LTE Has Gas in the Tank

LTE Has Gas in the Tank

November 20th, 2019 - Telecom, Roaming

By Nina Le-Richardson, Director of Product Management

First, what is 5G? True 5G, otherwise known as New Radio (NR) includes both a 5G Core and 5G RAN.

Key features of the 5G Core include Network Slicing, Ultra-Reliable Low Latency Communications (URLLC), massive Machine Type Communication (mMTC) and enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB). Yes, 5G is filled with acronyms but I will decode these 5G features in subsequent blog posts.

Operators will invest up to $1 trillion in 5G networks between 2018 and 2025 according to a recent report by GSMA Intelligence. Following commercial launches in the US by the major Tier-1 carriers and South Korea towards the end of 2018, 16 more major countries will have launched 5G networks by the end of 2019 with 50 targeted by the end of 2020. In an earlier blog, we discussed the news making headlines and promises that 5G will deliver now that 5G is a reality.

It can appear to be the end of deployments for LTE (Long Term Evolution), for 4G and Voice over LTE (VoLTE) as we go straight to 5G. In fact, it is not even close to the reality. LTE will remain the dominant mobile access technology by subscriptions for the foreseeable future.

Another GSMA Intelligence report, The Mobile Economy 2019, states that in 2018, 4G overtook 2G to become the leading mobile technology across the world, with 3.4 billion connections accounting for 43% of  total connections (excluding licensed cellular IoT). With growth continuing, particularly across developing markets, 4G will soon become the dominant mobile technology, surpassing half of global mobile connections in 2019 and reaching 60% in 2023.

In fact, 884 operators are actively investing in LTE, 769 operators are running LTE networks providing mobile and/or Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) services in 225 countries worldwide; there are almost 200 commercial VoLTE networks in 91 countries and a total of 262 operators are investing in VoLTE in 120 countries. Of the 884 Operators in the world, 700 have launched LTE, 220 have launched VoLTE, but only 21 of those 220 VoLTE launches can actually support bilateral VoLTE roaming.

What’s the hold up on LTE and VoLTE roaming? First, not all LTE and VoLTE launched networks offer nationwide LTE/VoLTE footprint or support roaming. Second, voice roaming is still widely dependent on Circuit Switched Fall Back (CSFB). CSFB utilizes 3G footprint to provide voice and SMS where VoLTE is not available. The third challenge is that early deployment delays succumbed to technical issues, but those are mostly all resolved now.

Conclusion: VoLTE roaming launches will see a sharp and critical rise between 2020-2023 as 3G spectrum is re-farmed, CSFB footprint diminishes, and Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) prepare themselves for 5G and LTE/VoLTE reliant services such as RCS.

Pressure will be applied to MNOs that deploy 5G NR, as they face the complexity of supporting a diverse range of user equipment, managing multiple connectivity options and ensuring interoperability between networks.

For 5G to be successful, investments will be needed by the carriers in updating their billing systems and operational support systems to support 5G. Otherwise, they will derive no value for their 5G infrastructure investment if back-end systems cannot deploy new applications at the same rate as the virtualized 5G network.

In addition, there are several options the carriers have in deploying 5G including non-standalone (NSA) and stand-alone (SA) that I’ll go into deeper detail in the next blog.

LTE and VoLTE are still critical to roaming, especially CDMA to LTE operators. LTE and VoLTE roaming are only just getting started.

Coming Soon – Blog #3 5G Non-standalone vs. 5G Standalone

Read our previous post in this series “The 5G Hype

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