If predicting the future were easy, no company would ever spend money developing products that ultimately do not sell or cultivating markets that never materialize. But of course, predicting the future is hard. That is part of my job, though, as a director of technology development. I try to forecast what wireless network architectures will look like in the years ahead so that CommScope is devoting resources appropriately in developing active products such as amplifiers and filters for next generation wireless networks.
Obviously, no forecaster is perfect. However, as I survey what’s occurred over the past few years and look at trends today, I am of the opinion that there will be a re-ordering of the key influencers determining future wireless network architectures. For this discussion, let’s focus on the US. I believe the key players in the US will be the following, in descending order of influence:
- Content providers such as: Google, Apple, Amazon and media companies such as Disney, CBS, CNN, Fox, Cablevision and Comcast
- Device manufacturers such as: Apple, Samsung, and Google
- Network operatorssuch as: AT&T, Verizon, Vodafone, T-Mobile, and Sprint
- Equipment manufacturers such as: Ericsson, Huawei, NSN, ALU, Cisco, IBM, and HP
Why this order? Because the content providers and the handset manufacturers are the most profitable, empowering them to have more influence over the networks of tomorrow than the network operators. Thus, the choice of network technology standards (such as LTE) will be driven by device manufacturers and not solely by infrastructure OEMs and operators. This likelihood is supported by how AT&T is accelerating its LTE deployments today, Verizon’s migration from CDMA to LTE, and Sprint’s abandonment of WiMAX for LTE. The content and devices are increasingly impacting how operators evolve their wireless networks.
Content providers typically want to sell information, advertising, and content to anyone, anywhere. Therefore, mobile applications will impose new requirements on the network architecture. Since mobiles likely won’t have adequate storage or processing capabilities to address newer applications, cloud-based storage and applications will become the norm. Providing this kind of service to the end user means ensuring that enough capacity exists in the uplink and downlink paths for all mobiles under all deployment scenarios.
Content providers will want to provide wired backhaul (fiber and/or copper) as close as they can to the end user. I believe fiber to most indoor locations (homes, venues, offices) with data rates greater than one Gbps per user will become common place, with the cost for this deployment heavily subsidized by the content providers.
The challenge for the wireless infrastructure vendor then is to move this content from the backhaul to the mobile user. I don’t believe a single wireless channel will ever have adequate capacity to support the full range of intended applications. For example, 10 MHz LTE can only provide 75 Mbps (peak) for all users. Therefore, data aggregation over multiple channels (Wi-Fi and LTE, licensed and unlicensed) will likely become the norm. Hence the base stations of tomorrow will need to aggregate data across multiple paths and transfer that seamlessly to the mobile. Innovations will be required to manage the quality of service and delays across such implementations.
Also, handsets will likely support multiple radios for licensed and unlicensed bands. LTE will become the norm since most new mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets will support LTE.
In my next post, I’ll talk more about the technology implications of these predictions. Until then, any thoughts on my hypothesis?Do you agree that content providers and handset manufacturers will more greatly influence the architecture of wireless networks in the future?