LTE is the latest generation mobile network technology, and the fastest growing standard in telecoms history. With the exponential increase of video-rich content and remote data storage, LTE has been designed to meet the growing demands of the Internet for both human-to-human, human-to- machine and machine-to-machine communications.
LTE will accelerate and enhance numerous technology trends including last-mile connections, multimedia-rich web applications, security and cloud computing. This article briefly summarizes the history of mobile data networking, and how LTE’s bandwidth and latency improvements will change the face of the web.
The fastest growing telecom standard
Digital mobile communication was born in the 1990’s as an offshoot of the fixed wired telephony industry in the form of 2G GSM, which initially offered voice as the primary service. Later on, data was added as a lower priority “add-on” feature, first as SMS for text messaging and then as packetized data through GPRS and then HSPA. Interestingly, SMS, the first commercially available mobile data service, today generates over 100 billion dollars in annual revenue worldwide.
Two cellular network generations later, data has taken over as the driver of mobile network technology. Voice, now a commodity, has been replaced by multimedia-rich applications and services as the main revenue generator. This is why operators are rapidly rolling out 4G LTE, making it the fastest growing telecommunications standard (see Figure 1).
LTE promises to deliver a whole new level of bandwidth and quality of service for both mobile human-operated devices as well as for human-to- machine and machine-to-machine applications that require affordable, high-bandwidth, high-quality and low-latency wireless connectivity.
Figure 1. Data has become the driver of mobile network technology, this is why operators are rapidly rolling out 4G LTE, making it the fastest growing telecommunications standard in history.
Network Operators and the Mobile Broadband Promise
During the 1990’s and 2000’s, operators fought hard for time-based voice revenues and also flirted – unsuccessfully – with new “pay-per-use” models for data traffic. Users had rapidly come to expect voice to be a free or al- most-free service! This forced mobile operators to increase airtime and add ever more voice subscribers in order to pay for the increasing costs of their network infrastructure. The very success of the mobile phone revolution had driven Average Revenue Per User (ARPU) lower and lower.
Although data services were seen as a way to reverse the declining voice revenues, operators tried to charge for data on a “per use” basis. In an attempt to create new revenues, operators also served up their own branded content and services (the “walled garden” approach), still working with a “voice oriented” mind-set. This made these early data services very expensive and unattractive to use, and just served to delay the adoption of data services on mobile devices.
Meanwhile, on the fixed-line side of the Internet, an insatiable demand for web based interaction and services grew over high-speed DSL and cable networks, which started to proliferate in the early 2000’s. This resulted in an astounding increase in Internet traffic and applications. This multimedia-rich “broadband internet experience” quickly became an essential part of everyday life for hundreds of millions of people in the developed world.
The spread of this “broadband internet revolution” onto mobile devices began later with the launch of the Apple iPhone in 2007. Although the original iPhone only supported EDGE (at 236 kb/s) it was the first phone designed to fully access the web directly, bypassing the walled garden approach of mobile operators at that time.
The combination of a “designed-for-Internet” device with a refocusing of operators away from the declining pay-per-use charging models towards “all you can eat” data subscriptions combined to create a massive shift in the industry, launching the smartphone revolution.
Figure 2: Internet Traffic Growth (2009 - 2014), Source CISCO
Five iPhone generations later, mobile Internet users expect the same high-speed, fixed-line Internet experience on their mobile devices as they go about their daily lives.
What applications do people use, and which ones are growing the fastest in terms of traffic generated? Web traffic today is made up primarily of Video
(such as YouTube, IPTV, Netflix, and hulu), and File Sharing (such as MediaFire, Dropbox, FilesTube, and RapidShare). Other traffic, including web surfing, VoIP, and gaming, together make up only 20% of total bandwidth. Refer to Figure 2.
This enormous adoption of video-rich services has generated a growth in Internet traffic from about 75 Petabytes (1015) per month in 2000 to over 30 thousand Petabytes per month in 2012. 2G networks are hopelessly underpowered, and 3G “best effort” networks are struggling to cope due to inherent protocol limitations.
Video enhanced applications are clearly driving the growth in internet traf- fic. To meet this challenge today and in the future, operators are rapidly turning to LTE. 4G “Long Term Evolution” (LTE)
3G was only capable of providing sufficient bandwidth during the initial stages of internet growth, but will not be able to scale to meet the expected demands of a large number of simultaneous mobile internet users. Sup- porting the mobile broadband Internet revolution required a new standard designed from the ground up to support mobile broadband internet access.
To meet the anticipated demands on the network, LTE possesses four key advantages over 2G and 3G technologies:
1. High gross bandwidth, up to 150 Mb/s down and 50 Mb/s up in today’s networks. This is sufficient to stream 8 simultaneous HDTV channels.2.
Efficient sharing of the gross bandwidth between a large number of users, allowing cost-effective allocation of data to different end device requirements, and simultaneous handling of high-bandwidth human-to- human and low-bandwidth machine-to-machine traffic.
Reduced Operating Expenditure (OPEX) through a simplified network architecture and better spectral efficiency (double that of HSPA and thirty times that of UMTS).
Guaranteed maximum latency, typically around 10 ms, below the threshold of human perception.
These attributes combine to bring users affordable mobile data services with high quality of service and satisfying responsiveness supporting content-rich, interactive applications such as on-demand video, social media, voice, web, gaming and cloud-based applications. LTE: The wireless last mile
LTE’s first role will be to deliver the Cable/DSL broadband experience to mo- bile devices. Put simply, there will be no discernible difference between your fixed line experience at home, and your mobile device. When this service is available, it is only a matter of achieving the same price point as fixed line services before the LTE “last mile” connections replace Cable and DSL connections: the edge of the internet will become purely wireless.
One of the first major applications of LTE will be in mobile routers to create Wi-Fi hotspots in public transportation, at events, in city centers, apartment buildings and remote locations.
NEXT: LTE Human-to-Human mobile applications