Written by John Roese, Chief Technology Officer, Nortel Networks
Is 4G about improving the performance of today’s mobile networks, or is it about revolutionizing the model to create a truly ultra-broadband mobile experience?
The current dialogue is focused on improvement, notably how to improve the capacity of the cellular infrastructure via such 3G technology iterations as HSDPA/HSUPA and CDMA 1xEV-DO Rev A, or such revolutionary 4G technologies as mobile WiMAX 802.16e and LTE.
But simply improving the capacity of 2G networks will not be enough to create the kind of network experience the hyperconnected world expects (see my blog for more details on hyperconnectivity). In order to mobilize the Internet, we need to look not just at capacity but at the
experience that the current mobile network has, thus far, not been designed to deliver. Once we do that, it quickly becomes clear that achieving true Internet mobilization will require more than just minor enhancements to the existing mobile network — hence the need for 4G.
The three key features of the next network include:
1) Support for unsubsidized end points: The network must allow for the connection of any device that would benefit by being attached. Phones, laptops, MP3 players, security cameras, automobiles, sensor systems — all of these and more must be considered potential consumers of mobility services.
2) Open applications ecosystems: The 4G network has to be designed so that it can transport any application that would benefit from a mobile broadband experience, allowing for an infinite set of applications to become participants in the mobile ecosystem.
3) Dramatic economic improvement: The system must facilitate a cost model that focuses on the volume of users and devices — not on higher ARPU for a small set of defined devices. A lower per-bit cost per is important in 4G, but so too is a lower cost for provisioning, operations, backhaul and service abstraction.
The existing 2G and 3G networks are purposed to deliver voice, narrowband data and specific video services in a structured, well-defined model. The 4G network, meanwhile, needs to be designed to mobilize broadband Internet services much in the same way as home and enterprise networks. So while these systems overlap to some degree, the inherent purpose of each is different enough to warrant new technology and new assumptions.
Over the next five years, there will be both improvements made to the existing cellular experience as well as the introduction of 4G systems that expand mobility to a broader set of users, devices, applications and customers. And as the 3G and 4G worlds evolve, they will intersect and converge. The key for us as an industry is to recognize that the short- and medium-term coexistence of long-term competing technology is normal — and natural — and that rather than resisting this evolution, we should embrace it.