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  Key themes from the 2010 MobileWorld Congress on the networksfront Julian Bright22 February 2010  As expected, LTE was a major theme at MWC, but with an emphasis onoptimizing the network to lower costs. Operators are worried that they willinvest in LTE infrastructure but that content providers will actually makemoney out of it.The traditional macronetwork is under fire as a result of the explosion inmobile traffic and the squeeze on capex and opex. The need to reduce theper-bit cost of data is prompting a radical rethink about the future shape andstructure of the network.Despite the continuing femtocell-vs.-Wi-Fi debate, there is a generalacknowledgement that no single technology holds all the answers and a rangeof technologies will be required to handle growing traffic volumes.The consensus at MWC appeared to be that a new network architecturecomposed of smaller cell sites will be required as a complement to themacronetwork in high-usage areas.Voice services for LTE were also under discussion, with the GSMAannouncing that it will be driving the One Voice IMS-based initiative with thebacking of more than 40 companies and organizations. But there is still someskepticism regarding the performance of CS Fallback, the interim technologyrecently endorsed by the NGMN, with T-Mobile claiming that VoLGA is thesuperior technology.The fragile economic climate and continued downward pressure on operatorspending probably helped ensure that this year’s Mobile World Congress inBarcelona was a more grounded and businesslike affair than has been the casein some previous years.  It’s clear that the explosion in mobile data traffic, coupled with the squeezeon operators’ capex and opex, is prompting some radical thinking about thefuture shape and structure of the network. Increasing network capacity will becritical, but until operators start to see data traffic turning into revenues, theyneed to focus on optimizing network performance and lowering costs.The traditional macronetwork model is under fire as operators look for morecost-effective deployment strategies that target network capacity where it ismost urgently needed. It is a trend that doesn’t end with the RAN but extendsinto the backhaul and core networks and is coupled with the drive to reducethe per-bit cost of transporting data across the entire network.Network vendors can be relied on to identify an opportunity whatever theunderlying state of the market, and at MWC they were eager to engage in adialogue about their plans to create capacity and lower costs. Offloading aproportion of data traffic to free up valuable network capacity was a dominanttheme of the week, with femtocell vendors, Wi-Fi providers and any otherflavor of alternative network-capacity provider eager to enter the debate.In a display of magnanimity rarely seen among a group of vendors, however,there was general acknowledgement that no single technology holds theanswer to the problem and that coexistence of a number of technologies wouldbe the only way forward.Even so, the “femtocell vs. Wi-Fi” debate continued to be played out, hingingon a range of commercial and technical issues. Femtocell providers stressedthe benefits to operators of keeping customers “on-net” while achieving costsavings and capacity gains in the macronetwork. Meanwhile, the bill of materials for femtocells is expected to be quickly driven down to below US$100 as new manufacturers, such as Wi-Fi-access-point and DSL-modemsuppliers, enter the femtocell market.The vendors pointed to concerns surrounding Wi-Fi, such as device batterylife and the likelihood that most midrange feature phones would not be Wi-Fi-enabled. Wi-Fi providers responded by saying that femtocells fail to targetthe real network hot spots and that the lack of planning behind femtocelldeployments could lead to interference problems, particularly in areas of dense deployments.The interference concerns surrounding femtocells were echoed by picocellproviders and providers of alternative in-building distributed antennasystems, which also argued that femtocells didn’t scale well in largerimplementations, where traffic engineering was key. But femtocell vendors  say that incorporating self-organizing-network (SON) capabilities into theirproducts will overcome many of these interference concerns.Femtocell vendors say their technology is starting to gain traction, witha dozen operators having either introduced commercial services or madefirm commitments to do so, and withy offerings such as Vodafone’s SureSignal gaining market acceptance. And although the initial business case isbuilt largely on coverage and capacity, femtocell-based services and a richerapplication environment will inevitably follow, they say.New architecturesAs expected, LTE was a major theme at MWC, but with the emphasis moreclearly on optimizing the network to lower costs. The announcements by UScarriers Verizon and AT&T in 2009 of their LTE-deployment plans, coupledwith the early soft launch by TeliaSonera in Sweden and Norway late lastyear, have gone some way toward dissipating the discussion about LTE launchdates.However, there is growing concern that the explosion in data traffic fromdevices such as the iPhone is producing little in terms of additional revenuefor operators, and LTE is increasingly regarded as the way for operators tooptimize their infrastructure and thus drive down costs.The consensus at MWC appeared to be that a new network architecturecomposed of smaller cell sites as a complement to the macronetwork rolloutwould be the most cost-effective means of targeting high-usage areas.Microcells, picocells and femtocells – this time in the form of outdoor “metrofemtos” – represented one option, possibly even as part of an “inside out”network-rollout strategy whereby LTE would be deployed in traffic hot spotsin advance of a macronetwork rollout.Japan’s NEC maintains that running a macronetwork at the 2.6GHz frequencylikely to be used for LTE rollouts in Europe doesn’t make sense and thatdeploying LTE in small cells where there is actual capacity demand ispotentially simpler, cheaper and faster than a macro deployment.The big worry for operators, according to Motorola, is that they will investin LTE infrastructure but that content vendors will make most of the moneyout of it. With the cost of the base station representing a decreasing portion of the overall investment in next-generation mobile networks, vendors such asNEC, Motorola and Alcatel-Lucent are focusing on end-to-end offerings thatprovide convergence in the radio-access, backhaul and core networks.  As expected, voice services for LTE were also under discussion in Barcelona,with the GSMA announcing that it is driving work on the One VoiceIMS-based initiative, which has the backing of more than 40 companiesand organizations. Nevertheless, there is some skepticism regarding theperformance of CS Fallback, the interim technology recently endorsed by theNext-Generation Mobile Networks alliance, with at least one leading operator,T-Mobile, claiming that VoLGA is the superior technology.The word at MWC, however, was that US operator Verizon intends to movedirectly to a One Voice approach, with LTE handsets in the market as earlyas 1Q11. 
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