Editor’s Note: With 2014 now upon us, RCR Wireless News has gathered predictions from leading industry analysts and executives on what they expect to see in the new year.
It’s that time of year again – time to hop into our DeLoreans and make the short leap forward to 2014. What will the coming year bring for telecom? What technologies will make waves and leave a lasting impression on consumers?
Following is a list of six trends we expect to see in the year ahead and what you can look forward to as the telecom industry continues to evolve.
Small cells will find its time to shine in the coming year. This technology, which can be used to handle local coverage and capacity issues arising from rapid growth in mobile data consumption, will enjoy major deployment in 2014 – enough for consumers to notice.
With small cells, consumers can expect to get better and faster service in crowded areas such as sports stadiums, subways and shopping malls. There will be fewer frustrations when it comes to data download and upload, and more reliable mobile service overall – all thanks to small cells’ ability to boost coverage and user experience in busy and hard-to-reach locations. The mobile world will become sharper, more seamless and higher quality – just imagine the difference between an old analog television and high-definition TV – this is exactly what it will feel like with small cells in the game.
4G deployment and LTE-Advanced
Up until now, mass adoption of LTE has primarily been seen in North America and China, but in 2014, we expect to see usage accelerating in Europe. In fact, we can anticipate seeing a ramp-up in LTE in general.
In 2014, traffic on legacy 2G and 3G networks will begin to decline more rapidly as LTE becomes the focal point. We are seeing this realized through the growing number of LTE subscribers and the diminishing amount of spectrum allocated to legacy systems. Additionally, the volume of LTE traffic is growing substantially. (For a look at the state of 3G and 4G as of November 2013, see the infographic below.)
This growth in traffic – coupled with the fact that people behave differently on LTE networks – will cause operators to take a closer look at their investment strategy, debating the benefits of over-investing in single radio access networks versus a “cap and grow” strategy by deploying an LTE overlay network. In parallel, roll-out of LTE-Advanced features will start with carrier aggregation. This will enable operators to virtually “knit” their distributed blocks of spectrum in separate frequency bands into contiguous blocks to reduce waste and costs and improve service quality for subscribers.
As operators focus their investments on LTE access, the introduction of advanced services such as voice-over LTE will become more and more critical.
In 2014, we’ll see the realization of VoLTE, which many are claiming will lead to a revival in mobile voice services. While we have applications today like Skype and Facebook messaging, what we envision is a service offering that is much more comprehensive, of better quality and less individually compartmentalized than a mobile app. VoLTE will enable a new conversation experience, and because voice is still important to consumers, this will be a huge migration path for operators.
HD voice will be possible when calling within your own network, and operators will be quick to add additional services to VoLTE calls. Services such as Web real-time communications will be enabled – where operators and enterprises can embed rich communications services into Web applications to enhance the customer experience, while providing the peace of mind of connectivity over a secure operator’s network.
Network functions virtualization is another area in which will see increased investment during 2014. NFV technology supports the virtualization of components allowing a flexible network infrastructure that underpins the shift of applications and services to the cloud. NFV will bring agility and efficiency to networks and business operations and will allow operators to efficiently and cost-effectively support dynamic subscriber demands.
We expect the industry transition to NFV to accelerate in 2014 starting in the core network control plane and end-user services.
In 2014, more and more tools and professional services will be available to assist operators with the migration to NFV, making life easier for all. In time, both fixed and wireless access network elements will become virtualized, including functionality that previously resided at the customer premises (residential and enterprise). SDN techniques will play a key role here for service roll-out flexibility, and proof points will already appear in the coming year.
Wireline is an area that should not be underestimated. As we jump into 2014, vectoring will take off in Europe as fiber reaches a critical density. Vectoring removes the “cross-talk” between a mass of copper lines and allows the true potential of VDSL2 and G.Fast technologies. Wireline operators will be able to maximize existing copper investments and increase broadband speeds as they plan their fiber roll-out. Fiber roll-out will increase as a result of the growing interworking between wireless and wireline infrastructures.
We anticipate seeing a lot of telecom innovation coming from emerging markets in 2014. These ecosystems, which are rich with budding entrepreneurs, present new “day-to-day” challenges, specific to the communications infrastructure of the region. As a result, we will see a host of new use-cases that have never before been seen in the United States, China and Europe.
For example, Brazil is one area that will take off in telecom in 2014. With the World Cup just around the corner and the Summer Olympics a few years down the line, there will be increased investment in fixed and wireless technologies in order to prepare for these events. There will also be a flurry of new, more reasonably priced mobile phones on the market to fully take advantage of the network’s offerings.
Overall, life will be more connected in 2014 – with higher volume capacity, better voice quality and much more – we should not forget sustainability, energy efficiency and security aspects as meta-drivers. The telecom industry is only going to get more advanced, and the consumers – be it you, me, or a connected device – have nothing but improvements to look forward to.
Michael Peeters is CTO for the Wireless Division at Alcatel-Lucent. Previously, Peeters led the Wireline CTO organization as well as the Access Node Technology research group in Bell Labs. He has held positions in research and innovation and academia and has over 15 years of industry experience with one common theme: cutting edge communications technology. He is senior member of the IEEE, has been an author or co-author on more than 30 SCI-rated publications and over 70 publications at international peer-reviewed conferences. He acts as a reviewer for IEEE and OSA journals and committee member for several conferences. He also holds several patents in the field of fixed-access technology.