Let's Get Serious About Cellular

One of the most peculiar things about the cellular market is that while it's based almost entirely on advanced technologies, enterprise decision makers almost never factor technology into their equations when considering which cellular services to buy. A lot of this likely has to do with the dominance of the consumer market for wireless, where vague references to "4G" or unsubstantiated claims like "All networks are great now.... We're talking within a 1% difference in reliability" are rampant.

Well, times are changing. With steady growth and relatively stable technologies now a thing of the past, the mobile operators have recognized they need to up their games if they intend to distinguish themselves. Suddenly we're seeing them bring more technical options to the fore than at any time in recent memory. In turn, this means enterprises looking to buy effectively for their emerging requirements are going to have to get smarter about operator plans and how the new offerings will impact their own ability to stay in front of the curve.

5G

Over the next two years we expect to see 5G rollouts begin in earnest. The obvious story about 5G is higher data rates and greater bandwidth efficiency (i.e., an improvement in the number of bits you can send per cycle of radio spectrum). The bottom line is that we will likely see an order of magnitude performance boost with sustained data rates of 100 M downstream x 10 Mbps upstream. To address Internet of Things (IoT) requirements, however, network planners are looking for user latency in the one-millisecond range and device density up to one million devices per square kilometer. We'll get back to IoT in a moment, because 5G is only one of a number of transmission technologies being proposed. However, enterprises must now start asking the "when" and "where" questions about 5G availability.

Voice over LTE (VoLTE)

VoLTE holds the promise of delivering the biggest improvement in cellular call quality in decades, but again the "when" and "where" questions persist. The big quality boost will come through the availability of wideband voice via Adaptive Multi-Rate Wideband (AMR-WB), the wireless equivalent of G.722 voice encoding. While high-end devices like Apple's iPhone 6 and later and Samsung's Galaxy 5 and later offer VoLTE capability, interoperability across carrier networks is still a challenge. AT&T and Verizon have pledged interoperability, but what about the other guys? Even more importantly, how about wideband interoperability between wired networks using G.722 and VoLTE? That's something worth asking.

Indoor Coverage Strategies and Unlicensed Spectrum

Indoor mobile coverage has been a persistent problem, and is becoming even more so with the increasing adoption of building standards like Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design

(LEED) that along with making buildings more energy efficient can turn them into virtual Faraday cages. The carriers have traditionally used distributed antenna systems (DAS) as the primary solution for indoor coverage problems, but are now pursuing all manner of indoor small-cell options capable of operating in a number of different frequency bands.

Sprint plans on taking advantage of the considerable holdings it has in the 2.5-GHz band for indoor coverage via its recently introduced all-wireless small cell Magic Box solution. Some carriers are looking at voice over Wi-Fi (VoWiFi) -- or, more correctly, because it will be running on your internal Wi-Fi network, "VoYoFi." Some have moved past VoYoFi and are looking at various forms of LTE over Unlicensed (LTE-U), which enable them to run LTE wireless protocols over various unlicensed frequency bands. They're initially targeting the 5-GHz U-NII bands used for some 802.11n and all 802.11ac private Wi-Fi networks. Those deployments could take the form of Licensed Assisted Access (LAA), originally developed by Qualcomm or the more enhanced version pushed by the MulteFire Alliance (pronounced "Multi-fire"). In that case, they're looking at the 3.5-GHz CBRS band and the 1.9 GHz DECT bands as well as 5 GHz.

If that isn't enough to think about, consider this. A traditional DAS could distribute signals from multiple carriers, but each operator appears to be going it alone on small cells -- about the only clear multicarrier option at this stage is VoWiFi. Imagine what your wiring closets could look like in a small cell-per-carrier scenario.

Continue to next page: IoT Infrastructure, Mobile E911, Conclusion