It is that time of the year again. So in addition to sore feet, what can we expect from Barcelona this year? At a high level, I anticipate the underlying challenges or opportunities for the industry will remain fairly similar to last year (and most likely the foreseeable future):
- Consumers expect to be able to use any app at anytime, anywhere. How do we ensure that the network can handle the great variation in minimum performance requirements among all the use cases for a mobile broadband subscriber base that is growing exponentially?
- The percentage of income spent on phone services has not changed a great deal since the Smartphone boom began. What can service providers do to ensure revenue growth keeps up with Capex and Opex?
From a hetnet/radio perspective, there should not be too many surprises when it comes to the different set of principles used to improve network throughput. At the end of the day, it boils down to maximizing spectral and spatial efficiency. But even if the set of principles are limited and similar for everyone, what is interesting is that the strategy and methods used to maximize the performance of the LTE network can vary significantly from vendor to vendor, and I expect to see continued divergence of the various approaches for maximizing spectral efficiency.
The difference in strategies becomes even more pronounced when we take a look at the various approaches to small-cell. There was a multitude of new solutions announced in 2013 by the top RAN vendors including Ericsson, Huawei, and NSN, emphasizing feature/performance/hardware/firmware parity with the macro radios. It will be interesting to see how competitors will respond, what approach new entrants will take, and what enhancements the existing solutions will bring. German-based antenna and electronics manufacturer, Kathrein, has already announced a new centralized in-building solution that will support multiple operators and other vendors are also expected to announce new platforms.
Taking into consideration both the expected growth rates of the equipment market and the opportunities in services, I anticipate plenty of activity around services at the show. NSN has already pre-announced a fault prediction solution, while Ericsson will be launching a services program focusing on small-cells. It will be interesting to see how it will differ from Alcatel-Lucent’s and NSN’s small-cell services and if others will have new announcements as well.
Even if the combination of the cloud, NFV, and eventually SDN are expected to play the greatest role simplifying the network, reducing cost, and helping service providers accelerate and optimize new services, the radio can play a role as well, helping service providers to address the revenue versus investment challenge. The concept of pushing more intelligence towards the edge showed up last year and I anticipate seeing more progress this year. NSN has already announced enhancements to its Liquid Application enabling real-time services and content acceleration. And while I am personally not as optimistic that virtualized baseband using Commercial Off-The-Shelf (COTS) parts will happen in larger scale anytime soon, I do anticipate the topic will come up at the show.
In other words, with a pair of jogging shoes, this should be a very exciting show!