Dubai: This year will be pivotal in the technological history of the UAE as du and etisalat roll out fourth-generation high-speed broadband to usher in a new age of online communications, says Alan Hadden, global president of Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA).
The association, based in Zurich, comprises firms which supply the markets with GSM and 3G products. In the UAE alone, 11 million mobile phones held by subscribers should be logging on to the 4G super mobile broadband at speeds of up to 150 Mbps downstream.
Faced with a 200 per cent increase in online mobile demand for voice, data and video services, du and etisalat have been conducting trials on new Long Term Evolution (LTE) before implementing the 4G technology by the year end.
Hadden spoke to Gulf News about what the implementation of the new technology means for the UAE in a region that has been led by telecom pioneers.
GULF NEWS: Why are the UAE and so many other countries turning to 4G LTE as the way of the future?
Alan Hadden: Mobile broadband is a huge success in all regions, driven by High Speed Packet Access technology which has spread quickly and commercially launched in 160 countries by 398 operators. This progress was achieved in only a little over five years from the date of the first network launch. Several markets in the Middle East were in the first wave of commercial deployments and launches, and have therefore built a long experience in the mobile broadband market. These pioneers have all experienced significant growth in network traffic, new subscriptions and revenues.
Video-based content is becoming increasingly important which existing and new services will rely on. HSPA+ (HSPA Evolution) is currently delivering the needed capacity and performance requirements for a good user experience of mobile broadband. It has become mainstream in just two years and operators in the Middle East were again pioneers in its introduction. Some countries in the region offer the highest data throughput speeds and lowest latency that can be experienced anywhere in the world today.
LTE is the next step in the evolution, and one which is essential to deliver an even better mobile broadband experience to the mass market. LTE also means new spectrum in potentially larger and contiguous blocks, in 2.6 GHz for capacity in the cities, and sub-1 GHz for the most economic area coverage and improved building penetration.
The momentum is with LTE, and the growing political and industry commitment is likely to lead to huge economies of scale and eventually system deployments throughout the world. Increasingly governments are also allowing the re-farming of existing spectrum to support LTE deployments.
The 1800 MHz will very likely be a prime band for LTE deployments, especially in Europe, Middle East, and Asia Pacific. The first LTE1800 systems have now commercially launched and [there are] several others in the deployment or planning stages.
Is there a way to gauge the cost of rolling out 4G LTE in the UAE through a general formula being used around the globe such as average cost per user, etc.?
LTE is the most spectrally efficient mobile radio access technology, particularly when deployed in larger bandwidths, i.e. of 10 MHz and above. The UK regulator Ofcom recently confirmed results from research they commissioned and said that initial LTE deployments will be 3.3 times more spectrally efficient than HSPA. In a practical user case, LTE enables a video file to be downloaded in around a third of the time it takes on HSPA. Ofcom added that, taking into account the anticipated further technology evolution, this efficiency would increase to approximately 5.5 times by 2020.
The uptake of LTE is a global phenomenon. As well as being the natural evolution step for GSM/HSPA operators, LTE is the preferred next step for leading CDMA operators. In addition, a number of WiMAX operators, including major players, are deploying LTE either as an overlay system, or replacement system. All existing 3G technologies can harmonise to LTE.
With LTE we have one single global standard, supporting FDD and TDD modes, which in turn will secure and drive even higher economies of scale and also simplify roaming.
For the average simple mobile user, what will be the biggest noticeable difference when 4G LTE is officially installed across the UAE? Why is 4G better than 3G in general?
LTE delivers a much improved mobile broadband experience for the user. It should be remembered that LTE technology is optimised for data. Depending upon network configuration and device availability, average throughput speeds can be up to ten times what is experienced with 3G. Of equal or even higher importance is the huge difference that is experienced in the uplink data speeds, and also the much-reduced latency.
Overall the user benefits with an excellent experience of mobile broadband when using LTE. Voice support is coming too, with some operators indicating they will launch VoLTE (Voice over LTE) within the next 12 months.
It would seem the UAE has chosen the right 4G path to be taken to improve its broadband given that so many other countries are also moving in the right direction. Is this a fair assessment?
The UAE has absolutely made the right choice in adopting LTE as its choice for next generation mobile broadband services. It allows operators to re-use many existing resources, saving on capital and operating expenditure and deployment time. According to the latest GSA figures more than 200 operators are now investing in LTE, 98 more than in June 2010. The number of countries and territories where LTE systems are deployed or planned has increased by 32 in the same period.
As many as 154 firm LTE network deployments are in progress or planned in 60 countries, including 20 networks which have commercially launched. A further 54 operators in 20 more countries are engaged in LTE technology pilot trials or tests, ahead of formal commitments to deploy networks for commercial service. Taken together, it means that 208 operators in 80 countries are now investing in LTE. GSA has again raised its market outlook and now anticipates that at least 81 LTE networks will be in commercial service by end 2012. We expect this total to include networks launched in the UAE and the region.
By choosing 4G LTE technology, will it be easier for etisalat and du to simplify its data roaming and international exchanges with other out-of-country telecoms that are using the same 4G LTE technology?
The technology requirements and commercial procedures for data roaming have long been understood and applied with GPRS, EDGE and WCDMA-HSPA. Roaming is taken for granted for voice services, and data is expected to be similarly considered, especially with the proliferation of smartphones — and possibly tablets in the future.