More spectrum needed to meet subscriber demand for more bandwidth: Ericsson

( staffer Nestor Arellano continues reporting from Japan, where Ericsson is holding its annual Business Innovation Forum)

TOKYO – Governments have to speed the release of commercial spectrum if mobile networks are to meet ever-increasing subscriber demands for more bandwidth, according to the chief technology officer of a major wireless network equipment maker.

“New services and applications and the continuously growing number of mobile devices are taxing existing spectrum, the demand is simply so much greater than the supply,” Ulf Ewaldsson, of Ericsson told reporters and technology industry analysts here at its Business Innovation Forum. “The new goods and services that consumers are expecting will not happen if networks are not capable of handling the traffic.”

He said as much as 90 per cent of the wireless network traffic is data, and its amount is doubling each year.

An Ericsson global survey of smart phone users found governments, mobile carriers and businesses are expected to deliver within the next three years a slew of mobile-based apps and services for everything from mobile shopping to care for children and elderly.

In order to deliver such services, networks must also be able to guarantee much higher level of consistent quality and very low latency, said Ewaldsson.

(In March, Industry Canada issued a report setting a goal of releasing 750 MHz of spectrum by the end of 2017. It already has auctions set for January 2014 (for the 700 MHz band) and in 2015 (for the 2500 MHz band) that would put a total of 528 MHz of spectrum on the market in three years.)

Jan Signell, head of Ericsson’s North East Asia operation, said that fastest growing mobile demand is coming from that region.

For example, Hong Kong has a mobile subscription penetration rate of 233 per cent (meaning many have more than one device), Taiwan has a 127 per cent mobile subscription rate and its 3G subscription rate is 80 per cent of the population.

South Korea, with a population of 51 million, has an 80 per cent 3G subscription rate. Japan has a 76 per cent smart phone subscription rate.

(By comparison Canada has an overall cellular penetration rate of 83 per cent.)

Hiroyasu Asami, executive vice-president of the Smart Live business division of Japanese carrier NTT Docomo Inc. said he expects network demand to grow even more as long term evolution (LTE) technology continues to rollout to its subscribers. Docomo has cornered 44.2 per cent of the Japanese mobile market.

Further strain on networks is foreseen when auto manufacturers finally rollout connected vehicles. Honda Motors, for example, is working on what the company calls intelligent transport systems (ITS) which include semi-autonomous vehicles, according to Masashi Satomura, chief engineer of the technology development division of Honda’s research and development
group. These vehicles do not only part themselves but can also alert the driver when it senses an impending collision with another vehicle, object or even a pedestrian.

Honda is using a combination of mobile, near field communication and machine-to-machine technology to accomplish this.

“Network latency is critical in this application because the vehicle needs to be able to react within one millisecond in order to make its safe for the driver and pedestrians,” Satomura sad.

The evolving nature of online games is also transforming the network and placing higher demands on it, said Jacob Navok, director of business development at Square Enix Holdings Co. LTD. It makes popular games such as Space Invaders, Final Fantasy and Hitman.

In the 1970s games were mainly device-centric, but since the early 2000s games have been shifting online.

“Today massive multiplayer online games that are available on PC, tablets and mobile devices are changing the network,” he said. “You can’t cache a game. The extreme quality of video rendering these games have and their requirement for low latency so that players do not notice any discrepancy in the action before them will require a lot from networks.”

These are just some of the broad issues that regulators need to understand when they consider releasing spectrum, said Ewaldsson.

“There’s no shortage of spectrum,” he said. “However, we need to speed up its release because the demand for it is already upon us.”

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Nestor Arellano
Nestor Arellano
Toronto-based journalist specializing in technology and business news. Blogs and tweets on the latest tech trends and gadgets.

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