Is the future of 4G in the cloud?

Tony Poulos, TM Forum
19 Nov 2009
The talk around 4G LTE wireless networks these days is focused on the technology and rollout plans of major mobile operators around the globe.

But little is said about the potential issues high-speed mobile access may have, not only for networks and their operators but for customers as well. Whether we like it or not, there will have to be a wholesale shift in thinking, not just to keep up but to survive. This is not just about a jump in network speed; 4G wireless is a leap into uncharted territory.

It wasn't until 3G's High Speed Packet Access (HSPA) arrived on mobile networks that customers saw any value in accessing the internet via their mobile devices. It coincided with the release of Apple's market-altering iPhone, with its brilliantly effective Web-surfing capability via any wireless network. For the first time, surfing the Web by mobile phone didn't mean you had to find a Wi-Fi hotspot. The device itself could automatically pick and choose the best way to connect.

Operators developed attractive new data plans to capture this market, and before long, their networks were inundated with data traffic, putting stress onto backhaul and back office infrastructure.

But 3G iPhone traffic will pale in significance when 4G/LTE wireless access becomes commonplace. The concept of being connected anywhere, anytime, via any type of device will put enormous pressure on service providers, and they will need to reinvent themselves to avoid becoming the dreaded "big fat pipe" the analysts keep talking about.

So what can operators do now to prepare for this onslaught of high-volume, low-return business? It really depends who you talk to. Understandably, everyone wants a piece of this pie. Juniper Networks, the master of core network components, talks about creating "low cost per bit" at the network level and "high value per bit" at the retail level. Sounds great, but how will this be achieved?


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