How can operators tackle the increasing demand for data?

The demand for network capacity is increasing every day as consumers request more data, improved mobile accessibility and better performance. This is putting a great strain on mobile operators, as much of the existing infrastructure struggles to keep up with the intensity of demand.

How can the industry tackle this problem?

Increased Wi-Fi hotspots in public areas

By increasing public Wi-Fi access, the load can be taken off mobile operators, particularly in areas where there is a high density of users. This would free up valuable bandwidth for services like 4G. However, many existing Wi-Fi services are already overburdened and with limited range they don’t provide a permanent alternative.

Smart antennas (MIMO/Massive MIMO)

Emerging antenna technologies such as MIMO and massive MIMO offer promise, particularly with the development of 5G, by increasing data transfer speeds and reducing latency. However, some of these options aren’t always powerful enough to offer a sustainable, long-term solution to the problem.

Access to new spectrum

Access to more spectrum would provide a quick and fairly easy solution to a lot of the current challenges that face mobile operators. It could syphon heavy loads on existing networks and free up space for more users. However, spectrum is finite and unfortunately, there isn’t enough free spectrum for operators to use as it is.

Spectrum reallocation

Spectrum reallocation allows operators to reassign parts of their existing spectrum for new services. For example, by decommissioning a part of the spectrum currently used for 3G services and ‘upgrading’ it for 4G would allow faster services for customers. This is something that many operators have begun to do, but the problem is that they do not want to close the legacy services as they are still an important offering for customers all over the world.

Network densification

Network densification, essentially means adding more cell sites within the existing infrastructure to increase the amount of available capacity. These would be located in areas that are currently strained in terms of capacity and require the most support to offload existing traffic. This would be high density urban areas for example.

At first, this option seems to be the most straight forward and obvious solution. However, there are some key obstacles that operators have to consider. Firstly, the cost of adding thousands of new base stations around the world would be large, and secondly adding new base stations would require further high-speed back haul connections which may not be currently in place.

In many places these connections could be made using dark fiber (fiber connections that are in place but aren’t being used), however much of this dark fiber is owned by private companies (for example in the UK where most is owned by BT) and operators aren’t able to freely use it.

Suggestions have been made for mobile operators to come together and collaborate on a new dark fiber project, to lay the connections together and allow for shared infrastructure.

Whether this happens or not, time will tell, but for now operators will continue to play the ‘keep-up’ game to try and meet their customer’s needs.

What do you think will prove to be the most important way for operators to keep up with growing consumer demands?

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