David Baylis, Vice President of Product Management for Next-generation Gateways at Technicolor, explains how the mobile communications technology known as long-term evolution (LTE) is finding a growing opportunity to provide fixed broadband services to the home.
We caught up with Baylis to get some insights into Technicolor’s views -- and role -- in this rapidly developing market as we look beyond LTE an understand what the rapid emergence of 5G may mean for the service provider community.
Baylis: Let’s start by separating the evolution of LTE as a mobile phone technology from the evolution of LTE as a broadband technology on which Technicolor is focusing.
LTE for fixed wireless broadband is clearly a segment of the market that is seeing a massive transformation. Mobile operators are evolving their service offerings as new spectrum becomes available to them. As with many access technologies, there’s a constant challenge to deliver more bandwidth and faster, better throughput.
The nuance here is that LTE can be used in many domains: for more efficient voice-traffic management; for faster internet access, for Internet of Things (IoT) home automation; for machine-to-machine applications; for service backup, or to complement existing access networks.
So, we are seeing very diverse and dynamic evolution. What’s clear is that there’s growth, which is good. LTE has been growing about 100 percent year-on-year during the past few years. In North America, 60 percent of mobile users are now on LTE services, and probably about 80 percent of users have LTE access. In Europe the figure is about 30 percent.
In the second half of 2016 we saw multiple announcements from operators that were moving into the LTE Advanced space, which is pushing the boundaries of carrier aggregation for more and more throughput. So, the past year has really been very dynamic.
Baylis: Subscribers have become more and more bandwidth hungry, whatever their access technology. As the range of compelling content becomes “must have,” their appetite for bandwidth will continue to increase.
When subscribers are on the move, this translates into video content and targeted advertising on their smartphones and tablets, and of course that means they need connectivity everywhere, even where Wi-Fi hotspots aren’t available.
The lightweight MiFi devices, as we call them, have become a constant companion to those subscribers. When they are at home, they may not have access to the traditional cable, fiber or digital subscriber line (DSL) technologies, or they may not have an acceptable quality of service, particularly if they live in a rural or suburban area.
For that reason, operators are looking to LTE broadband as a new option, but it has to be competitive with the fixed broadband services already being offered: cable, fiber and DSL.
This means that the in-home experience becomes fundamentally important to the operators and to their subscribers; whether it is Wi-Fi throughput in the home, the quality of voice calls or the operational aspects, such as remote management and customer care.
That’s why it’s becoming essential for service providers to address the aspects of user experience that we at Technicolor, as a long-term customer-premises equipment (CPE) vendor, feel we have perfected over time.
Baylis: It’s safe to say that the new technologies and the service propositions that will be developed to use these new technologies will be open to all service providers, especially when we get 5G, which is coming down the pipe very quickly. Our conversations with service providers tend to be wide ranging and not limited to particular geographies or the usual market divisions.
We have been discussing stand-alone LTE access gateways in Europe for the past few months. We are starting to roll out our new products there, as well as talking to operators about the long-awaited and much-discussed DSL with LTE link bonding technology, which is hopefully going to bring a better quality of service across the board in Europe.
In North America, we have been working on a completely different approach to the market and the need to bring smart home and IoT devices to an LTE platform.
Baylis: It is important to recognize that, in the race to ultra-broadband, fiber is not going to be available to everybody. So with the growing coverage of LTE, many users now have an opportunity to get a good broadband service without having to connect to the urban fiber and cable networks, and operators have the opportunity to broaden their community of subscribers with the addition of self-installed LTE CPE.
When LTE access is combined with the traditional copper networks, there are three main use cases. In one region, we’ve been working on a product that will address all three.
First, it is an always-on alternative to DSL access, which will give subscribers a backup for when the DSL network is down.
Second, it is an out-of-the-store and online opportunity that is particular to certain regions. In some countries, there can be a considerable lag between the time a customer signs a broadband contract and the time that service is activated, which can be very frustrating. So, offering LTE access within the gateway is an immediate solution that is well suited to the retail model adopted by many operators in the mobile world.
Third, LTE bandwidth can be bonded with bandwidth available over the fixed-line network so operators can better handle the competition for more speed. Those are the key points of what we bring to the LTE market.
Baylis: Let’s talk about the key focus for Technicolor. LTE is now a very credible access technology, and the market is continuing to grow. Technicolor will be useful and credible in this marketplace only if we bring new leading-edge features and, above all, if we solve the day-to-day problems operators and their customers encounter.
Let’s look at three areas where Technicolor adds value to the market.
First, we bring the quality of Wi-Fi in-home networking, which has been a watchword for us over the past few years in all of our residential gateway activity. That means bringing the appropriate hardware designs with the right silicon partners that will extend coverage in the home and increase throughput of the data services.
It also means bringing intelligence and self-healing capabilities to the Wi-Fi access points in the home. Technicolor has a strategic focus on Wi-Fi excellence, as well as monitoring and diagnostics — about which we’ll be saying much more over the coming months.
Our second value-add is in the quality of voice services. We’ll be demonstrating our Voice over IP (VoIP) feature integrated into the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon X5 LTE chipset at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Later this year, our LTE gateways will be integrating circuit-switched voice and voice over LTE services to ensure full coverage of all operator requirements for voice.
I think it is important for subscribers to have an uninterrupted and unaffected data service when they are using their phone, and that’s what our work has focused on over these past months.
Third, the most popular buzzwords of recent years — IoT and smart home — are still very important. We will soon bring to market a state-of-the-art home-automation platform that combines IoT radios with a residential home gateway, and we’ll have more news of that in coming months.
If we talk about this year’s buzzword rather than last year’s, we are talking about 5G. It is clearly intended by the industry to be a transformative step. It is going to give blindingly fast data rates and incredibly low latency, and it will enable a whole host of services and products that we haven’t yet imagined.
An enormous amount of work still needs to be done to complete the specification on the consumer side, but we fully intend to be in the vanguard with the device manufacturers, resolving the complex issues that will be raised by the new millimeter wave technology.
In addition, we will need to — literally and figuratively — think outside the box. 5G is going to challenge all of us to move outside the traditional residential gateway perimeter, as the macrocell infrastructure that has been the foundation of the mobile market evolves toward a far denser and smaller picocell infrastructure.
So, these are exciting times to be involved in 5G. We don’t know what it is going to be yet, but we think it is going to be something fundamentally different from what we see today.