In the face of increasing data demand – with smartphone usage on the up and spurred on further by high profile handset launches in the region – European mobile operators continue to contemplate their network upgrade plans.
Each operator is focused upon selecting the particular technology that will deliver a positive user experience now and for the future, with an investment that makes the most economic sense to them.
The European mobile industry has widely accepted that LTE will become the de-facto next generation technology over the coming years, delivering unprecedented speeds and user experience. Operators, equipment manufacturers and device builders are pushing to realise LTE’s capabilities.
The technology is now a commercial reality, both in paired and unpaired spectrum bands, and there are live LTE deployments in Sweden and Norway.
Major operators have committed to delivering LTE within 2010 and there’s no doubt that these high profile – and heavily marketed – deployments will set the tone for the rest of the industry.
The CEOs of those operators leading the LTE charge have clearly seen a path to competitive advantage by expediting the move to the next generation technology. Others will follow.
The LTE alternative…in the short term
Yet HSPA+ is emerging as a compelling short term alternative to LTE for some operators.
There are now 29 live HSPA+ networks across Europe delivering data speeds up to 21Mbps (effectively 5 times faster than average speeds available today). Further deployments are being announced on a monthly basis.
The business case for HSPA+ in the short to medium term is a powerful one. HSPA+ is essentially a software upgrade from HSPA. HSPA+ can therefore benefit from a mature HSPA ecosystem, re-using existing antennae and other hardware.
Operators can also take advantage of existing HSPA+ dongles, and the near-future mainstream arrival of HSPA+ handsets.
It also means that operators can generate maximum return on investment from legacy equipment and deliver HSPA+ cost effectively by re-farming existing spectrum. When considering the prices being paid for new spectrum in India recently, this represents a substantial saving in the short term.
A study we undertook in June 2010 revealed that some operators in the UK could defer CAPEX costs running in to the hundreds of millions if they decide to upgrade to HSPA+ prior to LTE.
This does not mean that LTE represents too heavy an investment to make, but it may affect the timing of an operator’s decision to deploy the technology.
Meeting the data challenge, and the cost challenge
Each operator across Europe is facing different circumstances, and faces different pressures and challenges they must overcome in delivering high speed, reliable data services to its customers.
The only things that matter for operators are meeting the expectations of the end user when it comes to quality of data service delivery, and delivering the best financial return for shareholders.
Each operator will have their own migration plan and their own timescales to follow. For some, this means HSPA+ will come first, for others going straight to LTE will make more sense.
We expect to see a staggered adoption of LTE in the 2-3 years, initially focused on high traffic concentration areas in mature markets, or deployed locally using small-cell technology, i.e LTE Femtocells. The mobile landscape will continue to shift and evolve as each operator in each market makes its moves.