24 March 2014
Eckart Zollner, Head of Business Development at Jasco
Long Term Evolution (LTE)
technology is taking shape. It’s the next big evolution in communication
technology, taking us from 3G to 4G. The experience is, in an all-LTE world,
“all IP, all the time” with throughput of up to 100Mbps. The LTE user is always
connected wirelessly to fast, responsive, reliable data, broadcast quality
video content and services, and now also voice over IP. But that world is three
to five years away. There are key challenges in this evolution to LTE for South
Africa, Africa and globally. There are also some landmark advances.
According to the Global
mobile Suppliers Association (GSA), there are currently 274 commercially
launched LTE networks in 101 countries, and 456 LTE network commitments in 135
countries. More than 1240 LTE-ready devices -- smartphones, tablets, modems –
have been announced. Yet LTE services today only make up a fraction of mobile
services. Of the 5.976 billion mobile subscriptions globally in Q3, 2013, only
157.7 million were LTE subscriptions says Informa Telecoms & Media research.
The 65 percent LTE coverage envisioned by 2019 (an Ericsson prediction) seems a
long way away.
The greatest challenges in
the rollout of LTE reside in bringing together all the components that make up
the LTE ecosystem – the LTE-enabled devices, the new hardware that makes up the
LTE networks (radio, backhaul and core), the applications, and possibly the
most critical part – the operational support systems and services.
Like any emerging
technology, the pace of LTE rollouts and adoption is expected to accelerate,
however. The signals being sent by large operators globally are good, despite
LTE rollout challenges
Key challenges to the
rollout of LTE are spectrum allocation delays, capital costs associated with
the establishment of LTE networks, the LTE-readiness of devices, user awareness
of LTE services, and core network capabilities.
Globally, numerous operators
have adopted LTE, aggressively marketing these services. In South Africa, all
the major network providers have rolled out LTE commercially, albeit only in
key metropolitan areas. The slow rollout is thanks to two key issues: the
readiness of handsets and failure of regulators to free up spectrum in the
lower frequency bands–800MHz, 2.6GHz and 3.5GHz.
At present only high-end
smartphones are LTE enabled, limiting user adoption of LTE. LTE chipsets that
are needed for handsets are still expensive but are set to reduce in cost
drastically over the next 3-5 years. Failure of regulators to allocate spectrum
for LTE is also seeing network providers cannibalise existing networks to
launch LTE offerings. In many instances spectrum is just not being freed up. In
South Africa, for example, the switch to digital broadcasting is a year late,
with analogue broadcasters still occupying the 800Mhz spectrum.
The future role of LTE and
the benefits it will offer are undeniable, however, and operators are moving
ahead with infrastructure rollouts.
in Africa – partnerships, finance and sharing of core networks
LTE is going to be
particularly beneficial in Africa with its low fixed line infrastructure build
out and high population densities, offering network operators’ greater reach
and affordability. LTE is an ideally suitable technology for last mile broadband
connectivity. Governments are putting
the right regulatory environment in place to drive LTE rollouts but for network
providers partnerships are proving vital to meet entry costs. Many partnering
alliances are already in place, with sharing of LTE transmission technologies
and fibre backbones occurring as larger operators upgrade to LTE and extend the
fibre networks that facilitate access between towers and to international bandwidth
via various undersea cables.
In addition, a number of
experienced solution providers are now providing LTE solutions and doing system
integration, offering a one-stop plan-design-deploy-commission service, and
bringing finance to the table. This makes it easy for operators to introduce
In fact, LTE lends itself to
use by second-tier players.
opens to tier-two players, with core infrastructure by 2016
Where 3G infrastructure
required significant investment by network operators, the pricing and nature of
LTE infrastructure allows smaller players to get a foot in the door to roll out
their own network.
LTE can operates in lower
frequency bands. But in higher frequency bands it has less reach. It therefore
makes use of more network elements than 3G. However, it can service a higher
number of concurrent users (up to 200 per cell), providing them with greater
throughput and quality of broadband. As these smaller networks join up, LTE
coverage will quickly grow.
By mid-2016, key concerns
about core infrastructure - the network intelligence needed for traffic
switching, subscriber identification and authentication, management of
firewalls, security, billing, and the like - are also likely to be addressed. Concepts
for core infrastructure sharing are on the cards. This is a vital piece of the
LTE puzzle, especially for smaller players. As the one-stop solution providers
and global players with the necessary experience and capability invest in this
infrastructure, it becomes accessible to second tier operators, enabling their
service offerings and providing the necessary layers of security, reliability
and billing capability.
a factor to consider with LTE
LTE offers true mobility -
there is no hand off as between WiFi hotspots – LTE is made for roaming, with overlap
between networks giving users not only high speed, but always-on connectivity.
This raises concerns about security for the user as well as network provider.
On high capacity all-IP networks where signals are exchanged between numerous
LTE towers, huge amounts of data are being exchanges. Data privacy and
security, as well as the dangers of hacks or introduction of viruses are being
raised. While there is security built into the technology, it is wise for users
and network operators deploying LTE solutions to remain vigilant.
to reach tipping point by 2017
LTE will gain momentum with
spectrum allocation providing a great boost to rollout of networks. Within
three years, a tipping point is expected to have been reached. While operators
will continue to maximise return on existing 3G and other networks, the
migration to LTE will be in full swing by 2017.