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Successful communications service providers (CSPs) are avoiding spectrum congestion by using Wi-Fi and small cells to provide better coverage and capacity.
Obtaining additional spectrum is both difficult and costly. Recent studies suggest that a significant amount of mobile traffic will have to be redirected from primary networks to Wi-Fi and small cell to meet demand.
For carriers to meet short-term customer demand for coverage and capacity there are two readily available alternatives:
Offer services over the unlicensed spectrum using reliable Wi-Fi technology
Use the licensed spectrum by leveraging small cell technologies to improve coverage and provide additional capacity
Leveraging these viable options has the potential for improved competitive advantage and increased customer loyalty.
Carriers today find themselves in an untenable situation when it comes to providing coverage and capacity to their customers. The most prevalent way of adding capacity is to buy more spectrum, especially as deployment of mobile wireless devices grows and their demand for increases accordingly.
Mobile Future, a coalition made up of mobile vendors and consumers, notes in a recent report that smartphones consume 24 times more data than old-school cell phones, and tablets consume 120 times more data than smartphones.
Unfortunately, obtaining spectrum is an expensive and lengthy process, complicated by the collective agendas of government agencies, rural carriers, and those who already have the spectrum and are loath to get in the hands of potential competitors.
What can carriers do in the short-term to solve this problem, and still be able to offer coverage to customers?
It’s not an impossible challenge. Carriers have two strong options available, both readily achievable. They can:
Offer service over the unlicensed spectrum, using widely available and reliable Wi-Fi technology
Utilize existing licensed spectrum more effectively by leveraging small cell technologies, to improve coverage in previously inaccessible areas and provide additional capacity.
But these strategies only take carriers so far. While these are highly viable, carriers must consider all the associated opportunities and challenges they face in their desire to improve capacity and coverage in the short-term. They need to think about network economics and how to best offer and manage Wi-Fi services.
The potential payoff for navigating these possibilities: improved competitive advantage and increased customer loyalty.
There are opportunities for carriers to deploy a mix of access technologies, both small cells and Wi-Fi, in a variety of locations:
Opportunities exist, but there are considerable challenges concerning products, deployment, new technologies, and management.
Challenges aside, carriers should be focused on small cell deployment and Wi-Fi offloads. Although each market and region has its own unique considerations, incorporating these technologies could have a positive impact on many operators’ overall network capabilities.
Simply put, these technologies can bring increased coverage and capacity at lower cost than spectrum acquisition. Greater coverage and capacity can help to increase customer satisfaction and reduce churn.
Finding the right partner is important. To ensure their Wi-Fi/small-cell strategy pays off, carriers should consider how third parties can help them fill in the gaps in their capabilities, coverage, and even experience. For instance, they can work with utility companies that have access to poles and other venues for cell site deployment.
Another option: working with a service-enabling partner like Accenture. We have extensive expertise and experience in the telecommunications field, especially in the cutting-edge technologies used in Wi-Fi and small-cell rollouts.
Overall, Accenture can help carriers understand the ramifications of both small cell technology and heterogeneous networks, or “hetnets,” and find ways for them to serve customers without overloading current budgets or resources.
Sergey Batalin is Managing Director of Accenture Infrastructure Consulting, Wireless Practice. He provides leadership for the creation of wireless solutions for government, enterprise and carrier segments. Mr. Batalin has spent over fifteen years helping mobile operators worldwide achieve high performance. He is based in Los Angeles.
Ryan Ray is a Manager of Accenture Communications, Media, and Technology. He specializes in wireless networks. He is an MBA-educated professional with both corporate and tech start-up business experience. His expertise includes wireless engineering and business operations. Maintains focus on both revenue and profitability while formulating and implementing business solutions to meet a diversity of needs. He is based in Charlotte, North Carolina.
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July 26, 2013
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