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Service Provider Mobility

351 posts

by Andrew Mackay, Manager Mobile Solutions, Cisco Systems


One key take out for me from the latest Cisco VNI report is that wireless traffic is about to exceed fixed for the first time. Today wireless (Wi-Fi & Mobile) is 46% of total IP traffic, in 5-years it will be 67%. In fact at the projected rate of traffic migration this significant milestone will be reached next year.

Proportion of total global IP traffic:

table1.jpgThis is no surprise given the way Mobile devices have become the internet portal of choice to the majority. Along the way customer power has liberated the device from the Service Provider, with number portability,  the end of SIM locking and BYOD as global trends. Even content and applications are now been developed as Mobile ready first and Browser second. Anyone remember surfing a web page on a WAP browser?

As a consequence we are already seeing the lines blur between Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) and Fixed Network Operators (FNOs). MNOs are rapidly deploying services to cover traditional “Fixed” locations (home, work place, entertainment, etc.) leveraging Smallcells and Wi-Fi, for managed off-load and even Voice over Wi-Fi (VoWiFi). FNOs on the other hand are offering Mobile access via their, or affiliated Wi-Fi, and even as Mobile Virtual Network Operators.

So in the next 5-years we won’t be talking about Mobile and Fixed Network Operators, just Mobile Service Providers. The ones who provide the end-user information and communication access, via a mixed of physical and virtual network assets.









Cisco’s Connected Mobile Experience (CMX) solution employs data from the Wi-Fi network to generate information about devices visiting a venue.


At the center of the CMX product is the Mobility Service Engine (MSE), version 10 of which was announced at Cisco Live! Milan. MSE 10 was recently successfully deployed at Mobile World Congress 2015 where it monitored visitor activity for the full event. In this blog, we’ll show how MSE 10 was used to generate custom reports during the event to give some interesting insights into how the conference unfolded.



This year a record 93,000 plus people congregated in Barcelona for Mobile World Congress 2015 – the premier technology festival.  Much has changed in the industry over the last year since I reported my observations of MWC 2014.  However, what is most remarkable is how the boundaries of mobility continue to expand and morph – everything now seems to be mobile?  As such, the show offers a fascinating glimpse into the future of technology and the major social and business shifts that we can expect in the next few years.


Read my 12 big observations from the show and peak into the future.


Software-defined networking (SDN) can help businesses and service providers reduce networking complexity, as well as deployment and operational costs. These benefits are based on abstraction of the control functions from the network forwarding devices (such as switches, routers, and Layer 4 to 7 appliances). Abstraction helps simplify development or modification of new or existing services and applications, and that simplification drives costs down and contributes to faster revenue returns. Many people in the industry advocate the relocation of control functions to centralized general-purpose servers, typically x86 class in data centers. This approach offers lower costs through the use of lower-priced, mass-produced hardware for the forwarding devices.


For more information:



or Tweet us @CiscoSP360

Cisco Mobility Solution to Provide 2G, 3G, 4G/LTE Connectivity for Belgacom Customers


SAN JOSE, Calif., - September 18, 2014 - Cisco today announced that Belgacom has broadened its relationship with Cisco and purchased additional Cisco mobile Internet products to help evolve its network and provide Belgacom customers with mobile Internet experiences. The Cisco products are the Cisco Serving GPRS Support Node (SGSN) and Cisco Mobility Management Entity (MME), key components of the Cisco® Aggregated Services Router (ASR) 5000 Series.


Belgacom is a leading Belgian telecommunications service provider in mobile coverage; its Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) network reaches 99.98 percent of the Belgian population, and its 3G reaches 97 percent. Belgacom offers industry-leading speeds, with drive tests showing the best data transfer performance of all three Belgian mobile operators and best-in-class in upload speeds.

The Cisco ASR 5000 Series provides the foundation for Belgacom's new 4G long-term evolution (LTE) network, enabling it to deliver higher bandwidth and greater intelligence for faster mobile Internet services and an enhanced user experience. In addition, the Cisco ASR 5000 enables unified management of Belgacom's existing 2G and 3G mobile Internet services.


By choosing the Cisco ASR 5000 Series for its mobile Internet network, Belgacom gains:


  • Immediate benefits from running 2G, 3G, and 4G on the same platform;
  • Foundation for access innovation such as small cells, carrier Wi-Fi and HetNet self-organizing network (SON);
  • Ability to service their mobile video customers and allow them to watch TV anytime, anywhere, on any Internet-enabled device; and
  • Potential for new context-based services such as sponsored data.

Key Facts/Highlights


  • In Belgium, mobile data traffic will grow five-fold from 2013 to 2018, a compound annual growth rate of 40 percent, according to the Cisco Visual Networking Index Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update (2013-2018).
  • With this deployment, Belgacom enhances its network speed and connectivity and offers innovative services that enrich the user experience and provide further opportunity to scale and monetize its mobile Internet network enabled by Cisco.
  • The Cisco ASR 5000 Series, the industry's leading mobile packet core solution, is purpose-built for the complexities of the mobile Internet network. It is a robust multimedia services platform that brings a new level of network and customer intelligence critical for delivering real-time, personalized mobile services.
  • Cisco Mobility Management Entity (MME) is critical to the network function of the 4G mobile core network, known as the evolved packet core (EPC). The Cisco MME resides in the evolved packet control (EPC) control plane and manages session states, authentication, paging, mobility with 3GPP, 2G and 3G nodes, roaming and other management functions.

Supporting Quotes

  • Wim Bouckenooghe, Head of Core Service Platforms Belgacom: "The Cisco ASR 5000 Series is a single-packet core platform that allows us to operate multiple technologies ‑ including 2G, 3G, LTE and small cells ‑ in our mobile network. Cisco's elastic architecture also allows us to easily and rapidly scale mobile Internet services, which are a fast growing market in Belgium."
  • Mike Iandolo, vice president and general manager, Mobile Internet Technology Group, Cisco: "Cisco is committed to supporting the world's largest mobile operators with multi-dimensional elasticity across network services, signaling, sessions and throughput ‑ part of an elastic, programmable, open architecture that helps operators manage resources between physical and virtual environments. As operators plan new, innovative, advanced mobile Internet services, such as sponsored data, Cisco helps them monetize intelligence traversing their mobile networks."

Supporting Resources

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by Andrew Mackay, Manager Mobile Solutions, Cisco Systems


In my last post Bringing LTE Indoors, I discussed the compelling need to address LTE coverage indoors to allow service migration off 3G, particularly for Voice. We know there is a variety of options for MNOs to address indoor coverage, either from outside in with more outdoor sites, or from inside with wider use of Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS), repeaters or Smallcells. The “outdoor in” approach would mean even more BTS sites, but site acquisition challenges and build costs generally mean this is no longer an option in urban areas. Addressing coverage from indoors makes sense, but what is the optimal solution?

I’ve heard people talking about a “toolbox” approach to indoor coverage, but which tool is right for which job? There is no point using a 6 inch spanner on a 1/4 inch nut, and it’s the same with providing coverage and capacity you need an optimal cost solution for the size of the indoor hole to fill.

Cisco has worked with many operators on modelling Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) for various indoor coverage solutions. The results of one recent study are shown below, comparing Distributed Antenna Systems to Smallcells; either installed by the MNO or by the end-user themselves (DIY).


IndoorTCO.jpg“5-Year TCO study for various indoor coverage solutions”


Obviously this isn’t an “Apples for Apples” comparison since the capacities are so different. But even if we normalise by the number of design users, Smallcells show clear TCO per user benefit.


NormalizedTCO.jpg“Normalised TCO per user for various indoor coverage solutions”


The other thing I observed in this study was how much the DAS system TCO improved when a larger number of users are required to be served in a location. I therefore extended the study to look at how the DAS vs Smallcell TCO comparison varied for different sized enterprises.


“Comparison of DAS versus Smallcell TCO for various Enterprise sizes”


For small enterprises of <50 people, which represents the majority of businesses, Smallcells are clearly more cost effective. Due to their more modular capacity, re-use of WLAN infrastructure and easier installation Smallcells could be more than 5 times cheaper to own. As the size of the enterprise to cover gets larger, DAS TCO is more comparable, but even for large enterprise (>250 people) Smallcells could still work-out with 50% lower TCO. Such comparisons would vary on a case by case basis, for example often larger enterprise locations are already covered with DAS for 3G which can be reused.


The “toolbox” approach to solving indoor coverage challenges makes sense, but for Small Medium Enterprise locations Smallcells seem to be the right tool for the job.


To learn more about visit our LTE technologies page, check our Twitter feed @CiscoSPMobility or contact Jacqueline Chan ( for more information.


Innovate and Monetize Your Network with Policy

Cisco Knowledge Network Series


Live Webcast - September 23, 2014 - 8:00am PT/11:00am ET








As Service Provider networks shift their policy focus from network-defense use cases to subscriber-experienced solutions, the network must also shift to quickly to provide innovative services.


In this session, you will learn more about how Cisco Quantum Policy Suite can be used to solve customer business pain points and provide new monetization services.


By the end of the presentation, you will know:

  • Why Policy is critical for networks to meet today’s subscriber experiences and expectations
  • Where Policy fits in the network, with use cases and call flows to address today’s demands like VoLTE and the Internet of Everything
  • How Cisco Quantum Policy Suite can provide service innovation and velocity to create new monetization opportunities in your network



Live Webcast - Tuesday, September 23, 2014 - 8:00am PT/11:00am ET

Register now to join us to learn how to innovate and monetize your network with policy.


Tweet us @CiscoSPMobility if you have any questions or comments.

During the most chaotic of times, when clear, rapid communication isn't just a luxury but an absolute necessity, Small Cell technology makes all the difference.


When one phone call can be tantamount to life or death, a secure, reliable connection and accurate transmission of location information are of the utmost importance.


And Small Cell technology plays an important role in so many other facets of our lives--from when we set foot into our office during the weekday, to when we stop at the mall or enjoy a sports game on the weekends.


To learn more about the current and future role of Small Cells in addressing the growing needs of the public and private sector for greater voice and data coverage and capacity indoors, check this Infographic, follow the Twitter feed @CiscoSPMobility and go to:

Register today for this free ThinkSmallCell webinar on September 4, Thursday, featuring Cisco’s Alan McNab and our partner iBwave who will talk about how we’re working together to streamline Enterprise Small Cell deployments for Mobile Operators.


At this webinar, we will be discussing:


  • How the incremental cost of adding cellular service to an Enterprise Wi-Fi deployment can be as low as 20%;
  • When and why the RF design can be assigned to field technicians and personnel with basic IT background;
  • What the main concerns and bottlenecks that constrain this approach are.


We’ll discuss real-world perspectives from the field, where we are actively trialing and deploying products in countries worldwide, and answer the challenging questions about the feasibility of this approach.


Participants will also have the opportunity to put their own questions to the panel and participate in audience polls.




  • David Chambers, Senior Analyst at ThinkSmallCell, has been focused on the Small Cell market and watched it evolve over the past 7 years.
  • Alan McNab, Global Small Cell Go-To-Market for Cisco. He brings knowledge from extensive field experience from deployment for both Wi-Fi and Small Cells.
  • Benoit Fleury, VP Products and Innovation iBwave, is responsible for evolving iBwave’s current products as well as expanding the company’s overall product portfolio.




Thursday, September 4, 2014, 8:00 AM - 9:00 AM PDT / 11:00 AM - 12:00 PM EDT


Register now.


Tweet us @CiscoSPMobility if you have any questions or comments.




Bringing LTE Indoors

Posted by julsilva Aug 5, 2014

by Andrew Mackay, Manager Mobile Solutions, Cisco Systems


As Long Term Evolution (LTE) networks continue to be deployed, it is becoming evident that matching the existing 3G coverage quality is going to be a challenge. This is reminiscent of the early days of 3G, when it took many years to get coverage matching underlying GSM. The higher carrier frequency (2.1GHz) and partial initial overlays left deep indoor coverage with “cold spots.”  This resulted in unreliable calls and increased battery consumption, which led many users to disable 3G out of frustration.  Over time, operators invested in more infill Base Transceiver Station (BTS), wider use of In-building Systems (IBS) and repeaters, but indoor coverage was only really resolved when 3G on 850/900 MHz was deployed as a coverage “safety net.”


In Asia, the majority of LTE deployments are in the 1.8GHz band and higher. As a result, the typical LTE user drops back to 3G (850/900MHz) on a regular basis when deep indoors, commuting, or even inside their home. Initially, the user experience of dropping from LTE to 3G for data services may not be so irritating since voice is still falling back to 3G in the majority of networks. Plus, in many indoor scenarios, good Wi-Fi service is available to fill-in the missing bandwidth. But, ultimately, this is a branding issue: customers subscribing to a 4G service expect that level of service, not to see their service provider icon showing 3G. It becomes an even larger issue when you want to serve your subscriber real-time services over 4G, such-as voice and streaming video. So how do we avoid these service “pot-holes”?



“Warning: 3G pot-holes ahead.”


Many operators tell me that they will wait for sub-1GHz LTE coverage before considering wide spread VoLTE (Voice over LTE) deployment, but this may take years. Unlike in the US and Europe, the benefits of the digital dividend have yet to arrive at APAC with only live LTE APT700MHz deployments (in Taiwan so far). But even after the networks arrive it will take a while for the majority of devices to support the new band. 3G band refarming isn’t as easy as it sounds either; i.e., how do you refarm from carriers full of voice, which you can’t move to 4G until you have good VoLTE coverage? A classic “catch-22.”


One possible solution is to rely on Wi-Fi as a stop-gap measure for voice. Certainly, this approach has been in the press recently with operators 3 and EE in the UK discussing VoWiFi (Voice over Wi-Fi) strategies. In the case of EE, the role of using VoWiFi to plug LTE coverage holes was made explicit: “The aim of VoWiFi is to improve in-building coverage. Calls will be automatically routed via WiFi, for instance, in a user’s home or office, where there is an absence of cellular coverage.” VoWiFi received further attention with the announcement of iOS8 support for Wi-Fi calling on T-Mobile’s USA network.



“iOS8 adds VoWiFi”


The challenge I foresee with VoWiFi is providing a “Carrier Grade” user experience. My concern is not with voice quality, which can be maintained in HD on an uncongested access point, but more the limited mobility. At present, as a Wi-Fi signal fades, the client hangs on to the connection despite quality dropping below what VoIP (Voice over IP) requires, before giving up and switching back to cellular. Another issue is variability of up-stream connectivity on different Wi-Fi networks accessed on a typical day. In the case of a work Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN), for example, Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) traffic might be blocked as per the enterprise policy. Both of these issues are critical in the case of terminating calls, where the user may be forced to stay put to complete the call or have the call go straight to voicemail.

I believe Wi-Fi will be an important stop-gap for poor LTE indoor coverage, but, eventually, it should take on the complementary role of picking up the non-real-time bandwidth workload. The ideal end game has to be to provide sufficient LTE coverage and capacity to match (or exceed) the current 3G user experience for real-time services, particularly voice. How this is achieved given the multiple RAN tools available (lower frequency bands, LTE Smallcells, Repeaters, Relays and IBS) becomes a question of time and the best TCO business case, and that’s a whole other topic.


To learn more about visit our LTE technologies page, check our Twitter feed @CiscoSPMobility or contact Jacqueline Chan ( for more information.


Watch our latest episode and see how the latest technology helps service providers create, automate, and provision network services with carrier-grade virtualization, making them more agile and better able to capture new revenue opportunities.


Carrier-Grade Virtualization for Service Providers

Join the TechWiseTV team for this service provider’s eye-view into the innovations that can help have a significant effect on your organization’s ability to be more agile and take advantage of important new revenue streams through carrier-grade virtualization.


A must-see for any service provider considering migration to a virtual environment, this unique episode features deep-dive walkthroughs of exciting new solutions already in use by 25 service providers around the world, including:
  • Cisco Quantum Virtualized Packet Core, the industry’s most complete, fully virtualized evolved packet core (EPC), which works in conjunction with the new Cisco Evolved Services Platform. Quantum vPC virtualizes ALL of the capabilities of the Cisco Aggregation Services Router (ASR) 5000 Series
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Be sure not to miss this opportunity to get a firsthand look at the technology that can help service providers like you get the most out of your network and mobile services.

Topics include:
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    Approximate duration: 43 minutes

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One of the main trends in radio access network (RAN) is the bifurcation of systems that enable network densification. Today, mobile network operators have more options than ever before for the means of providing service to their subscribers. Alongside the evolution of wireless standards to provide higher spectral efficiency, vendors have unleashed a wide variety of radio access nodes. While the macro cell remains the workhorse, small cells, distributed antenna systems (DAS), distributed radio systems (DRS) and Cloud RAN (CRAN) are systems that will see increasingly wider deployment in the future. Given this, what are some of the trends that we see in this space?


Looking at small cells first, there's a clear trend in increasing their capabilities – small cells are bulking up! Small cells today are required to support multiple technologies, including Wi-Fi as well as multiple frequency bands and greater number of users (as high as 400 from the original 8-16 users planned for femto cells). This trend is not new and is merely an extension of what has taken place in small cell development starting with the user-deployed femto cell which originally was conceived to cater to the residential market, but quickly acquired greater scope to address the enterprise market in addition to outdoor, carrier-led deployments. There are multiple architectures today for small cell networks which vary depending on the deployment scenario. Future developments in small cells will see new architectures where certain functions in the protocol stack that are typically co-located with the RF subsystem in compact base stations moved to a central location, such as the macro cell, to mitigate some of the performance shortcomings of small cells (specifically, the packet data convergence protocol layer will be moved out of the small cell). Such developments will impact a number of adjacent functions such as backhaul.


While small cells are staking their claim to the indoor small-venue market, DAS systems have been extensively deployed in large venues. The evolution of DAS points towards two pronged evolutionary paths. First, there's a move downstream to provide a feasible business case for medium-sized venues.


The second focuses on improving the economics for large venues where DAS has a stranglehold. This includes supporting greater number of carriers by enabling wider bandwidth over fiber, supporting new bands such as 2600 MHz and features such as MIMO which severely taxes DAS deployments. Another important development is enabling DAS to carry CPRI signals from a base station baseband unit over fiber to the DAS remote module which reduces cost as it eliminates the need to a radio at the feeder base station and related RF plumbing such as couplers, duplexers, attenuators and termination load.


The third category of radio access nodes, DSRs, includes low-power remote radios that can be deployed similarly to small cells. In DSRs, the radios are connected to a macro cell either through fiber carrying CPRI signals, or over CAT5 cable (after CPRI is converted by an intermediary module to digital or intermediate frequency [IF] signals suitable for transmission over CAT5). DSRs are fundamentally a

base station hotel which provides an improvement in performance over small cells because the remote radios can be coordinated with the macro cell that provides overlay coverage. This enables equipment vendors to implement their secret sauce to manage and mitigate interference within the context allowed by the access standard (such as LTE). This category has recently emerged to target medium sized venues where DAS can be too expensive to deploy and small cells can't scale effectively from both performance and practical perspectives. DSRs have certain limitations resulting from the capabilities of the remote radios and the type of connectivity to the baseband which limit the number of frequency carriers and distance.

A fourth type of systems is in the process of emerging: Cloud RAN. While CRAN was originally conceived for a macro cell deployment scenario, its benefits translate well into the outdoor HetNet and indoor/in-venue deployment scenario. In fact, the performance advantage of CRAN is in its ability to enable coordinated multipoint, or network MIMO, capabilities. This is because in this architecture, the baseband processing is centralized, pooled and virtualized. Remote radios connect to baseband over fiber, but wireless fronthaul is also possible.  CRAN would be a further evolution on DSRs which I believe will be supplanted by Cloud RAN once this technology is sufficiently mature.


In reviewing these different types of access systems we should not forget that there are different approaches within each category which creates a very rich set of solutions at the disposal of operators. The question then becomes to what extent are these solutions complementary and competitive? Which will see wider deployments in the months and years ahead and which will fade away or perhaps evolve into a new type of system? For now, one thing is clear: the implications to the infrastructure ecosystems as well as to network operators, are perhaps greater than they have ever been.


LTE Deployment Dilemma

Posted by ZahidGhadialy Apr 14, 2014

With so many different possibilities and options available to the operators for deployments it is necessary that the planning is done in such a way as to keep the interference to minimum and throughput to maximum. Let’s look at two simple deployment situations.


For simplicity let’s assume that the operator has won 20MHz of contiguous spectrum. We have 5 UE’s. UE#1, UE2 and UE#5 are basic Rel-8 LTE UE’s and UE#3 and UE#4 are LTE-A UE’s with support for Carrier Aggregation (CA) and enhanced Inter-Cell Interference Coordination (eICIC)




Operator 1 decides to split the 20MHz spectrum into 15MHz for macrocell and 5MHz for small cell. In this case:


UE#1 and UE#2 get 5MHz of spectrum


UE#3 gets 15MHz + 5MHz using CA. Total 20MHz


UE#4 and UE#5 get 15MHz of spectrum.


The advantage of this scenario is a simple Hierarchical Cell Structure (HCS) deployment. There is no need to worry about the interference.




Operator 2 decides to deploy macrocell and small cells in Heterogeneous Network (HetNet) deployment (co-channel). They have used the complete 20MHz channel for both the Macrocells and Small cells. Due to the interference experienced by the UE’s on small cells, the Macrocell is using ABS (Almost Blank Subframes). The advantage of using ABS is that it can be dynamically configured. Let’s consider a peak and non-peak scenario from macrocell point of view. In the peak scenario macrocell is having 10% ABS and in non-peak it is having 50% ABS. Let’s look at the user impact


Non-Peak scenario (50% ABS)

UE#1 – 20MHz (Since it’s in the center of the cell, we will assume no interference from Macrocell)


UE#2 and UE#3 – 20MHz (High interference in 50% of the time)


UE#4 and UE#5 – 20MHz (ABS for 50%)


In this situation, the throughput for UE#4 and UE#5 would be half or equivalent of 10MHz scenario. The throughput for UE#2 and UE#3 would equivalent to somewhere in between 10MHz and 20MHz scenario.


Peak scenario (10% ABS)

UE#1 – 20MHz (Since it’s in the center of the cell, we will assume no interference from Macrocell)


UE#2 and UE#3 – 20MHz (High interference in 90% of the time)


UE#4 and UE#5 – 20MHz (ABS for 10%)


In this situation, the throughput for UE#4 and UE#5 would be or equivalent of 18MHz scenario. The throughput for UE#2 and UE#3 would equivalent to somewhere in between 2MHz and 20MHz scenario.


Even though it may be advantageous to have the deployment as proposed by Operator 2, interference may cause more problems in the long term.


I am interested in hearing what option do you think will work best and why.


When it comes to finding out which way an industry is headed there is one sure way to get it right: Follow the money. You won’t often go far wrong.

That being the case then the recent news that UK-based global mobile operator giant Vodafone had bid a stunning US$10 billion for Spanish cable operator ONO – coming on top of its US$10 billion acquisition of Kabel Deutschland last year – is a very telling sign indeed of where the industry is headed.

Industry folks have long talked about the importance of the quad-play – that is offering mobile services alongside the classic fixed-line triple-play – not to mention the throwing around of buzz-words like convergence and fixed-mobile convergence - and now the industry is finally embracing these trends en masse.

The ‘quad-play’ scenario has become crucial for operators in many developed markets because it enables them to provision multi-screen services that provide the ‘content anywhere’ scenarios that subscribers are demanding.

In addition – as is being proven by operators such as Orange in France with its Open quad-play platform – high-quality fixed + mobile offers bundled with the right content and applications can help to defend high-value subscribers and keep them out of the clutches of cut-price competitors.

However, whilst the trend towards quad-play is clear there are clear risks attached to what Vodafone is doing in terms of acquiring major cable operators.

The biggest risk surrounds the increasing power of Over-the-Top (OTT) players in the pay TV market – a threat which has resulted in a clear trend towards ‘cord cutting’ in major cable markets such as the US.

Whilst it is true that cable MSO’s in the US are still keeping those ‘cord cutters’ on board as broadband subscribers – on significantly higher margins no doubt – they are still at risk of seeing a big chunk of their business disappear.

In fact, the cable business is facing a double-whammy of problems that are going to chip away at its pay TV subscriber base.

Firstly, it looks pretty likely that the arrival of cheap USB-based video-streaming devices such as Chromecast are going to take the OTT video market to a far higher level of penetration in the market.

Secondly, whilst the first wave of OTT players were led by the likes of Netflix one can say with some certainty that the cablecos are about to be hit with a second wave of competition from new OTT players such as Amazon, Yahoo et al that is going to squeeze them harder that Netflix ever did.

This means that whilst the quad-play is essentially still a sound strategy with a proven track record that operators need to think very carefully about the content that they bundle into their quad-play.

The days of being able to offer – as cable operators have done for so long – a huge and dominating pay TV package may well be coming to an end with pay TV operators being forced to adopt a more pragmatic content strategy where they form alliances with OTT players.

This will not be an easy thing for the cable operators to swallow but the technological tide is changing the consumer market so quickly that they will need to adapt to the new environment as fast as possible – or face the consequences.

The reality is that whilst it is a sound strategy for operators to provide constant high-quality connectivity to subscribers that they are going to have to accept – however grudgingly – that a big chunk of the video content going over those pipes is going to come from the OTT players.

This is going to be a particularly tricky road for a player like Vodafone to follow given its lack of experience in the pay TV field - we have seen many examples in the global market of inexperienced telcos getting their fingers burnt in the pay TV market by being overly aggressive.

We have already seen signs of cable operators swallowing their pride and working with the OTT players – with the deal between Virgin Media and Netflix in the UK a good example – and we will no doubt see plenty more as reality bites.

About the Author

Learn more about Tony Brown by reading his Community Profile

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It has been over four years since Telia Sonera Sweden and Finland launched the world’s first commercial LTE networks and ushered in the age of true mobile broadband services.  By the end of 2014 we expect there to be nearly 300 LTE networks serving upwards of 300 million users, with nearly 1,400 different devices connecting at speed up to 300Mbps. Users from the GSM and CDMA worlds have to think the pinnacle has been reached, but far from it.  LTE is just beginning to get its legs.

Advances such as VoLTE and LTE-A will expand beyond South Korea into the US, UK, Japan in 2014; and we have yet to see the impact of 40MHz channels, let alone 100MHz channels, which will usher in the Gigabit age for mobile networking.  LTE still has far to go to reach its full potential, in particular in areas such as SDN/NFV/Cloud architecture and Small Cells, and I fully expect standards bodies, MNO’s and equipment vendors to draw from the experience of LTE in these two key areas as 5G standards shape up.

Virtualization of LTE infrastructure holds promise, but faces significant challenges.

The mobile network infrastructure is roughly a USD50B market globally in 2014 according to our estimates of RAN and core investments across all network technologies.  A growing trend among the infrastructure vendors is to cannibalize their own hardware-based revenues streams to take advantage of the growing enterprise push towards software defined networking (SDN), virtualization (NFV) and Cloud architecture.  The major network equipment vendors have already been discussing their solutions in these areas.  These solutions are intended to lower mobile network solution costs through the use of simpler, commercial Off the Shelf (COTS) hardware running virtualized functions in both distributed and centralized architectures depending on the needs of the operator.

Every major MNO I spoke with this year at both our Singapore Research event in January 2014, and at MWC 2014 expressed interest in these new architectures to help reduce Capex and Opex costs, deal with network scale, and simplify network operations.  However, these MNO CTO’s have also expressed a uniquely similar set of concerns regarding Cloud-enabled/Virtualized network solutions:

  • What is the reliability of the virtualized solutions?  One comment from the CTO at a multi-national MNO underscores a general concern: ‘some of the LTE core systems today are not at five nines reliability.  How do they expect systems running on IT hardware to be five nines reliable?’
  • How do I troubleshoot virtualized systems? With network functions such as MME, BBU and the packet core running on COTS hardware, how do I pinpoint and remedy problems quickly and effectively? How do I isolate the network from rogue processes to minimize impact on my subscribers?
  • Will the systems scale as expected?  A number of CTO and network heads mentioned the early network failures at DoCoMo and Verizon as software issues not hardware failures and questioned whether or not the virtualized functions could handle the network loads.

Cloud RAN was also a key area of interest, but responses from a selected set of MNO’s revealed the fibre-rich requirements of Cloud RAN may limit its use in 4G network to somewhere between ‘0% and 1%’ of sites according to one European MNO CTO, with the high estimate being 5% of sites. Fibre-dense locations such as Seoul, South Korea; Hong Kong; Singapore and certain major cities around the world may find a home for Cloud RAN, but the fibre requirements may prove a hindrance to wider deployment.

MNOs technical leadership has clearly given the trends towards cloud and virtualization significant mind-share and we are seeing some tests, trials and commercial deployments of limited functions, for now. The challenge for the vendors is sharpening the deployment opportunities for Cloud RAN, and addressing the Telco-grade concerns regarding the virtualized functions.  The good news is that the CTO’s I spoke with see virtualization as a 10 year project, so lots of time for the vendors to address their concerns.

Small Cells for LTE will undergo an extended development cycle.

Small Cells continue to solve key coverage problems for the MNO’s in both 2G and 3G networks.  The expected market growth is in additional 3G expansion and especially in 4G networks providing capacity and coverage to the macro network and solving the increasing problem of indoor coverage for higher order (>2 GHz) 4G networks. The Small Cell Forum continues an impressive march towards market development with the release at MWC of its Urban Foundations release helping operators address Small Cell deployment in dense urban centres.

I expect that in 2014 operators will be moving to broaden their small cell installation activities, particularly in the dense urban areas where most of the high-use clients tend to congregate.  However a number of operators have also indicated a need for multi-band small cell systems supporting up to five bands, which are not yet on the market.  Vendors have dual-band small cells either released or in testing but the bulk of the market seems to be waiting for the more capable systems. 

As more operators turn towards LTE-A and carrier aggregation to combine multiple spectrum positions (28% of MNO’s have 3 or more spectrum bands according to the Analysys Mason Spectrum Auction Tracker) the need for the small cell to match or exceed the macro cell for band support grows.  We look for a wave of multiband small cells to be launched by the end of this year for installation beginning in late 2015.

5G and LTE: Friends, or Frenemies?

In the past four months I have seen six different vendor presentations of what is needed in the 5G standard and I’ve discussed with four major MNO’s their views on what issues 5G should address.   So I’m describing the current 5G development status as this: we are at the ‘Wish List’ phase. The numbers mentioned are impressive: 1000x data volume, Gigabit data rates, 99% reliability, 100% coverage, 1ms latency. The feature list is even more impressive.  Pretty much everything is on the table, and I’ll go into this in more detail in another post. 

For now, MNO’s and enterprises should be looking at the near future, the next 3-5 years, with a view towards how can multi-megabit mobile services change how the offer and how they do business?  If the old brick and mortar retail establishments are under fire from internet-based firms, what about other businesses as well?  If I can get the performance of my fixed office and provide tools for even better coordination and interworking for individuals and teams of people wherever they are, what does that do for my business?

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