4G Broadband Boost Beckons, But When Will Businesses Benefit?

In his 2012 budget, Chancellor George Osborne outlined the government’s plans to invest £100 million to bring ultrafast broadband to ten UK cities, with a further £50 million earmarked to connect rural areas.

This is not just about feeding the desire for online services such as catch up TV, Facebook and iTunes. In today’s digital economy, broadband speeds are now a measure of a country’s ability to compete in international markets. Our commercial reputation rests on our connectivity.

Many routes to the same destination

As part of this drive to connect businesses that are more than a couple of miles from the local exchange, BT has been also experimenting with white-space broadband in Cornwall and on the Scottish island of Bute, using the spectrum left unused by TV broadcasters.

Just as fixed broadband is undergoing a revolution, the explosion in smartphone and tablet use is driving exponential increases in the data transmitted over our mobile networks. In line with this ever increasing requirement for mobile broadband bandwidth, mobile operator, Everything Everywhere has announced its plans to roll out its 4G network in the UK by the end of 2012. Meanwhile, the UK government is gearing up to auction off 4G licences to the other operators, using the spectrum freed up by the UK’s TV switchover from analogue to digital.

Some bits are more equal than others

4G promises more mobile data and faster upload and download speeds to mobile devices. That sounds like the perfect recipe for business flexibility and productivity. While the move to upgrade us all to 4G is welcomed, it’s not here yet. So how do we ensure a better service with the networks that we have right now?

Even with “next generation” networks, mobile operators are still concerned about how their networks will cope with carrying ever more mobile data. The massive increase in mobile data is causing calls to be dropped on the current networks and according to mobile industry analyst, Rob Bamforth, from Quocirca, this problem may persist even once 4G has rolled out.

Bamforth suggests that even 4G operators will need to consider, “efficiently shaping and throttling the flow of bits to ensure live services flow where they need to and less live critical ones can be buffered and delayed.”

This is because, unlike other mobile data applications, voice traffic is extremely sensitive to any latency. Users will immediately notice loss of call quality on a congested network. VoIP demands a constant bit rate over increasingly congested networks. Therefore, improving the efficiency of bandwidth usage is important for maintaining call quality within the constraints of existing network capacity.

Doing more with less

The need to reduce costs, has led many businesses to adopt ‘over the top’ voice over IP services on their smartphones, particularly when it allows them to avoid international roaming fees. This has removed a chunk of revenue from mobile operators.

As a result, operators are left with picking up the tab to upgrade their networks to support more data traffic from smartphones, while watching their traditional voice revenues decline. The best solution for managing network operator’s costs, while maintaining the quality of business calls made on congested networks, is to make more effective use of the assets that are already in place. In other words, how do we get the best of both worlds and make mobile VoIP work on 3G and data-capable 2G technologies?

Reducing the cost of international business calls

Currently, most mobile VoIP apps only work over 3G and WiFi connections. However, industry analyst, Wireless Intelligence has reported that 2G still accounts for 74% of the connected mobile user base worldwide. This means that most mobile VoIP apps only address a quarter of users, leaving the majority of business users and consumers unable to use the service.

While we’re waiting for 4G to be fully rolled out, operators will need to consider offering VoIP apps that are EDGE and GPRS friendly. This will help more businesses to benefit from mobile VoIP when they are away from the office or working overseas.

As mentioned, owing to speed and latency issues, standard mobile VoIP just doesn’t work very well over GPRS and EDGE, and while 3G and WiFi networks can run mobile VoIP services, there are service quality issues.

Some VoIP app help both business users and operators. By detecting silence and sending a minimal amount of data during pauses in conversation on VoIP calls, some use just 0.25kbps compared to 8kbps from other VoIP solutions. Consequently, they work on GPRS, EDGE, 3G, 4G/LTE, WiFi or WiMax and enable better call quality, with reduced latency, even over EDGE and GPRS networks.

Roaming wasn’t built in a day

Mobile broadband optimisation technologies offer a real value, particularly to businesses that have staff regularly travelling and working overseas, where networks are of varying quality and roaming call costs are high.

For example, an operator can assign two direct dial-in (DDI) numbers to each business subscriber, where one number is used for circuit-switched calls and the other for packet-switched calls. When outside GSM coverage, the subscriber can be reached on their packet-switched number. This will run over the WiFi network in their hotel or overseas office.

For UK businesses with a workforce that regularly works in branch offices overseas, this will reduce roaming charges by enabling VoIP calls as though they were being made on the UK operator’s network. In addition, a local DDI number can be supplied so families and friends can call the employee without the worry of incurring high roaming fees.

Likewise, if international employees spend time in your UK headquarters, the local UK operator could offer the same mobile VoIP app to allow them to call home by the means of a pre-paid service and they can still be reached, regardless of which operator’s SIM they have in their phone.

Operators are under pressure to deliver more capacity, better quality and greater value to their subscribers while maintaining profitability. Mobile VoIP optimisation apps provide a strategy for mobile operators to use their network resources more efficiently and add value to business customers, no matter whether they are making those calls over a GPRS, EDGE, 3G or 4G network.

Helen Stalker, director of Marketing at One Horizon Group, is responsible for marketing the Horizon solution to network operators and service providers in the mobile, fixed and satellite markets worldwide. Helen has fulfilled senior management roles in the international telecommunications sector for more than fifteen years. Prior to joining One Horizon Group, she spent eight years at Inmarsat, working as Commercial Director of Global Satellite Phone Services, Director of Marketing Strategy and Communications and BGAN Marketing Manager. During this time, Helen directed the commercial launch of IsatPhone Pro, the company’s first global handheld satellite phone, developed international channel partnerships and brought BGAN to market. Prior to working with Inmarsat, Helen held marketing roles at Orange, NCR and Gartner Group.

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