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Super Speeds: Real-time applications to boost 4G uptake

March 31, 2014

Stealing a march on the competition, in February 2014, German telecom operator E-Plus partnered with ZTE Corporation and CloudStreet to develop a technology for transmitting high definition video over long term evolution-time division duplexing (LTE-TDD) wireless networks. Using the CloudStreet capacity reservation system, the companies plan to provide live video transmission over the E-Plus 3.5G LTE-TDD network extension. The company’s spokespersons have deemed the launch a timely one, especially since television production is moving towards high pixel formats and transmission networks require more capacity for handling the same. In this context, LTE-TDD is a viable solution to deliver this increased capacity.

Industry analysts believe that while the launch is likely to help telecom operators cater to new customer segments including broadcasters, it also highlights the emphasis such companies are placing on rolling out LTE networks. According to Frost & Sullivan, the shift to LTE networks can be attributed to the increasing adoption of smartphones and the high demand for data-intensive applications.

However, mobile operators face a key challenge, which is to ensure that their network infrastructure is able to accommodate the demand for high speed data services. Thus, operators are increasingly shifting to 4G technologies in order to cater to the surge in data traffic.

Although Wi-Max and LTE are both fast growing 4G technologies, mobile operators across the world favour LTE. The technology itself offers operators several benefits – faster uplink and downlink speeds, lower latency and the ability to scale effectively. These are a few propositions that have driven several early LTE launches. According to Nokia Solutions and Networks (NSN), most operators utilising 3GPP, 3GPP2 or Wi-Max technologies are poised to migrate to LTE over the next 10 years.

tele.net takes a look at the global uptake of 4G services and various applications that have gained traction on this platform...

Current status

Over the past year, LTE has gained significant momentum globally. According to Taiwan’s Market Intelligence and Consulting Institute, there are currently 225 operators in 98 countries with functioning LTE networks. As per the data released by NSN, the number of global LTE subscriptions stood at about 130 million in the last quarter of 2013.

Region-wise, Europe currently has 84 commercial LTE networks deployed across 34 countries. As of February 2014, the region’s LTE subscriber base stood at over 9.4 million. In February 2014, the LTE subscriber base of the UK’s biggest operators – EE and Vodafone – crossed 2 million and 0.5 million respectively.

In the US, 53 commercial LTE networks have been deployed so far. The region’s LTE user base stood at 84.3 million, which accounted for 50.5 per cent of the global share (as of February 2014). Notably, Verizon’s LTE subscriber base surpassed 42.7 million and AT&T’s reached 25.4 million in the fourth quarter of 2013. As per industry estimates, the LTE subscriber base in the US is set to witness a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 56 per cent over the next seven years, and will eventually account for over 20 per cent of the global LTE user base by 2020.

Meanwhile, in Asia, 47 commercial LTE networks have been deployed across 23 countries. The region’s overall LTE user base stood at 66.1 million, which accounted for 39.6 per cent of the global share (as of February 2014). The number of LTE subscribers in Japan exceeded 31 million, while Korea’s user base stood at 28 million by end-2013.

On the technology front, ABI Research estimates that at end-2013, 94.2 per cent of the global LTE market was accounted for by LTE-FDD subscribers, while around 5 per cent were LTE-TDD users.

Most major mobile operators are increasingly deploying LTE-Advanced (LTE-A) technology, which can better manage the anticipated explosion in mobile data and video traffic, and provide greater bandwidth. LTE-A comprises several enhancements over standard LTE, but the most crucial improvement is carrier aggregation. This allows different frequencies to be combined and treated as one channel of bandwidth, thereby delivering better performance.

LTE-A technology trials have demonstrated speeds of up to 300 Mbps, which is double the existing speed. South Korean operators SK Telecom and LG U+ are the first service providers to have deployed LTE-A networks, supported by a special variant of Samsung’s Galaxy S4 handset. By end-2013, SK Telecom had over 1 million LTE-A subscribers, accounting for 10 per cent of its overall LTE subscriber base.

Meanwhile, EE is conducting trials of LTE-A in Central London and is targeting wider deployment in mid-2014. In Australia, Telstra is conducting LTE-A trials, while its sister company CSL is undertaking the same in Hong Kong.

Popular 4G applications

•Telepresence: As per industry reports, the global telepresence market is expected to witness a CAGR of 4.79 per cent till 2016. The speed offered by 4G networks is likely to give a boost to facilities such as virtual meeting services, which require reliable international connectivity at affordable prices. Currently, companies such as BrightCom, Cisco Systems, Huawei Technologies and Radvision offer these services.

•Virtual navigation: With the availability of bandwidth offered by 4G networks, navigation application providers are offering virtual navigation schemes that support a remote database containing graphical representations of streets, buildings and other physical characteristics of a large metropolitan area. Cur-

rently, Google Maps is the most popular navigation application.

•Telemedicine: The speed offered by 4G networks supports remote health monitoring of patients. In this case, a patient connects with a medical professional via videoconferencing based on 4G connectivity, and is able to relay information in real time.

•Telegeoprocessing applications: These are a combination of the geographic information system and the global positioning system. Such applications provide the internal layout of a building during an emergency. High-bandwidth 4G networks support these applications and allow public safety personnel to access wireless operations and specialised applications for daily use.

•Crisis management: 4G networks help to significantly reduce the response time for emergency services. For example, in case of a natural disaster, which can affect communications infrastructure, using 4G wideband networks helps in ensuring that services such as the internet are restored in a few hours. In comparison, re-establishing communication capabilities on wireline networks may take several days.

•Real-time mobile-based video: Wi-Max and LTE-based 4G networks are capable of accommodating broadcast-quality data loads over more economical and faster mobile connections. For instance, Nomad Innovations offers a Wi-Max-based modem that attaches to the back of a professional video camera, obviating the need for satellite connectivity.

•Mobile/Portable gaming: Since most gaming platforms have inbuilt Wi-Fi connectivity, the console can be used to share a 4G connection with five to eight different devices.

•Cloud-based applications: The speed offered by 4G wireless networks has made cloud computing operations more efficient and secure. In addition, it enables faster access to data and applications stored online.

•LTE Broadcast: Another interesting use of LTE that is likely to gain traction in 2014 is multimedia broadcast multicast service, commonly known as LTE Broadcast. This is a method of serving multiple users with one video stream and provides a much better video experience on LTE-enabled handsets than conventional video streams. It could be used for live concerts, sports events, etc. US-based Verizon Wireless has already indicated that it is considering undertaking a test run for its LTE Broadcast service during the 2014 Super Bowl. Telstra is also planning to conduct LTE Broadcast trials soon. Vendors such as Ericsson and Qualcomm are actively promoting LTE Broadcast.

The road ahead

According to Cisco’s Visual Networking Index 2013-2018, Japan will have over 56 per cent of its total connections on 4G by 2018, Korea will have 54 per cent, the US 51 per cent and Western Europe 24 per cent.

Going forward, the growth of 4G networks will be fuelled by several factors, from increasingly affordable devices to the range of tariffs being offered with the intention of encouraging people to upgrade to a faster form of mobile connectivity.


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