Africa’s only dedicated LTE event, LTE Africa 2013, took place in Cape Town this July 2013, bringing operators, vendors, mobile device makers, regulators and standardization bodies together under one roof to discuss LTE. On the agenda were the opportunities LTE can bring, obstacles to deployment, monetization challenges, current African success stories and future directions that LTE may take in Africa.
At the conference, operators grappled with the opportunity they face with LTE. What emerged as the main challenges for operators were spectrum, monetization and device availability—at the right price—for the African market.
In many exchanges, policymakers and regulators were beseeched to make spectrum available for LTE. Dr. Ernest Ndukwe, former CEO of the Nigerian Communications Commission, said, “Unless African leaders create an environment which encourages broadband network investments and makes it easy for companies to roll out broadband services, the situation is unlikely to change in the near future.” Operators were equally concerned about monetization of LTE so as to be able to recover their CAPEX—not to mention OPEX. (Others have not fully recovered their investments on 3G yet!)
Nonetheless, they are now expected to move to LTE. It was clear that operators would need to innovate how they do business by implementing new pricing strategies such as “value bundling” solutions, which would move them away from the cost-per-megabyte pricing tariff they firmly cling to today. Finally, a mobile device priced correctly for the African market has been earmarked as the enabler needed for massive adoption of LTE in Africa.
However, the conference was not all gloom and doom as operators who have successfully implemented LTE, such as Smile, MTC and others, shared information on how they made it possible. They highlighted how they implemented LTE. One of the key areas they focused on was in what way they backhaul LTE traffic.
Successful implementations revealed that for Africa—considering Africa’s demographics—practical and cost-effective implementation of LTE does not allow for 100 percent fiber backhaul, especially since realistic throughput demands of a typical three-sector LTE site max out at about 150 Mbps. With microwave systems easily able to reach 400 Mbps and even 2Gbps, microwave is more than capable of catering to an LTE site’s requirements and is undoubtedly the technology of choice for LTE backhaul except at sites where fiber already exists.
Microwave has cost benefits when deploying in areas lacking fiber, and it can be a cost-effective way to connect rural areas. Microwave also has the benefits of being quicker-to-deployment compared to the trenching needed for fiber. By 2017, industry analysts foresee that microwave backhaul will account for more than 50 percent of all LTE cell sites in Africa.
Technical Marketing Manager, South Africa
With the mobile telecommunications space facing an onslaught of data-hungry subscribers and their migration to LTE, operators have embarked on a quest to pack even more service in smaller and smaller service areas. The frontier of these smaller service areas have come to be characterized as small cells. The issue is getting communications into and out of these small service areas. Capacity, coverage and interference all need to be addressed. Some have proposed serving small cells via Centralized Radio Access Networks (C-RAN). To implement a C-RAN, one of the requirements is a newer concept that has come to be termed “fronthaul.”
In a June 2013 meeting of the Telecom Council, Aviat Networks’ chief technology officer, Paul Kennard, took on fronthaul and the challenges it presents for LTE, small cell and C-RAN. In his presentation, he weighed the advantages and obstacles of fronthaul. While the chief advantage of distributing Remote Radio Heads (RRH) around the cell can help alleviate coverage, capacity and interference concerns, it is not easy to reach these RRH locations with fiber in the mostly urban areas where this deployment scenario will be needed most. This is especially true of non-traditional implementation of small cells on light standards, signposts and other non-tower infrastructure collectively known as “street furniture.” Wireless backhaul solutions will continue to be necessary in the grand scheme of things.
More is available on fronthaul in the Telecom Council presentation below as is in an associated webinar.
FirstNet is facing technological challenges as it careens toward key decisions for the Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network. That was the key takeaway when APCO held its Public Safety Broadband Summit in Washington D.C., May 13-14. In that context, backhaul continues to be a hot topic. Typically more of an afterthought in commercial telecom systems, backhaul becomes the 900-pound gorilla in the room when defining high reliability telecom networks such as mission-critical public safety networks. This is due to the extremely high cost of fiber—CAPEX for new runs and OPEX for leasing—as well as its proven lack of survivability in worst-case scenarios.
For example, during Superstorm Sandy, 25 percent of all affected commercial mobile sites were down, and most had to be propped up by temporary microwave radio backhaul solutions due to the lengthy time needed to replace the damaged fiber. Chief Dowd of NYPD provided insight into the situation stating that the network’s reliability is defined during worst-case conditions, not during sunny days.
Aviat Networks’ APCO presentation, below, from the Broadband Summit dives deeper into these issues:
Or we can talk to you directly about your concerns for your mission-critical Public Safety network requirements.
Director, Business Development
This week, Aviat Networks participated in the very well attended CTIA 2013 wireless and mobile trade show in Las Vegas. The theme for this year’s event was “THE Mobile Marketplace” with various areas of focus dealing with applications, devices and, of course, infrastructure. LTE, backhaul and small cells were once again important infrastructure-related topics during the event.
Aviat was a Platinum Sponsor of the Tower & Small Cell Summit—a sub-conference program composed of presentations, panels and case studies on wireless backhaul, mobile video, Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS), small cells, 4G and residential tower builds. I spoke on a panel at this event and shared our views on small cell evolution, including our thoughts on the migration of the mobile network to the Cloud Radio Access Network (C-RAN) architecture—if interested in this topic, please register for our upcoming webinars: North America or Europe, Middle East, Africa.
In addition, this show also paid significant attention to FirstNet—the nationwide public safety LTE network here in the United States. Aviat’s Ronil Prasad shared Aviat’s perspective on FirstNet, options for network sharing to reduce costs and best practices for building mission-critical backhaul networks for public safety LTE (with our 60-year history in public safety and our deployments in some of the largest LTE networks in the world, we are uniquely qualified to talk on this topic).
In addition, Aviat’s meeting facility experienced a constant flow of customers, industry analysts and partners, which kept Aviat staff on its toes for the entire event. Overall, it was a great show and Aviat was happy to participate to share our views on some of the most exciting new topics in mobile networks in the U.S.
Director, Marketing and Communications
IWCE 2013 (International Wireless Communications Expo), March 13-14, was a tale of two different but related stories. The first was the continuing enhancement of legacy P25 voice-centric products/features/ applications and the second was discussion of the LTE broadband data-centric network plan/products/ solutions of the future.
P25 continues to be the only source of mission-critical voice, and the consensus is that will not change for maybe 10 more years—or longer. We saw really cool product enhancements from Motorola and Harris. Clearly, there is plenty of investment continuing in P25, and vendors believe they will get a return on that investment. There is still a tremendous amount of work to be done on going from analog to digital systems and wideband to narrowband.
In contrast, LTE broadband will probably take another 1.5 years just to get to the stage of RFQs. However, we did see a lot of innovative technology and interoperability demonstrations. Who would have thought that Harris handheld radios would be located in the Alcatel-Lucent booth and Motorola in the Raytheon booth?
There were many talks on FirstNet strategy and planning. Chief Dowd said FirstNet would announce a general manager within a couple weeks…let’s hope it is a public safety professional with many years of experience in setting up mission-critical networks. Of course, the industry pundits were there to discuss their view of this enormous challenge…unfortunately it appears the thinking is still very divergent…which can only mean that someone is going to be disappointed by the decisions FirstNet will make.
Many provider-based discussions were also held. For example, Aviat’s own Gary Croke gave a presentation on the considerations that any organization must make for high-speed backhaul and how microwave fits into those.
Lastly, we heard some excellent talks on engineering this network. Skilled network designers like Bob Shapiro gave us some insight into how the LTE network will look different from P25 networks (e.g., number of basestations, capacity of traffic, complexity of design). Good news is the industry is developing some excellent design tools to aid in designing the network.
The signs are positive for the public safety industry. IWCE show attendance was good, vendors showed up with real innovation and investment in new products, the Public Safety Broadband Network continues to move ahead…cannot wait for APCO in the fall!
Director Business Development
Back in October, mobile research firm Yankee Group held a very interesting webinar on the state of LTE around the world. The webinar, still available in replay, notes that, with the exceptions of Japan and Korea, North America is very far ahead of the rest of the world when it comes to implementing LTE. The LTE vanguard is based on North America, Japan and Korea having the greatest CDMA legacy.
Yankee Group analysts note the commonly known LTE driver in the form of worldwide proliferation of the iPhone and other smartphones has led to greater demand for high-speed connectivity. Overall, the webinar explores the LTE landscape from Asia to Europe to North America.
Last week, I travelled to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates with my colleague, Steve Loebrich, to attend and present at the Zain Technology Conference. That brought together senior technical staff from the Zain Group of mobile operator companies from eight countries across the Middle East and North Africa, including Bahrain, Jordan, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, South Sudan and Sudan. This was the second time this pioneering mobile operator has held this conference since 2009. Zain launched the first mobile network in the Middle East in 1983 and now serves more than 41 million subscribers.
At the conference, Zain announced its new initiative “Ghanduna Zain” (Zain Tomorrow), which is a new strategy to bridge its technology investment plans with the future. Like mobile operators all around the world Zain is working hard to support the booming demand for mobile broadband data as well as providing basic voice and data services, through high-speed 3G technology and now with the impending launch of LTE services in its Kuwait network.
In the words of Zain Group’s CTO, Hisham Allam, “The purpose of our conference is to facilitate the exchange of the latest industry expertise, and given we have vast areas of growth in the fields of voice and data services, such trends pose both an opportunity as well as a challenge in terms of managing the expansion in traffic efficiently.” Allam continued, “The rise in mobile data and the growth in the usage of smartphones to access content is a reality, with smartphones representing over 90 percent of all mobile devices sold in Kuwait at this point in time. The increasingly sophisticated nature of modern mobile-services consumers requires that we become fully aware of their needs and their expectations in terms of quality of services.”
During the conference, Zain’s vendor partners gave presentations on new technologies and highlighted their products and services. Aviat Networks participated along with our partner, Middle East Telecommunications Company (METCO), which has worked with Zain for the past 25 years in transmission and backhaul networks in countries such as Kuwait, Iraq and Sudan. During the breakout sessions, Aviat conducted two presentations covering Network Convergence and lowering the Total Cost of Ownership of microwave backhaul networks and an overview of technology options and challenges for providing backhaul for new Small Cells.
Overall, it was a great event and extremely well-organized by Zain, and I look forward to the next conference. You can view a short video of the conference on CNBC Arabia (in Arabic).
Director Product and Regional Marketing
4G World struggled a bit due to Hurricane Sandy, but went on as planned. Unfortunately, some speakers and attendees were not able to get to Chicago due to travel cancellations. I have to admit that watching surfers ride the big waves on Lake Michigan was an added bonus for the week!
Back at the show, small cell was the focus and backhaul was its No. 1 topic. Everyone has heard the concerns over technologies, costs, etc. The soapbox was available for anyone to jump on and espouse the potential benefits of their products. I believe that companies are selling their product capabilities, not addressing mobile operators’ real needs. Why? The biggest issue is that mobile operators, in most cases, really do not know what they need. The complexities of implementation are so diverse in small cell, that it is taking operators a long time to draw conclusions about their best path forward. Enter the fog of vendor technology pitches!
I believe that the real issues to be resolved center around implementation and OPEX control not technology. A few technologies could help, but they are not ready to provide the Carrier Class performance that the operators need. They will only have marginal effect on the final solution, in any event. What we need are answers to questions such as:
Most people think fiber is a slamdunk—that is not the case. You need to read the fine print and ask:
My recommendation: keep an eye on the technology evolution but focus on the real issues at hand. Partnerships with companies that have proven skills will be critical as these problems are best handled by a team of diverse thinkers. Look for ones that have a history in the business and have demonstrated innovation in all its facets. They are the partners who will get you through these very difficult problems.
Director Business Development
The 4G World show is in 10 days in Chicago, Ill. Speaking of 4G, those of us at Aviat Networks are excited to see what LTE technology will be on display and its promise of 4G speeds for our mobile networks. Confusion will mount as vendors address the myriad capabilities of LTE and the challenges of implementing such an amazing network. Small cell access will be a key topic. Mobile operators need these outdoor-mounted, street-level smaller versions of their LTE basestations to offload some of the overwhelming demand for capacity in metro areas.
One of the critical small cell challenges is backhaul. Imagine the complexity of aggregating traffic from the numerous small cells deployed at key intersections in a big city. Fiber cannot be everywhere and is not economical to operate in most metro locations. There is a lot of buzz around unlicensed Non-Line-of-Sight (NLOS) Point-to-Multipoint (PMP) radios that take advantage of fewer installations than traditional Point-to-Point (PTP) microwave. But be careful of comparisons between PMP and PTP microwave…we hear a lot of hype, promulgated by confusion and relying on fear!
Unlicensed spectrum sounds good but suffers from serious interference issues. NLOS radio capacity drops significantly when trying to transmit around a building. You have to ask: Is the resultant capacity sufficient to serve this specific small cell backhaul need? There are also concerns over latency because LTE has strict delay requirements, and Voice over LTE (VoLTE) will really struggle if latency is not within specification. What about spectrum…is it actually available? Is there only 20 MHz of spectrum available when 40 MHz of capacity is needed?
What about good ol’ reliable and proven Line of Sight (LOS) PTP microwave? With the emergence of millimeter wave PTP radios, capacities up to 1Gbps can be achieved easily over 1-2 kilometers—certainly sufficient for metro small cell distances!
If you have a chance to attend the show, please take the time to ask some of these questions…or else you may be victimized by hype, confusion or fear.
If you would like to hear straight talk on this topic, tune into Aviat’s Small Cell Backhaul webinar. Stay tuned for future blog posts to read about spectrum, capacity, latency, FCC rule changes and technology evolution as the search for viable solutions to the small cell backhaul challenge continues!
Director Business Development