The battle between the smartphones seems to be gathering pace with news that Apple is targeting sales of 100 million iphones in 2011. Certainly, the ability to watch video, send picture messages and surf the net from our handset has well and truly come of age, and we think nothing of being able to share a host of information, and data with our friends.
This is all great news for consumers who now have a dizzying array of handsets from which to choose from, with an ever more sophisticated range of functions at their fingertips. With this choice, however, comes challenges for the operators who are now feeling the strain of all the additional data traffic that is travelling across networks which were of course, originally built to transport voice.
The impact of the i-phone effect
In fact, it has been estimated by IHS Screen Digest that data traffic will have grown from 2.3m terabytes in 2010 to over 30m terabytes in 2014. This huge rise in demand is creating new challenges for network operators that must accommodate this explosion of additional traffic – now known as the ‘i-phone effect’. At the same time, they need to think about technologies that will help them to cost effectively meet the demand for data traffic.
Many operators are realising that they are running out of bandwidth and trying to move away from the ‘all-you-can-use’ approaches of the past but facing push-back by angry customers. It seems, then, that the days of unlimited data usage are over.
A key bottleneck in the provision of bandwidth within the network ecosystem has been the ‘backhaul’, which is the last-mile between the base station and the operator point of presence, and has traditionally been addressed by microwave, fibre or copper technology, which have proven either cost prohibitive or to offer only limited capacity.
Traditional packet-based backhaul transport suffers from a number of inherent limitations where there is fibre coverage, for whilst fibre can provide the required capacity, its reach is often limited and deploying new links is expensive. Copper has limited capacity and reach, and ‘traditional’ microwave links suffer from spectrum congestion and limited channel size.
The technology solution must be able to meet the demands of the economics of scale, as backhaul capacity demand will grow to hundreds of Megabits-per-second, and even Gigabits-persecond. The conundrum for operators then is : how can you meet this demand by reducing the total cost of ownership and negating any increase in revenue from data traffic?
Opening up the Bandwidth Spectrum
Ethernet/IP has emerged as the leading technology for urban area networks, allowing operators to quickly scale bandwidth on a pay-as-you-use basis and, as such, operators are introducing Ethernet/IPbased wireless links which operate in the 6-38 GHz frequency spectrum. However, this 6-38 GHz frequency spectrum, is becoming increasingly congested, particularly in these highly populated urban areas. This limited availability across the existing spectrum will be further stressed by 4G and LTE (long term evolution) sites.
In order to meet this demand, operators will need to turn to new frequency spectrums to lower their wireless backhaul costs. These solutions will need to be scalable and flexible in providing the required bandwidth, while also allowing them to reduce wireless backhaul expenditure. The newly allocated E-Band spectrum (71-76 GHz, 81-86 GHz and 92-95 GHz) has clear technological and economic advantages. The 13 GHz allocated in this spectrum allows multi-gigabit per second capacities which far exceed the 6-38 GHz bandwidth-limited frequencies.
In the E-Band spectrum, wireless systems can use the significantly larger allocated spectrum and channels to deliver multi-gigabit data rates. The added benefit within this relatively new and under-utilised spectrum, is that licensing is simpler and quicker and the costs are typically significantly lower than within traditional frequencies. In the UK, for example, the licensing fees for E-Band frequency licenses cost approximately £50 for an annual license per link.
Until now, however, 70 GHz products have been severely constrained by the high cost of the radios – so whilst they offered operators the means to provide data intensive services, their total cost of ownership made them a costly option for operators. There is then, a need for technology which can deliver high volume at a low price.
A new breed of solutions is entering the market which can offer this combination of low entry cost and, with new innovations in technology, operators can now capitalize on the massive bandwidth available in the millimetre wave spectrum in the most cost-efficient way. New silicon based engineering is offering a high capacity, lower power consumption and has the benefit of offering high Gigabit-per-second network capacity whilst relieving frequency congestion by operating at the millimeter-wave frequency spectrum of 71 to 76 GHz.
The conundrum which has faced operators – meeting demand for additional data services whilst protecting profit margins – will only become more serious as providers transition to new 4G and LTE sites. The E-band spectrum is therefore opening the way for operators to provide next generation services without eroding profit margins whilst new technology innovations will help them to capitalise on the bandwidth available in this spectrum in the most cost-effective way.