Mobile operators want an assessment of how they can evolve their environment to be LTE ready. Going from 2 Mbps peak downlink rates with basic 3G to 50-100 Mbps with LTE—among numerous other great new all-IP capabilities and their impact—has gotten every operator’s attention. But what does the move to LTE entail? And how much will it cost? And how can the evolution to LTE be as seamless and painless as possible?
To get ready for LTE, mobile operators must align the three dimensions of business, technology, and operations. This involves asking and answering a variety of questions and collecting metrics and other information about the following:
Business Alignment includes a clear articulation of what business drivers make it necessary to move to LTE. What is the cost and benefits equation? Is the market clamoring for LTE or can the operator wait? What are the new business models for the cost effective running of the enhanced network? What is the impact on the vendor ecosystem? What are the new business initiatives that need to be driven? What is the impact to the internal organization? This was discussed in two recent blog posts; Organizational Impact of a Flat Network and LTE Brings the Importance of Organization Collaboration). Are particular applications or partnerships behind the need for LTE features? How can services that rely on LTE be marketed to appeal to customers and increase ARPU? What are customer requirements for those services? What are the operator's medium- and long-term objectives and timelines with LTE and what specific new services will be introduced? What are the price points for the devices? Should LTE be introduced first only in hot spots instead of throughout a mobile operator's entire market? If an internal or external consultant is conducting the assessment, discussions with key executives who are responsible for strategy and marketing will be crucial.
Technology Alignment begins with clearly understanding the current network state and then determining what technologies and platforms must be added or can be reused for offering LTE services. Architectural layers and service elements include the radio, backhaul, aggregation layer, network core with the gateways, data center, and services and applications. How do these areas stack up today in terms of their IP evolution with respect to the IP Index and Key LTE Metrics (discussion here)? What areas need improvement? How does the network compare with comparable networks based on industry best practices? The result of this aspect of the readiness assessment is an analysis and findings and then an LTE architecture and design blueprint. Key LTE performance metrics should be used when proposing an architecture and design, IP implementation plan, and upgraded approaches to scalability, resiliency, security, QoS, latency, mobility of applications, and management. Impact relating to call flows, roaming, and service offerings must be evaluated. Decisions related to the degree of distribution of gateways, IPv6, policy, deep packet inspection, and billing are all part of the technology alignment.
Operations Alignment for LTE should encompass the tools, processes, and skills necessary to support the IP and Ethernet environment required for higher speeds, capacity, and features of LTE. Another important aspect to consider is that the existing services must not be impacted during this transition. The existing traffic (especially data traffic) may need to be migrated to the new infrastructure and that may be more cost effective, an example being backhaul. What legal and regulatory requirements (e.g., Legal Interception, 911 routing, etc.) must be considered? Are there different features that must be included in LTE support models that differ from those used currently?
Leading industry analysts believe that most mobile operators will be moving to LTE within the next three years, so it isn’t too early to begin asking these and other questions. LTE is likely to be a lot more than just a technology enhancement. Given the rapid pace of social networking, business collaboration, and other user-driven behavior that is extending beyond traditional network borders, LTE will probably quickly spawn new applications and new opportunities. It’s hard to anticipate what pressures these will bring to mobile networks, but now is the time to carefully plan the move to LTE and to ask the questions, gather the metrics, and devise solutions based on what we know now.
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