If it’s not problems with upgrading their networks to 4G, it’s problems with decommissioning their legacy 2G networks. Who would be a mobile operator with all this hassle? Guy Daniels reports.
A new survey commissioned by BSS and OSS company Amdocs aims to highlight the network planning and logistics challenges facing service providers as they look to meet the demand for increased data usage.
According to the study, conducted by Rethink Technology Research, service providers are not relying on just 4G to to meet the data demand, and are planning to deploy millions of small cells to increase network capacity. 59 per cent of service providers polled said they expect to deploy at least 10 times more small cells by 2017 than in 2011, yet almost half of network planners say a lack of network planning resources is the biggest challenge facing them today. This, in turn, is leading to rollout delays.
94 per cent of service providers are planning for a 20-fold growth or more of mobile data usage by 2017. Of these, 24 per cent foresee a 50-fold growth. To meet this, they are investing heavily in their networks. 50 per cent of respondents said they expect to increase their capital expenditure by 10 to 20 per cent between 2012 and 2017, with 23 per cent planning to increase it by even more. None expect to reduce their capital spending.
Caroline Gabriel, research director at Rethink Technology Research, said that service providers need both 4G and small cell technologies:
“4G is not going to solve this problem on its own as the majority of devices will remain on 3G. The solution is small cells, which are perfect for boosting capacity and coverage in fixed locations, but the need to add millions of new cells has created a network planning bottleneck and service providers need to find smarter planning tools to speed the process.”
Wi-Fi offloading is also expected to help ease data burden, with 88 per cent of service providers surveyed saying they expect to offer Wi-Fi as part of their mobile services by 2016.
Furthermore, 22 per cent anticipate they will have Wi-Fi integrated into at least half of their cell sites by the end of 2017, further reducing the data burden on 3G and LTE.
The survey covered a global sample of over 65 mobile and converged Tier 1 and Tier 2 service providers and was conducted between April and May 2012. Amdoc’s Rebecca Prudhomme added:
“Service providers will need to rely on sophisticated and flexible network planning approaches to maximise efficiency and automation in order to remain competitive.”
But what to do with older 2G networks? US operator AT&T officially announced earlier this week that it plans to switch off its 2G network by 2017. But is a shutdown the only option?
Askar Sheibani, CEO of UK-based telecoms repair company Comtek, offered an alternative strategy for UK mobile operators, which is also applicable to operators in other countries:
“They should instead be looking to incorporate long term repair strategies that ensure 2G networks are maintained, so that customers can continue to receive the level of service they have come to expect and rely upon. This outlook remains especially pertinent for business and consumers in rural areas who still depend upon reliable legacy networks to help them make basic phone calls or send text messages.”
He cites last month’s network outage at O2, proving that 2G services are not just a back-up service, rather they are the foundation to our entire telecoms infrastructure:
“With much of the focus on getting 4G rollouts right, as well as improving the UK’s somewhat patchy 3G services, switching off 2G services should be the last thing on any operators mind – not just for the foreseeable future, but in the long term. While this model will understandably shift in time with the advent of tried and tested 4G services, I do not believe there will be a time when we can label 2G as obsolete.”
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