Earlier this week, Vodafone UK CEO Jeroen Hoencamp said speed and coverage were not the main priorities for the company in its 4G rollout and that it would instead focus on building a strong, reliable network.
His comments raised some eyebrows given that the faster speeds afforded by 4G are frequently mentioned in many of the marketing materials by some of the major operators and Vodafone itself has just upgraded part of its network to LTE-Advanced.
But if 4G isn’t just about faster speeds and ensuring as many people as possible can receive it, what is it about? We asked the technology industry what it thought made for a good 4G network.
“With its higher speeds, some people see 4G as a fixed line broadband replacement. The speeds seen in testing suggest that when close to a mast where sufficient backhaul is available, speeds matching fixed line superfast broadband are feasible, but closer inspection reveals the quality is variable.
“Vodafone had made a good point – building a 4G network is more than just speed. It is easy to produce a network that gives burst results, making some speed tests produce good strong results.
“A good quality connection should provide consistent speeds and fixed line services generally do this and offer better latency for small data packets. If 4G is used to collect email and update social media then the variable latency and speeds are generally acceptable. On the other hand, if businesses are expected to choose 4G mobile broadband as a solution to UK or European universal broadband coverage commitments, then the importance of delivering consistent performance takes on a whole new dimension.”
“Why should network speeds be the only barometer by which these service providers should be measuring success? Traditionally, attaining top marks in speed, performance and reliability of a network have been a key hygiene factor and differentiator for service providers. However, as the industry evolves to meet the ever-changing demands of their customers, isn’t it time we asked ourselves whether or not this intensive focus on the network is enough?
“The bottom line is that network operators will always be judged on speed, performance and reliability, but it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that customers vote with their feet. In today’s social media-focused, reactionary world, end-users are more inclined than ever to hold service providers to account if their experience does not live up to their expectations. Finding the right balance can play a pivotal role in ensuring that service providers are able to stay ahead of the competition, while also retaining the loyalty of their customers.”
“But in LTE networks, while traffic may be encrypted from the device to the cell site, the backhaul to the IP core is unencrypted by default, leaving the traffic (and the network) vulnerable to attack and interception. And because the backhaul traffic is IP, attackers can easily transfer techniques from web attacks to 4G mobile networks.”
“I would have to agree with Vodafone and say that this is a better strategy than solely focusing on enhanced speeds and coverage. In the early days of the 3G release, the networks’ focus was predominantly on wider coverage and as a result, of what appeared to be a rushed approach, there were failures in some areas to deliver the promised service and speeds expected.
“However, the argument over speed has almost become a bit tired now, as I believe that currently we have reached a decent level. In that respect, I think Vodafone is right to say that bandwidth is probably more important.
“Mr Hoencamp doesn’t want to play the headline game in the UK. That’s wise, not least because UK headlines regarding network performance typically and misleadingly focus on maximum achievable throughputs, rather than on the speeds consumers actually experience. A number of reports published last year put average 4G download speeds between 10-20 Mbps.
“But, as I say, these reports were referencing average maximum achievable throughputs rather than what consumers were actually getting.
“Mr Hoencamp’s focus—network reliability—doesn’t make headlines, but it certainly does directly impact customer experience and thereby churn.”
“Dark fibre supplies operators with their own fibre infrastructure, a future-proofed platform offering near limitless capacity for the same fixed cost, significantly improving network performance capabilities. We anticipate all mobile operators will be turning to dark fibre to ensure they can continue to deliver a strong and reliable customer experience.”
“The issue of speed and coverage is directly linked to customer experience, and cannot be undermined. The fact is, there is no trade-off between speed, coverage and reliability. All three must be tackled simultaneously to provide a delightful customer experience, especially in a competitive environment.
“This will require investments in not just 800MHz macro-sites where capacity is shared by many users (thereby degrading network experience), but also smaller cells at higher frequencies, e.g., 1800 MHz or 2600 MHz. Other opportunities could be in investing in carrier initiated Wifi offload strategies. As such, it is only through increased network densification that operators like Vodafone will hit the 3 silver bullets. This will lead to other challenges, such as site acquisition, total cost of ownership, and how to backhaul these increasingly dense networks.”
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