A recent report by Cisco stated that by 2016, the estimated volume of data carried worldwide in the mobile network could be in the region of 10.6 Exabytes. How many hours of intellectually stimulating reality TV would equate to one Exabyte? On preparing some internal presentations recently, someone asked me what the heck is an Exabyte?? What would 10.6 Exabytes of data really look like? Well my research shows one Exabyte is the equivalent of 250 million DVDs. So forecast for mobile network traffic in 2016 carried in one month is the equivalent capacity of 2.65 billion DVD’s!
Although much of the network traffic discussed above is derived from devices connected to wired networks, as the new radio access technologies become more sophisticated and the data rates provided from wireless medium increase, then “always on”, “always connected” services will be demanded from subscribers. Technology like Wi-Fi (IEEE802.11) has largely set the expectation of the types of service and Quality of Experience (QOE) that can be achieved from a wireless service. More and more sophisticated methods of sharing information from personal business and business to consumer (Spotify, IPlayer etc etc) will mean that data services to and from mobile will surely mushroom.
As new utilities are offered by cellular operators over the air, the subscriber expectation of QOE grows dramatically. Every time a 1 is added to the number before the G for wireless standards, the expectation is from subscribers that their video will be completely glitch free, will load immediately, web data will be readily available and loads instantaneous, there will be continuous service wherever required – either in the city, town, countryside, office, home or wherever.
Delivering Wi-Fi like QOE from a cellular “over the air” service is a tough challenge for any operator to meet. The medium over which they provide their service is arguably significantly more complex than a home based Wi-Fi environment.
To meet subscriber QOE expectation, cellular operators are planning to be able to support ubiquitous voice and data services in multiple urban and rural environments over multiple radio standards, providing a balanced cell edge performance, whilst meeting the demands of exponential growth of data over the network. In addition, the added complexity of supporting the different types of traffic that need to be carried with optimum QOE all combine to present the cellular operators with huge technical and more importantly commercial challenge.
More on the commercial challenge of cellular operators to deliver on the economics of mobile data delivery later – but first led me investigate the technical challenges.
So providing 2G data services (GPRS, EDGE), 3G data services (HSPA, HSPA+), and now 4G (LTE) services (whilst supporting voice) is driving a need to adopt a radically new approach to developing base station and core networking equipment. The frequencies that are required to be supported across these radio technologies and the data rates to be achieved affect how the operators need to consider the cell sizes and the types of base station platforms that are used. As the number of operator deployments ramp worldwide, so does the number of frequency bands supported. LTE is specified to support over 40 frequency bands with two different duplexing methods, frequency division and time division.
Heterogeneous networks, mixing different sizes and densities of base station platforms from macro (supporting high power radio antennas covering potentially thousands of subscribers over 10’s of kilometres) to small cell Base station platforms (potentially with integrated antennas supporting 10’s to 100’s of subscribers covering 10’s to 100’s of meters) are being favoured for deploying a mix of different radio technologies in a single Radio Access Network (S-RAN). This is challenging the OEM community and cellular operators to move from their strategy of deploying only ubiquitous macro base station platforms. The ability to offload macro networks in data hotspot areas, the need to provide high speed data access in urban shadow spots, the ability to provide indoor and stadium environments is accelerating a new breed of small cell platforms. Heterogeneous networks will require partitioning of network elements differently. It will also need careful and considered management of radio interference in the cell using techniques like SON (self organising networks). Control and gateway elements will be moved to the edge of the network or much closer to the base station. Other elements that reduce latency and backhaul traffic capacity like local caching and provisioning of Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) could also be moved from the core network into the Base Station.
The deployment of LTE (Long Term Evolution) as a radio technology that allows a more efficient and cost effective medium for data delivery continues apace. 2014 will see the widespread rapid deployment of the high speed cellular broadband technology based on LTE 4G technologies in multiple geographies. We are already seeing North America, Japan and Korea leading the way with LTE subscribers set to reach 900 million by the end of 2012.
While ubiquitous mobile data service has been hailed as the panacea for global economic growth, the economics of supporting this exponential growth in usage by subscribers is dependent on the ability of cellular operators to deliver services at a profit margin that keeps their shareholders happy. Deployment of these new standards and the resultant requirement to deploy new base station designs and the necessary core network equipment comes with a significant price tag. Without doubt, such growth will be constrained by the capital investment required to deliver it. Cellular operators will have to manage market demand and drive growth through creative commercial approaches and set tariffs accordingly.
The approach ARM has taken to support the needs of OEMs and cellular operators has been to develop and grow the processor and interconnect technology offerings. These investments provide equipment OEM’s with the type of solutions that can be scaled for example, to deliver the best performance per watt, C-programmability for software defined radio interfaces, software defined backhaul and the adaptability to support much more complex signalling requirements. The ARM platforms also support virtualisation of networking and control functions over clustered processing resource allowing much more flexibility in the way resources can be utilised. The resultant equipment can very be designed to support the increase in data and signalling throughputs for mobile infrastructure whilst maximising the power efficiency.
The architectures (CorelinkTM Interconnect and CortexTM processors) allow new heterogeneous processing platforms to be developed on single SOC devices where previously there were multiple discrete processing elements. This will support the OEM and cellular operator requirements well into the future.
ARM is working with silicon and software partners to influence the economics of supporting the growth in mobile data. We are doing so by enabling OEM’s to provide equipment to manage operator CAPEX and OPEX. ARM’s extended processing capabilities can help support programmable platforms that can be leveraged for multiple applications and for software configurable functions. Our mobile heritage and focus on delivering the most performance per watt, helps OEMS deliver OPEX savings by significantly reducing power consumption on these platforms.
However, the speed at which cellular operators deploy mobile services and capacity will be determined by their ability to deliver financial results to their shareholders. ARM’s business model that allows diversity of choice and fosters innovation could be a catalyst to help accelerate the delivery of ubiquitous mobile services to the point that perhaps we can all consider cancelling our wireline, xDSL or cable subscriptions and rely on wireless services.
Oh and by the way, the question I asked earlier, how much reality TV programming is an Exabyte.... Well it is 50,000 years worth of HD quality “Big Brother”… now that is a staggering (worrying) thought!....
Colin Alexander, Enterprise Segment Manager, ARM, specializes in trying to provide some direction towards ARM based technology in the infrastructure connectivity space. Before joining at ARM in 2011, Colin has held positions at several established and start-up organizations in the compute and communications segments, with a focus on identifying, defining and delivering semiconductor and software for network OEM’s and carriers.
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