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Mobile hot-buttons: Spectrum, small-cell networks and Wi-Fi offload


Click here to view an on-demand version of the Webcast discussed in this story: Megabytes to Megabucks, Bandwidth to Business Models: How 4G Is Changing Everything (registration required). 

Register for Yankee Groupís upcoming 4G World Conference Oct. 24-27 in Chicago.

Spectrum concerns are a cited catalyst behind AT&T`s proposed purchase of T-Mobile, and this week LightSquared CEO Sanjiv Ahuja similarly warned the industry that within two years, "demand for broadband wireless will outstrip the current total spectrum available in the United States.Ē (CP: LightSquared tidies up GPS mess, ready to be the network `all Americans deserve`).

During a Connected Planet webcast Wednesday, Senior Editor Kevin Fitchard asked a panel of knowledgeable guests ó Chris Kapuscinski, head of small cells/femtocells marketing at Alcatel-Lucent; Mike Wright, director of networks and access technologies at Telstra; and Yankee Group analyst and vice president of research Brian Partridge ó whether the mobile industry is really running out of spectrum, among other questions regarding how networks are addressing increasing traffic demands.

Partridge said he wouldn`t go so far as to call the current spectrum situation a "crisis," noting that Yankee Group believes the FCC`s projected requirement for 500Mhz of spectrum to satisfy future growth is about right.

"I think there`s quite a bit of hype, but the tools are there to deal with spectrum that`s available and licensed," said Partridge.

Telstra`s Wright expanded on this idea, explaining:

There are tools out there that allow providers to tune and compress their spectrum more efficiently, if they`re really driving their spectrum as hard as they can, to maybe free up some. There are a number of techniques ... but it really does take a combined commercial and engineering long-term look to start planning. It`s not the kind of thing you turn and around and do tomorrow.

As for Telstra`s own strategy idea (and by coincidence, Telstra rolled out its first 4G services this very week), Wright said that while knowing more spectrum would be made available, there was a concern about how long it might take to access it, and so the Australian carrier decided to reuse ó or better use ó some of the spectrum it already owns.

"We believe that, as an industry, we need to efficiently use and reuse the spectrum we already own," said Wright. "The reality is the ecosystem is opening up, and the chips are becoming available, so it became a fairly easy step for us to undertake."

Kapuchinski agreed on the need for reuse and smarter use.

"It`s really more about going with technology that`s scalable and flexible, to essentially change as the market changes ... not necessarily cramming in more spectrum."

Does size matter? The panel next discussed the feasibility of smaller-cell networks, which ALUís Kapuchinski noted involve a number of logistical challenges, including matters of real estate.

He added:

In the U.S., small cells are already outnumbering macro cells, but that`s more from a home-deployment perspective. From a metro environment ... you have to consider these metro cells as another tool in the toolbox. There are issues in terms of mounting these things and providing backhaul, but relative to the macro scenario, where you`re having to do a tremendous amount of work in order to acquire the site and get regulation, metro cells provide a much greater flexibility, in terms of where you can provide that coverage [affordably]. When you start getting into how many will we need, it becomes an issue.

This led rather naturally into a conversation about Wi-Fi, which can be a welcome option for offloading traffic at congested spots and during high-impact events. But that forces carriers to lose, as Partridge put it, "session intelligence." In the future, he added, he believes operators will act on more deliberate strategies that better leverage their assets around Wi-Fi.

"We need to figure out how to be a part of that [Wi-Fi] ecosystem, rather than fight against it," agreed Wright. "Wi-Fi is part of the answer in the home, but not the entire answer [in the macro mobile network]."

Partridge jumped back in, adding, "There`s definitely some wonderful pros to Wi-Fi, and some cons, but it`s really the marriage of Wi-Fi with the 3Gand 4G licensed technologies that we feel makes a more powerful argument to having both of these technology incorporated into a specific small cell [solution], whether that be for enterprise or from a metro perspective."

In closing, Fitchard turned the conversation to pricing schemes, and whether charging by the megabyte was really the best approach. His guests, in general, agreed that the area of pricing, too, is a work in progress.

"There`s a lot more innovation to still happen around business models," said Partridge, adding that it`s a key focus for the Yankee Group as it considers growth in areas such as M2M, three-screen experiences and how to leverage intelligence around subscriber context and profiles.

"It needs to be further investigated and experimented with, in our opinion," he concluded, "to make next-generation of investments pay off."


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