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The message from Barcelona:anywhere, anytime, anything

With the concept of ubiquitous services being at the heart of this month’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, a keynote session focused on the topic of ubiquitous networks rang a loud bell.

The CEOs of Bharti Airtel, Ericsson, Qualcomm and Telstra examined the way in which networks are developing to support mobile as the access method of choice and deliver anywhere, anytime connectivity to anyone or anything.

Mobile everywhereCarl-Henric Svanberg, President and CEO of Ericsson, said that for him the idea of a ubiquitous network was ‘broadband everywhere,’ and that this was being achieved through the rapid growth of the HSPA ecosystem. He pointed to some 250 vendors producing around 400 devices as proof, stating that the ever-shrinking size of HSPA data cards means they will soon be installed in multiple devices and ‘everything will communicate’. Within a year, he claimed, HSPA will be delivering 40Mb/s in the downlink.

Of course, that is a rich claim, bearing in mind the big deal South Africa’s networks have made of moving to 3.6Mb/s download speeds on HSDPA cards.

But Svanberg stressed that there is already interest in pushing this towards 100Mb/s with the development of Long Term Evolution (LTE), and with the support of the US, Europe, Japan and China, the standard will become the evolutionary path for mobile broadband.

The Ericsson head man touched on the significant benefits to society brought about by mobile broadband, including sustainability, productivity, industrial growth and quality of life. He emphasised the importance of getting the right business models which recognised the value of mobility, delivered data roaming and provided users with transparent and predictable pricing.

Telstra CEO Sol Trujillo – in charge of one of the most advanced mobile broadband networks in the world covering 99% of Australia’s population – laid out his vision of a ubiquitous network.

“It’s about a network and a set of services that are available wherever a customer lives, works, plays, wherever they go. A network that interfaces with any device, for virtually any service whether it be voice, data or video. It is seamless and can move across many different environments.”

Meanwhile the issues facing Manoj Kohli, Chief Executive Officer of India’s Bharti Airtel, could not be more different than those described by Trujillo. With just 3 per cent fixed line penetration, mobile communications in India is hugely important for social cohesion and economic development. “There are 600 million people in India who have never heard a ringtone,” pointed out Kholi.

For Bharti, the largest operator in India, the untapped market represents a huge opportunity. It is also significant globally as India will be one of the engines driving growth in the mobile market.

“We expect to grow the Indian market by half a billion in the next five years,” he added.

Paul Jacobs, CEO of Qualcomm, focused on the challenges facing networks today and in the future. “The main problem is that radio links are slowing. We can use every trick the digital communications theory guys can come up with to make the radio link as good as it can be to achieve these high data rates.”

However, to achieve this, operators need more spectrum, which is costly and often not available, said Jacobs. Another trick, said the Qualcomm man, was to deepen the network capacity by bringing the device and the network closer together. Jacobs believes that what is needed is a new approach. “What we are going to see in the future will be more about topology, more about the layout of the network, than underlying technology.”

Jacobs noted that the traditional route to increasing capacity is adding ever more network layers, from macrocells, to microcells, to picocells, and now to femtocells.

He argued that this approach produces results but also produces a network which is a great mix of heterogeneous cell sizes and types.

“So what are the technology suppliers and enablers going to do to solve this?” asked Jacobs. “This is the next big challenge. You need a network that optimises itself and adapts itself to resolve the problem. The big challenge for us as technologists is to make this happen and that to me would be achieving the ubiquitous network.”

* Article adapted from the Mobile World Congress Daily

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The Big Change is a business strategy blog and newsletter published by Arthur Goldstuck, managing director of World Wide Worx, a leading technology research organisation based in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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