How will the iPhone 5 affect emerging markets?

A new iPhone unveiling is a cataclysmic event in the telecoms industry, and the impact will be felt just as much in emerging markets – indeed, perhaps even more. DT editor James Barton spoke to Mervyn Kelly of network specialist Ciena to discuss the impact the iPhone 5 will have on data usage, and how operators in emerging markets can hope to optimise their networks to cope with this.

Have iPhones typically been widely adopted in following their release emerging markets – and if so, has this led to spikes in data traffic?

Yes and yes. Particularly in markets where population has more money – the Middle East, Russia, Eastern Europe – and where there is still economic growth. New, trendy devices are increasingly affordable for these demographics, and they don’t come much newer and trendier than the iPhone.

Apple themselves talk about the growth in bandwidth that their devices generate – there has been a general growth with each subsequent launch of the iPhone. Interestingly, the iPhone 5 is clearly optimised for video and high definition video in terms of screen size and bandwidth. Everybody is using video as a means of communication now – marketing, webinars, YouTube videos –so it makes sense to launch a device that’s optimised for this.

Have you seen video traffic increasing in emerging markets?

Absolutely – the trend is indicative of short attention spans. A video is more eye-catching than a piece of text, and it’s become a part of how people behave in the modern world.

The iPhone 5 is also LTE-enabled – how does this affect the amount of data it uses, and how this compares to previous iPhones and other smartphones?

LTE as a technology enables much higher bandwidth than 2G and 3G – many desirable applications such as Facebook, video and business apps are greatly facilitated by this. One of the challenges that operators and manufacturers face is that LTE spectrum is so diverse globally. Apple has been forced to launch three variants of the iPhone 5 to cope with the different frequencies*; they’ve been unable to create a device that tunes effectively right across different spectrum. There are separate models for EMEA, North America and Asia, which is not ideal for roaming between continents – it’s almost back to the bad old days of dual-band and tri-band phones.

The sheer bandwidth that LTE enables is potentially a factor of 3 – 5 times as much as what is currently available. The theoretical amount is very high, but 50 megabits is pretty practical. 2G and 3G enable far less – perhaps less than 10 megabits. While 3G can be updated to achieve higher bit rates, the average in the UK for example is around 7 megabits.

This obviously represents a massive increase in data traffic - what are the problems faced by current backhaul networks in coping with this traffic?

There are two main issues. The first is that old-style backhaul networks – TDN networks which offer 2 megabits or multiples thereof – simply aren’t big enough, so they need to get bigger. The second is quality of service and class of service: with this potential amount of data, it’s not really affordable to build a network that covers its peak scenario – it would be like building a motorway to cope with rush hour traffic, there’d be twenty lanes and it would be empty most of the time.

In terms of data, the traffic needs to be managed, and this involves differentiating between it – no one would care about a tweet taking and extra quarter of a second to send, but a half-second glitch on a video would bother people. To smooth the peaks and avoid building a ridiculously oversized network, you need a high-bandwidth reliable packet with quality of service assurance.

How important is network optimisation in streamlining this data influx?

There are three elements a backhaul network needs to cover. The first is the high bandwidth, which needs to be bigger – for LTE, between 100Mb and 1Gb of Ethernet per base station. Five or six years ago, the 2G networks had 2Mb of bandwidth, so this needs to increase by a factor of several hundred. The second element is the quality of service management, and the third is availability and resilience. It must be architected in such a way that the traffic switches the other way if the fibre is damaged – these days, base stations can’t afford to have outages of even a millisecond.

What are the options available to operators in emerging markets?

There’s an interesting twist to emerging markets. Carrier Ethernet is the obvious answer, as it is packet optimised, is high bandwidth, and can be architected in rings with protection. However, the easiest way to deliver high bandwidth is via fibre, and in emerging markets it can be difficult to dig fibre to a remote village, for example.

Quite a few operators today are using satellite and microwave links, but getting the required bandwidth through these technologies is challenging. Their maximum is typically around 1Gb, which might be enough for an individual base station, but quite often in remote regions there are multiple base stationed daisy-chained together – a microwave link would be insufficient.

If fibre is not an option, what can emerging market operators do to avoid using satellite and microwave?

Because of the geographies, they may have to focus on these – in an ideal world they would dig fibre as it’s ultimately the best solution. I think there will be a gradual evolution outwards of fibre so that it’s as close to the base station as it can practically be, and that depends on how easy it is to build. Going forward, I think we’ll see the combination of satellite, microwave and fibre, with the aim of minimising the first two.

How much more advantageous is Carrier Ethernet for operators?

 Lower cost is a major factor – an Ethernet switch that provides 1Gb of connectivity can be $2000 or so, but with microwave and satellite, you’ll pay that on a monthly lease for a satellite link and you’ll get a tenth of the bandwidth. Obviously a satellite is a lot more difficult to maintain than fibre, which goes some way towards explaining the cost. It’s possible to architect microwave in rings for the same protection you can achieve with fibre, but really it comes down to the cost and bandwidth.

*The three models are:

A GSM A1428 model which will launch in North America and provides LTE support for bands 4 (AWS) and 17 (700b MHz) but not CDMA.

A CDMA A1429 model which will launch in Japan and North America.

A GSM A1429 model which supports LTE on Bands 1 (2100MHz), 3 (1800MHz), 5 (850MHz) that will launch in Europe and Asia-Pacific including Australia.

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