Europe’s largest service provider, as measured both by revenue and subscriber share, believes network differentiation is possible and is moving forward aggressively with its strategy to create a superior network experience emphasizing consistency. Vodafone recently held a webinar to share its 4G strategy and there were several interesting key takeaways.
First, as part of the Vodafone Spring project, Vodafone has allocated an additional $5 B for the European market that will be used to create a superior 4G network. Some of the macro vendors that will benefit from this project include Ericsson, Huawei, NSN, and Samsung. For small cells and enterprise systems, we have officially seen announcements from Ericsson and SpiderCloud. Vodafone also used pictures of Huawei’s AtomCell radio in its presentation, so it is possible Huawei will be supplying small cell radios as well.
LTE is a fundamental component of Vodafone’s strategy to build a network that can deliver a consistent experience great enough to support HD Video anywhere anytime. Vodafone started ramping its 4G footprint in 2013 and is moving forward aggressively in 2014, covering 4G in 13 markets already. And the company recently reiterated its goal to cover 90% of the outdoor population with LTE by March 2016, utilizing 82 K 4G sites.
Vodafone is planning to use a wide range of technologies to create a consistent network experience including:
- low band spectrum for coverage
- high band spectrum for capacity
- public access small cells operating in both the licensed and unlicensed spectrum
- indoor enterprise systems/small cells
- inter-band carrier aggregation (CA)
- inter-mode CA (FDD and TDD).
CA is typically viewed as one of the more valuable enhancements in Rel-10 allowing for significant improvements in peak data rates. More importantly, Vodafone has soft-launched CA in four markets and initial data suggests greater than 50% improvements in average performance throughout the cell including the cell-edges.
While solid macro coverage is essential, it will not be sufficient to ensure consistent performance anywhere anytime. Vodafone has started deploying small cells and has outlined plans to deploy 70 K new small cell / WiFi sites by March 2016, and if deployed according to plan, there will be roughly one small cell site for every four macro sites by March 2016.
Vodafone does not seem too concerned about meeting the capacity challenges ahead and is putting a lot of emphasis on the performance consistency. This can be partially attributed to Vodafone’s 4G spectrum assets which are twice that of its 3G assets. If we then account for the ~3x spectral efficiency improvements between 3G and 4G, there is six times additional capacity improvements before taking into consideration any improvements from CA and higher order MIMO. And while initial data from the early adopters indicate that smartphone users that switch from 3G to 4G consume 1.3 GB of data per month, up from 500 Mb per month with 3G, overall smartphone penetration is approaching 50% in Vodafone’s European markets and data growth rates are slowing down (see chart).