May 23, 2013     

Two main observations struck me after I had taken some time to digest the announcements made during Mobile World Congress 2013 and CTIA 2013:

First, since the smartphone market started accelerating, we have come a long way when it comes to managing exponential data growth and improving the performance/quality throughout the cell.  While speed, latency, capacity, and quality are going to be an ongoing challenge, they will be manageable.  The conversation is shifting from managing data to improving profitability for the Service Providers (SPs).

Second, there is an increasing variety of different solutions and strategies vendors are taking to address the same problem (or opportunity).  There may be a perception in the industry that the RAN can in some cases be seen as a commodity and that all the opportunity to differentiate the product lies in the intelligent aspects of the network.  The reality, however, is that the increasingly changing and demanding user expectations along with the improved visibility to end users about important KPIs, and the importance for SPs to not only have the most efficient and best performing network but also the ability to monetize the traffic, will ensure continued innovation with plenty of room for differentiation.

And there were plenty of proof points during MWC (and to some extent CTIA) of differing approaches to essentially address the same problems (or opportunities) – dealing with data growth and monetizing data.

When it comes to managing data, there are some differences in how the vendors have approached the balance between investing in their macro and small cell portfolios.  Some vendors have pushed more aggressively on the shift towards small cells while others are taking a more balanced approach.

Within the macro portfolio, the main trend continues to emphasize an evolutionary approach to improving performance and the ability to adapt to changes quickly with minimum incremental investments, reducing power consumption, and simplifying installation with more compact BTSs and different approaches to antenna integrated radios and vertical beam forming/active antenna systems.

For licensed spectrum public access small cells, vendors have different views on how quickly small cells will ramp and how the network should evolve from a few small cells per macro to hot zones of small cells.  I am also starting to see variations in the type of solutions that are offered and the role vendors can play in making small cells a reality – it’s no longer just about the radio.  RAN vendors also take different approaches when it comes to embracing and integrating small cell radios operating in the unlicensed spectrum.

There is tremendous innovation and progress on the infrastructure side but limited advancement with the business models curbing the potential upside in mobile data growth and the ability to monetize data.  The good news is that the focus is shifting and vendors are starting to look into various ways of helping SPs and we expect vendors will take different approaches in how they provide the necessary tools/solutions and access to content. One of the RAN vendors had some interesting announcements during MWC that will enable the RAN to store popular content, leverage real time information, and prioritize quality based on preferences and applications which could eventually enable service providers to expand their business models, prioritize customers based on what they are paying for, and guarantee the delivery and performance of various products.

In other words, there is no shortage of ways for vendors to stand out and differentiate their RAN portfolios when it comes to managing and monetizing data.

Stefan Pongratz

Posted by Stefan Pongratz on May 29, 2013

About Stefan

Stefan Pongratz joined Dell’Oro Group in 2010 and is responsible for the firm’s Mobile RAN market and Telecom Capex research programs. While at the firm, Stefan has expanded the Mobile RAN research adding significant detail on LTE and 5G NR. He has published articles in industry media such as in Fierce Wireless, RCR Wireless and Capacity Magazine. He has been cited in publications such as Barron’s, Bloomberg, Fierce Wireless, Lightreading, Pipeline Magazine, Telecom Asia and the Wall Street Journal.