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500 Insiders answer key mobile questions
Written by Dave Burstein   
Wednesday, 08 February 2012 02:00
Yes to small cells, maybe to landline data substitution, chaos on bandplans. The industry is moving on from towers to small cells, more than 61% of 500 industry executives agree in an Informa study. Only 14% disagree, the balance are unsure. Free Mobile is pulling down the French prices partly because their "bottoms-up" network featuring femtos and WiFi is much cheaper to run. For Britain's regulator OFCOM, Simon Saunders has just done a study calculating small cells cut in half the cost of rural deployments. Almost all the engineers directly involved in designing networks having been moving away from towers and the 3GPP standards since at least 2009 have focused on small cell deployments. Policymakers are starting to understanding that sharing spectrum, including WiFi, often yields 3-10 times as much capacity. Monopoly spectrum bands are increasingly obsolescent.
     LTE_versus_fixec_informa Some people will forget DSL and cable and go mobile only for data. LTE is delivering 5-12 megabits pretty consistently, faster than much DSL. That includes most of Africa, India, and Indonesia where landlines are few. In developed coutries, it's still unclear whether only a few (5-10%) will forego landline data, an important segment (?10-25%) or even more. 2 gigabyte wireless caps limit you to an hour a week of decent video, but some people only need email, Facebook, and occasional web searches. 17% of the Informa sample thought "LTE will heavily substitute fixed broadband." 25% believe "LTE will substitute fixed broadband in only limited segments." The balance are in between. Even limited substitution means little if any landline broadband growth in the developed world. Some countries, including Italy last quarter, actually went negative. 
     62% of the industry expects more consolidation. Only 15% think we'll see more competition. Nearly all regulators are basing their plans on competition increasing; if the industry is right, they will continue to fail. Networks have enormous economies of scale and it's hard to launch against them.
      Most troublesome is the expectations that LTE networks will be employed across 13 or 14 bands. Take a look at the chart below. That makes a universal LTE phone almost impossible except for specialties like public safety. Phones supporting more than 4-6 bands will be clunky for the next few years, unfortunately. Each band requires extra components (up to $1/band) and also space in the phone. One engineer estimates an LTE iPhone able to use most of the bands in the world would be an inch longer. That's considered absolutely unacceptable and U.S., Asia, and Europe will probably have incompatible phones. You'll fall back to 3G when out of region. 
     Keith Wehmeier of Informa did a great job presenting the data and thanks to Oliver Chapman of the Femto Forum for pointing me to it.