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Will Unlimited calling plans challenge networks?

Discussion in 'Wireless News' started by Fire14, Sep 21, 2009.

  1. Fire14

    Fire14 Easy,Cheap & Sleazy
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    Sep 27, 2002
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    High-traffic offers to require high-tech solutions

    Nothing seems to drive adoption of a service as well as cutting the price of using that service. And for the wireless industry, the service of choice remains voice, and in case you were not aware, we are in the midst of a price war.

    For years, unlimited calling plans were relegated to a handful of regional carriers that offered flat-rate, unlimited local calling that competed against traditional landline offerings and -- for some customers -- were solid alternatives to traditional wireless plans. That niche was exploded in early 2008, when all of the industry’s nationwide operators rolled out unlimited calling plans within a matter of weeks. Each plan was priced at around $100 per month, but offered a national footprint, trumping the regional offerings. T-Mobile USA Inc. threw in unlimited texting, while Sprint Nextel Corp. included all of its text and data services.

    Those offerings were trumped this year by a number of no-contract carriers that slashed their unlimited calling plans to the $50 per-month mark or less.

    While these plans are obviously great for consumers, carriers have had to make sure that the networks supporting the potential of unlimited calling are up to snuff. While there have been few reported instances of networks crashing due to an influx of consumers now free to talk till their voices are hoarse, or at least until their phone battery’s die, many are aware that network capacity and coverage is now set to be tested as never before.

    Flip a coin

    Peter Jarich, research director of telecom infrastructure, mobile networks and carrier core, at Current Analysis Inc., said carriers have few choices if they are searching to increase network capacity in support of unlimited calling plans.

    “There are basically two ways to get more capacity out of a network,” Jarich said. “You can either use new technologies like LTE, or you can go with new network architecture like smaller or new cells. When looking at new, smaller cells that could mean going with something like a pico or femtocell that could eat into traditional tower demand. Before getting to that though, I think carriers will be looking at new towers as a way to get coverage into new areas or onto a more granular level. Operators always start by going with a solid base of traditional base stations to build coverage for their networks. But it will come to a point where in some of those hard-to-reach locations, a femtocell arrangement will be needed.”

    For tower companies, the first option could be a boon as new technologies typically require some sort of deployment of new equipment at base stations that could alter lease arrangements or increase tenants at a site. The second option, moving to a femtocell solution, could be more problematic as carriers would look to bypass some tower deployments for devices located in commercial or residential settings.

    Technology to the rescue

    Carriers seem to have both options in mind when it comes to bolstering their networks. John Saboe, VP of technical operations at Leap Wireless International Inc., said the operator first plans for a strong network using traditional means, but that it is also starting to look at the potential for femtocells.

    “We are looking at femtocells very carefully,” Saboe said. “A challenge for us with femtocells is that our customers are not generally highly penetrated with broadband access in their homes and that is a barrier. That is increasing every year, so femtocells are on our radar.”

    Beyond the need for robust network planning, Saboe said the carrier is also looking at upgrades to its CDMA-based network in the form of CDMA2000 1x Advanced as a way to increase capacity for markets where the tier-two carrier is often spectrally strapped.

    “Spectrum for us is more of a challenge than it is for the tier-ones,” Saboe said. “In terms of the spectrum position we have for going into a market like Chicago, which will drive a lot of our model in designing capacity and coverage from day one. The traditional model might be to build basic coverage into a market and then grow out that coverage as usage grows and following where people use the service. Now we have to be swift when doing our initial designs to anticipate where those capacity hot spots might be.”

    In addition, Leap has also implemented distributed antenna systems (DAS) in some of its deployments as a way to manage network traffic in high-density locations, as well as sector splitting when possible.

    “There are other tricks like cell splits that we try to plan in advance before we launch because those are long lead items,” Saboe said. “We also have greater flexibility with some of our vendors to deploy sectors on the cell site, to go from a three sector to a six sector.”

    With an increasing number of carriers jumping on the unlimited calling bandwagon, it’s likely such creative solutions will become standard operating procedure for the wireless industry.

    Unlimited calling plans to challenge networks - RCR Wireless News

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