The uncharted waters of spectrum, networks and devices
How can ecosystems respond to soaring mobile data traffic and the risk of exhausting network capacity? Making new spectrum available is an obvious response, but two other elements are rapidly gaining in importance. Frequencies are the fuel for a fantastic mobile future, but it is vital to ensure the spectrum plans and combinations can be realized in large volumes on both the network and the device side to bring the full value to society.
The ecosystem used to be simple, with mobile 2G/3G in well-defined licensed bands and Wi-Fi in an unlicensed 2.4GHz band. With the introduction of 4G, refarming of existing 2G/3G bands and the introduction of Wi-Fi in the 5GHz band, the landscape is changing quickly. The two spectrum types also used different business models and were delivered by different networks.
Devices need to support a growing number of frequencies in order to address the whole global market. Device providers are faced with the task of restricting use to Wi-Fi and nomadic use or to provide integrated Wi-Fi/3G/4G connectivity for full mobility. The 3G and 4G choice involves an HSPA vs CDMA selection for 3G and suitable bands for LTE. The most common bands are 700, 850, 900, 1800, 2100, 1700/2100 and 2600Mhz. Users buying a new tablet or phablet are likely to face a mobile choice that is more complex than they expected.
Networks have adopted advanced multi-standard radio solutions combining 2G/3G/4G for the larger macro sites. These sites have now been modified to support the new target technologies in their new frequency bands. On top of that, the introduction of small cells with Wi-Fi/3G/4G moves the multi-frequency need to the more price-sensitive small cells. The symbiosis of devices and small cells will be extra interesting to track as a vital enabler for the mobile enterprise.
The mobile ecosystem is dependent on the three mobile “natural resources” – spectrum, devices and networks evolving together and supporting a growing number of frequency bands.
Here are my predictions for the future:
- Advanced multi-radio technology solutions will be the norm in devices designed for daily use
- New family plans have significantly reduced the barrier of entry for powerful Wi-Fi/3G/4G devices to the point where Wi-Fi-only devices are starting to become limited in their use
- The addition of new frequency bands and refarming of existing ones requires technology flexibility on both the device and network side
- Not all frequency bands made available on a global basis will be able to generate market momentum for a full-fledged device and network ecosystem.