4G: Glitz, glamour or the grave‾

Michele Campriani, Sunrise Telecom
27 Feb 2008

The lucrative promise of 4G is luring mobile operators to announce their migration plans in an effort to ensure their brands are viewed as cutting edge, followed by massive investment to overhaul their existing networks while betting on a long-term payback. As operators introduce mobile data services to the mass market today, it is imperative that they are perceived by the customer as "sexy" and of a very high quality level.

The problem is that mobile operators currently involved in early data trials over 3G HSPA/EVDO networks are experiencing many problems that must be overcome before a 4G migration can even be considered. Beyond technical network issues, new problems related to service quality and availability are challenging the operators. Because many of these issues have never been seen before, most operators are ill equipped to address them.

Network-level issues

As mobile operators embark on a migration path with the eventual goal of 4G, they will experience a burst in network usage. The impact will be the same as that experienced after the deployment of DSL: the network resource impact from the shift of analog modems to DSL was enormous. The evolutionary path from 3G to 4G will result in a similar phenomenon.

Historically, access has been a bottleneck for data services, with the core network tailored to the access bottleneck. Thus the evolution of access from 3G to 3.75G (HSPA) and then to 4G must proceed in tandem with the migration of the legacy core network to an all-IP core network, while simultaneously supporting legacy voice services and introducing new high bandwidth data services. To achieve this, active network monitoring and ultra-fast reaction times become of paramount importance.

Monitoring the network is not simple, however. There are many signaling exchanges and interfaces involved during data transactions, each giving a different level of visibility into network and service issues. While deploying probes everywhere in the network is unaffordable and inefficient, there are key network points that provide the required visibility.

For example, in a UMTS HSPA network, one of the key interfaces is the Gn, which represents the focal point where user data can be analyzed and where services can be associated to the individual or to groups of subscribers.

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