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A rallying cry for service continuity, not capacity
Though it might not be the first thing on your mind when you wake up in the morning, I’m hugely passionate about the advancement of mobile communications.
This kind of stuff changes people’s lives; in fact, it has been changing people’s lives for decades.
One of the biggest concerns today involves the impact of LTE and WiFi as 4G develops into 5G. What roles should these technologies play as we move towards the next generation of mobile? If we’re going to answer that question, we, as an industry, need to put the people – the consumers – at the centre of our thinking process.
So what does the modern mobile user want?
As a must have: mobile services coverage and capacity.
Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) are mainly focused on these two service elements; the former to rapidly deploy a commercially viable footprint, and the latter because of the belief that it is the USP that will attract new subscribers and burn through data bundles faster. But what the modern users now demand goes beyond the ‘must-haves’. They now demand service continuity, even where there is no mobile coverage.
With service continuity, users can maintain service whilst transitioning from an outdoor to indoor environment and vice versa, or whilst moving around an indoor location where mobile coverage is poor or non-existent. The key to service continuity is not capacity, though evidence suggests the industry continues to believe this. It’s the ability to transition a customer from the outdoor mobile network to an indoor wireless solution, be that a WiFi or Small Cells one. Apart from the standard cellular technology, all mobile devices come fitted with WiFi these days, a technology that’s very familiar to most consumers.
Focusing only on capacity makes me think of the paradox of building a new road to reduce congestion. You have a congested network, with cars blocking the same points every day. The paradox is that the usual solution to build another road to provide relief only creates more congestion; the people who previously chose not to drive and take public transport instead suddenly get back into their cars. Pretty soon the extra capacity is filled and you’re back at square one; albeit a few million pounds lighter.
The same is true when you’re talking about mobile services. MNOs build more capacity into their networks, thinking they’re giving users what they want or need and solving a capacity problem. In reality, capacity is not what customers are worried about most of the time. What they’re more worried about is poor coverage and the inability to access their favourite apps or hold a voice/VoIP call whilst transitioning from mobile coverage to a poor or no-coverage area, when there is available WiFi or another cellular solution indoors. They want to do that without fumbling through WiFi and cellular settings on their devices.
How do you solve a problem like service continuity?
There is an issue with the current industry model that does not lend itself to solving the service continuity conundrum. MNOs spend a substantial amount of money to buy spectrum that governments auction off. This in turn incentivises them to first focus on coverage to rapidly deploy a commercially viable footprint, and then build capacity to address the consumer data needs. Here’s where they stop as their budgets run out. This just goes round in circles every time a new mobile technology is introduced.
What all the parties don’t realise us that the paying public’s needs have evolved and coverage and capacity won’t cut it. The public now demands service continuity. After all, what good is capacity if the signal drops out every time you go into a certain room of the house, even though your home WiFi service is ever-present to handle that call or application?
So the message to the industry is clear: coverage and capacity is no longer the key to happy consumers. Now it’s about getting LTE and WiFi – two complementary technologies – to work hand in hand. The ball isn’t in the government’s court, or that of the network vendors; it’s down to the MNOs to lead the way with a new roadmap that puts service continuity at the centre. Handset and networks vendors will rally behind the MNOs, as they’ve done in the past, by developing the right features to support the MNOs roadmap.
MNOs, show the way!