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Emerging Technologies: Key advantages and issues

September 01, 2011

The technologies for providing broadband services are evolving continuously. The increasing requirement for bandwidth-intensive applications and services like VOIP, IPTV and online gaming is driving innovation in this space.

While wireline platforms like DSL and optic fibre offer high speed broadband access for applications such as VOIP, IPTV and online gaming, wireless technologies such as LTE and Wi-Max have emerged as the preferred technologies for mobile broadband services. Each of these technologies has certain advantages. For instance, DSL allows operators to use their existing wireline networks. Fibre, on the other hand, offers virtually unlimited data capacity. tele.net analyses the advantages and challenges of key broadband technologies…

Wireline technologies

Though the wireline broadband segment is facing issues such as inadequate last mile access and substitution of wired technology by wireless broadband, it has not lost relevance due to the advantages of higher speeds and superior quality of services.

The key wireline broadband technologies are DSL, fibre and cable modem. A major advantage of these technologies is their ability to concurrently deliver high data speeds to users. This facilitates new services such as IPTV, VOIP and HDTV.

DSL has been the preferred medium in India and accounts for 86.09 per cent of broadband connections. It supports data speeds of 10-20 Mbps for customers close to the connection point. One of DSL’s key advantages is that it leverages the existing copper cable network of operators, which offers a high value proposition. Also, it is a mature technology and only minor advancements are expected going forward. Its low latency is another advantage. However, DSL is susceptible to electrical interference and the bandwidth capacity is insufficient to meet long-term consumer needs, especially in India.

Fibre is emerging as the preferred medium for supporting the rising end-user bandwidth demand and its deployment has been gaining momentum. Only the optic fibre access network’s virtually unlimited bandwidth can cater to the need for wired and wireless connectivity. Using fibre in place of copper significantly improves data rates and increases network reach. It can be deployed in point-to-point connections from a central access switch or an optical line termination to the subscriber’s premises or to a subtended DSL access multiplexer. Also, several subscribers may share fibre in passive optical networks.

Optic fibre has the ability to provide higher bandwidth over longer distances as compared to other technologies. In addition, the bandwidth does not decrease with an increase in the length of the cable. Each new generation of fibre-to-the-premises allows the service provider to offer significantly higher bandwidth over long distances. Also, fibre is not susceptible to electrical interference. Substantial increases in bandwidth are possible by altering the relatively inexpensive electronics without any outside plant cable changes.

Wireless technologies

Wireless internet usage is gaining traction with the increasing needs of the urban youth to stay connected 24x7. Social networking, video streaming and online gaming would boost the demand for mobile broadband apart from corporate usage.

The high cost of infrastructure and customer premises equipment has been the major deterrent to broadband growth. However, the recent auction of broadband wireless access spectrum is expected to push service uptake, especially in rural India.

These services would be provided through two technologies – Wi-Max and LTE. Wi-Max is the more mature of the two as it was launched in 2000. While LTE is still to be rolled out, it promises a smooth and fast transition from both 3GPP technologies as well as CDMA. Being a successor of 3GPP technologies, LTE will be able to build on the large installed base. It has an all-IP core network that supports high throughput and mobility between 3GPP and non-3GPP radio access technologies. Also, once fully deployed, LTE will have an edge over other wireless technologies in terms of lower latency and higher efficiencies in using wireless spectrum. Improved spectrum efficiency allows more content to be transmitted in a given bandwidth, while increasing the number of users and services the network can support.

However, the high costs of LTE devices, for example, $100 for USB dongles, are a deterrent to uptake, especially in emerging economies. It will take at least 18 months for these prices to reach affordable levels of $30 or below. Also, LTE is still at a nascent stage and will not be available for commercial deployment before 2012.

With LTE, the hype around Wi-Max has dissipated. However, the fact that the technology has garnered some support and volume to serve as a wireless broadband platform cannot be discounted. The number of Wi-Max deployments – more than 600 with 213 devices and 61 certified base stations across the globe as of June 2011 – is higher than that of any conventional 3G technology and 50 per cent more than the number of HSPA network commitments. However, most of these deployments have been on a small scale. The technology would, therefore, grow in niche segments.

Currently, the sector is divided between Wi-Max and LTE for broadband service provision. However, it appears that LTE will dominate the telecom landscape in the long run with several operators lining up for it.


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