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Telecoms leaders reveal how to address capacity challenges and prepare for 5G

Telecoms leaders reveal how to address capacity challenges and prepare for 5G
16 February 2016

- Densification and maximising existing assets will play a vital part of operators’ strategies

Densification and maximising existing infrastructure will be essential in tackling capacity issues and progressing towards 5G, according to industry experts from EE, Telefonica Europe, CBNL, Small Cell Forum, Real Wireless and Strategy Analytics

With global mobile data traffic expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 57 per cent from 2014 to 2019, operators are under tremendous pressure to increase capacity.

As they search for solutions, executives from some of the world’s leading telecoms companies came together to discuss how to address customer requirements and prepare for 5G.

Customers now expect seamless voice and data coverage wherever they are in the country.

As Andy Sutton, Principal Network Architect for EE noted, the surge in capacity is driven by video, with video accounting for over 50 percent of traffic on EE’s 4G network.

This dominance of video means customer experience is now intrinsically linked with high capacity connectivity.

To address this operators are recognising the urgent need to densify their networks, although site acquisition is proving to be a major obstacle.

For Dr. Mike Short, Vice President at Telefonica Europe, site acquisition is drastically hindered by slow planning regulations and in some cases cost.

For this to be overcome, there needs to be “better access to sites and more flexible planning mechanisms, otherwise we cannot do the densification customers need and expect.”

Simon Fletcher, CTO of Real Wireless echoed Short’s call, stating "you see the demand coming and you have to be responsive to not disappoint your subscribers; this is especially true when looking at densification”.

However, while densification will undoubtedly help operators evolve 4G, the spokespeople stressed that network strategies must also maximise existing assets.

As Alan Law, Chair of the Small Cell Forum noted, the Small Cell Forum are supporting operators and enterprises “providing insight into how to leverage the most out of the suite of assets they have at their disposal. 

"Whether that’s the backhaul transport infrastructure or the spectrum held, they must look to seize and exploit the opportunities to synergise between portfolios.”

This was endorsed by CTO and founder of CBNL, Dr. John Naylon, who added that “efficiency will become more critical as networks evolve, due to the growing disconnect between network costs and the increasing amount of data operators are trying to transmit. 

"This applies to both the spectrum and the physical technology, which can both be significantly optimised to drive cost efficiencies.”

With the experts unanimously agreeing that 5G will be a natural evolution of 4G, virtualisation looks set to play a key role.

Law noted that “virtualisation gives the flexibility to optimise architectures based on the most cost-effective transport and backhaul options, and gives the best experience for the application.”

The importance of virtualisation was enforced by Naylon, who stated that “a virtual network is almost always the best solution for optimising the business case, as you’re maximising physical assets that are often fully paid for by other business activity.

"An early example of this is the fixed broadband services we’ve deployed for operators over their existing backhaul infrastructure, which has provided a highly effective business case to grow their network”.

With operators looking to get the most out of existing infrastructure, Phil Kendal, Director of Wireless Operator Strategies at Strategy Analytics commented on how different last mile technologies can have a sizable impact on a network’s total cost of ownership (TCO).

Fletcher added that in their recent TCO study, they found point-to-multipoint microwave can significantly reduce TCO compared to point-to-point or managed fibre for use cases that contain a high density of sites.

Despite capacity challenges, the experts expressed optimism for the future, with virtualisation already creating valuable new revenue streams.

With no clear indication on the number of connected devices that will enter the IoT marketplace, it’s difficult to build a reliable forecast for 5G traffic patterns and backhaul requirements, making flexible solutions vital.

However, as Short observed, in order to drive maximum benefits from their networks, operators must view connectivity through an international lens, laying down the strategies that enable countries and cities to develop services in line with their specific needs.

Through adopting this approach, operators can become more flexible and drive maximum value for their customers both today and tomorrow.  

Telefonica, CBNL (5H27), Real Wireless (7O33mr) and the Small Cell Forum (7F61) will have stands at Mobile World Congress (22-25 February).

If you are interested in meeting with CBNL at the show, please contact cwright@cbnl.com.