Not that long ago, when telecom providers discussed the future of broadband Internet services, connectivity was assumed to be via fiber, cable or digital subscriber line (DSL). That’s no longer the case as mobile operators increasingly are leveraging their investments in advanced wireless technology -- 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) in particular -- to deliver richer experiences to the end consumer, while providing exciting new opportunities for mobile operators to generate new revenue streams.
So why is Technicolor interested in the emerging LTE revolution? After a decade of experience in DSL, cable and fiber, the limitations of these technologies have become apparent. Distance from digital subscriber line access multiplexers (DSLAMs) and other repeater technologies responsible for ensuring that a strong broadband signal reaches the home. This is particularly true for services delivered over copper lines. And if households are too far away from these critical pieces of infrastructure, they are disconnected from broadband access.
Earlier cellular technologies simply were not robust enough to provide the needed connectivity. But the evolution of LTE is offering new opportunities and alternatives to traditional broadband access technologies, according to Olivier Lafontaine, director, Strategy & Product Management, Technicolor.
“You still have a huge number of people who are too far away from the network, or who live in countries where there is no wireline infrastructure,” Lafontaine explains. “Operators that want to bridge this digital divide -- to provide access and new services to these homes – can either deploy fiber in the city center…or use their IP network to connect to new homes. And that is where LTE can play an important new role in providing broadband services to unserved consumers.”
Recent research illustrates the point. Advanced mobile technology will be globally ubiquitous by 2020 with 70 percent of people using smartphones and 90 percent covered by mobile broadband networks, according to Ericsson’s most recent Mobility Report. The report predicts that smartphone subscriptions will more than double by 2020, reaching 6.1 billion. Almost 80 percent of these new subscriptions will come from Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa.
By 2020, 80 percent of all mobile data traffic will come from smartphones. Video traffic will grow at the dizzying pace of 55 percent per year until 2020 -- driven by video streaming services and increasing prevalence of video in online content.
The analysts also estimate that 12 million U.S. households are not connected via broadband today. But since the coverage of LTE is rapidly approaching 100 percent, these consumers now can gain access to the Internet with a far improved throughput. This is especially true as LTE Advanced – the latest enhancement to the Long Term Evolution mobile communication standard introduced in late 2009 becomes ubiquitously available.
“Every year, new improvements are being brought by the industry,” Lafontaine says. “You are seeing a commitment from a lot of operators to deploy LTE Advanced.”
Mobile operators’ LTE ambitions have sparked an interest in being more creative and efficient in using the frequency spectrum allocated for this category of communication in order to vastly improve performance and throughput.
“With the first generation of LTE, it was not possible to take advantage of all the bands at the same time, but LTE advanced is addressing this point,” Lafontaine says. “This is also available and valid for operators that have different networks and different spectrum in different regions. By having the aggregation option available, they can optimize use of the spectrum.”
Now that LTE deployment is expanding everywhere, Technicolor is keenly aware of the opportunity the technology can bring in connecting new people and homes in different ways.
But first and foremost, it must be noted that LTE is a solution thatis based on the Internet Protocol standard. By moving to the IP level with advanced LTE, operators now can begin to cash in on some huge opportunities.
“Connecting to LTE is increasingly like connecting to fiber – it’s IP based. You can enjoy new user experiences like video calling and running simultaneous IP flows,” explains Lafontaine.
“As LTE technology evolves, we also have the opportunity to run Voice-over-LTE (VoLTE). That is a very big opportunity because at home, you want to have a good and stable voice connection that you will probably not have with traditional mobile phone service. This is because cellular coverage is often not optimal when you are indoors. The emergence of LTE gateway technologies deployed in the home will address this challenge, allowing mobile operators to offer both data-centric and voice-centric services.”
LTE gateway technologies open the door to an entirely new market for mobile operators that are already offering LTE services. Indeed, the deployment of LTE has turbocharged the mobile Internet experience for end-users on the go, which has reflected by the rapid adoption of LTE-capable smartphones along with other mobile devices, according to a recent report from ABI Research. But the researchers also point out that in many mature markets, LTE for traditional mobile applications have already achieved saturation points.
Extending LTE to the connected home creates new, attractive markets -- a factor that becomes more interesting when you consider that 1.26 billion households do not have access to DSL, cable, or fiber-optic broadband service. In a saturated smartphone market, mobile operators are looking for new revenue streams and connected home is a new opportunity for them.
“It’s not going to cost mobile operators a lot because the LTE network is already there,” Lafontaine says. “It will, however, require them to understand the challenge of bringing services into the home, and they are going to have to rely on partners that will educate them fast.”
Lafontaine advises mobile operators to first rely on the solutions that are available to them today. Technicolor’s focus is on solutions, not simply products. “Technicolor has spent years optimizing the delivery of broadband content to the home for entertainment services via our set-top-box (STB) technologies,” Lafontaine says.
One of the key issues that mobile operators will have to address as they tackle the connected home market is to understand the hand-off that will have to take place effectively between the LTE gateway and WiFi environment in order to ultimately connect wireless devices in the home (including TV sets) to the wide-area network. This will create complexity and confusion for the consumer. Mobile operators will have to offer the help desk and technical support to address these issues.
“We are a solution provider and we can help the operators find out what problem the end user is experiencing and help resolve the issue,” says Lafontaine.
Technicolor believes that the LTE gateway and connected home solutions the company is implementing today place it in a unique position to deliver on that value proposition in the future.
Lafontaine and his team at Technicolor are working toward attaining a grand vision of mobile operator empowerment and consumer benefit.