LTE Asia 2012 Summary

LTE Asia proved to be a refreshingly frank, open, and interesting event.  With 800 attendees over the 2 days, some of the sessions I attended were packed with standing room only.  At the end of this article are some slides with a few of the many highlights from the conference, and a few of my opinions / comments.

The conference kicked off with a one hour executive operator panel discussion entitled “APAC Leadership Debate” with high-profile panelists: Christian Daignault, CTO, CSL, Hong Kong; Mock Pak Lum, CTO, StarHub, Singapore; Sadayuki Abeta, Director, Radio Access Network Department, NTT Docomo, Japan; and Choi Jin-Sung, Senior Vice President & Head of Technology Strategy, SK Telecom, Korea.  A summary video of the panel session is available here.  In the opening panel we covered the following questions:

  • What are the issues and opportunities in building out WiFi off-load networks given your market’s situation?
  • What impact can WiFi off-load have on your network economics?
  • Should we consider Super WiFi in white-spaces or focus on LTE in any available spectrum?
  • Are services impacted when using WiFi off-load versus the operator’s network, e.g. will security issues limit one-click purchase?
  • How can we better align pricing to the cost per bit?
  • In your markets what new pricing packages are interesting customers?
  • Should we revisit speeds / rate caps with LTE (given the challenges experienced with 3G), or should we consider differential service qualities, e.g. a business class data access?  Can we sell this to customers?
  • What will happen to CAPEX over the next 3 years?
  • Given operators are now running multiple networks 2G/3G/4G/WiFi/Metro/Core what must happen to lower cost of operations?
  • What are the key things operators can do to better align revenue per bit and cost per bit?
  • What are the likely market developments over the next 5 years? (items we discussed are Network sharing, new partnerships particularly with content owners, Business Intelligence (Big Data), migration to LTE Advanced)
  • There is much discussion on VoLTE, what is likely to happen in your market given your situation?

We finished on some quick fire round-up questions.  I asked in 5 years’ time if X is going to happen and each operator responded with a one word answer: likely, unsure, unlikely, for their market(s).

  • RCS/Joyn will dominate the customers’ communication experience?  Responses from the panelists ranged from unlikely to unsure, which the GSMA should investigate immediately.
  • 2G will be switched off?  Yes (NTT DoCoMo has already done it)
  • 3G will be switched off?  Unlikely for most panelists with NTT likely to be the first mover.
  • WiFi will carry most of mobile operator’s data traffic?  Consensus opinion is unlikely
  • Customers will still pay for voice and SMS?  Significant divergence of opinion depending on the market some still think customers will pay while some do not.
  • Over The Top services dominate, network operators focus on their networks?  Divergence of opinion depending on market with its likelihood varying between likely-unsure.

My take-away from the panel session is the diversity of markets in APAC is likely to increase over the next 5 years, with potentially some major changes in operators’ roles around services, with the network remaining the greatest asset / challenge.

Some of the other findings from the conference include:

  • TD-LTE is gaining momentum, and its beyond WiMAX operators and China mobile, many APAC operators are considering it for unpaired spectrum and to efficiently meet the asymmetric capacity requirements of mobile broadband which is mainly download
  • Software defined radio and self-organizing networks are proving critical to manage operational costs
  • Single RAN is proving the best way to manage network performance
  • Signaling is in a mess – what is the good of standards when it creates such a mess?
  • IMS gaps continue – what is the good of standards when it doesn’t meet basic migration needs?
  • The SS7 guys have reinvented themselves as the Diameter guys
  • Business model innovation – LTE is not just for mobile devices, LTE is for quad play and an interesting array of business applications
  • The 3G network of many operators is congested – forcing the move to LTE
  • CSFB (Circuit Switched Fall Back) works
  • VoLTE testing / roaming / network issues remain – given voice remains by revenue the core service, our industry should be ashamed we’re having so many problems with VoLTE
  • A belief on OTT partnering, but not quantification on the OTT’s willingness to pay for QoS (Quality of Service)
  • Many operators have a question mark on the use of WiFi off-load – its not a technology issue rather one of economics and customer experience, LTE-A and small cells in hotspots appears to be the focus.

Briefly reviewing the slides shown below:

  • LTE Data Points
    • 96 Commercial LTE deployments mainly in the 1.8 and 2.8GHz bands
    • APAC has 40% of LTE subscribers, likely to be the high growth region
    • Drivers for LTE: Throughput, efficiency and low latency
    • TD-LTE: 12 commercial deployments, 24 contracts and 53 Trials
    • Streaming video dominates traffic on handheld devices, with YouTube being the top traffic generator at 27% of peak traffic
  • South Korea Data Explosion
    • South Korea has seen OTT explode, Kakao Talk 51 mins of usage per day
    • 20 times smartphone growth in 2 years (28M in June 2012, 53% penetration)
    • 60 times mobile data growth to 37TB per month in 2 years, 32% is from LTE devices
    • LTE subs use 2.9GB per month compared to 3G sub on average use 1.2GB
    • LTE subs reached 10M, 141% monthly growth
    • Customer drive for LTE is speed (37%) and latest device (31%)
    • Challenge Jan 2010 and Jan 2012 ARPU fallen from $48-$35 while data use risen from 180MB to 992MB
    • Focus beyond voice, messaging and data into VAS: virtual goods (Korean thing), ICT (Information and Communication Technology) and cloud services / solutions (focus on enterprise)
  • HK CSL Migration to LTE
    • 3G is congested, LTE is not
    • Key is LTE devices available, unlike the early 3G days
    • Migrating customers away from unlimited plans to family and shared plans that deliver value
    • LTE sub uses 2-5 times the data of 3G subs
    • CSFB works
    • Average speed seen is 20 Mbps
    • Using Software Defined Radio, Single vendor RAN, Self-Organizing Networks
    • Migration to LTE-A, small cells and WiFi where appropriate
  • Starhub’s migration to LTE (they launched LTE at the event)
    • 50% of voice traffic is still on 2G
    • Using AMR to re-farm 2G spectrum to LTE
    • Site access is critical – drive to software defined radio to avoid site visits
  • NTT DoCoMo’s VoLTE Evolution
    • 70% devices in portfolio are now LTE
    • All smartphones support CSFB
    • Drive to VoLTE is simply to switch off 3G voice (2G already off)
    • BUT IMS has missing functionality / standards – migration from 3G to VoLTE is not easy – example of failing in standards on basic issues
  • Yes: Example of innovative converged 4G operator in an developing market that uses web principles for service delivery
  • Role of Mobile Identity in BYOD (Bring Your Own Device)
    • BYOD is as significant a trend if APAC as any other market
    • Provides a nice review of the approaches in managing BYOD
  • LTE Quad-Play in Emerging Markets: TD-LTE case study
  • Smartphone gr
    owth implications: Review of the signaling problem and mitigation strategies across 3G and LTE.  Highlights challenge current standards process