the end of 2011. Verizon, AT&T and MetroPSC please take a bow.
These are incredible figures and highlight just how serious U.S. carriers are at pushing mobile broadband across the country. Special mention should be made of Verizon here. It’s moving forward at incredible speeds and is fuelled by impressive revenues.
However, across the rest of the world, adoption of LTE and 4G technologies is proving a little slow. Only last week Ofcom announced that the U.K.’s 4G auction is to be postponed until the end of 2012. The U.K. is now the last of the major European powers to auction its spectrum. On a slightly more positive note, the U.K.’s first LTE trial began in Cornwall earlier this month.
Yet while the industry ploughs ahead and connects more cell towers with fiber there are two critical elements that could potentially disrupt the success of LTE and 4G networks. In fact, if these elements aren’t addressed quickly and uniformly we could be facing significant industry fragmentation. Let me dive into this in a little more detail. The two elements are synchronisation and assurance. They may sound somewhat harmless but they have the power to cause havoc.
Firstly, synchronisation. In today’s voice networks, there’s little concern about synchronisation and timing. Thanks to the availability of ubiquitous synchronous networking technologies, such as SONET and SDH, access to exact timing information is taken for granted. However, as we move to all-data networks, carriers are moving away from synchronous, legacy voice circuits. The question is how do they do this while still retaining critical timing sources?
To ensure end users receive a high Quality of Service (QoS), it’s vital that all cell towers be synchronised. This is especially true when travelling and you are bouncing between cell towers. If these cell towers serving adjacent cells aren’t synchronised, your phone conversation could sound like a badly dubbed film and your video call may look like one.
Secondly, assurance. Mobile operators often rely on a fixed-line carrier providing connectivity to cell towers. Yet this arrangement can often lead to the mobile operator not knowing the exact details of what’s happening with its backhaul service. The mobile operator needs to know that its end users are receiving the QoS that they’re paying for. To do this, there are only two options:
- Wait for customers to complain and leave your service
- Monitor the quality of the backhaul network and the end-user experience.
Ultimately, there’s only one option.
Yet there are few solutions that address these issues. As the world continues to push ahead with LTE and 4G networks, it’s critical that these two issues are resolved. If we don’t, it doesn’t matter which handset we use or which network we choose. Mobile carriers need to focus on the end user and their networks more than ever.