The GSMA held a high-level meeting with over twenty representatives from mobile operators, regulatory bodies and equipment and chip vendors to discuss the future of the LTE industry. Participants exchanged views about the challenges facing operators as commercial 5G approaches. This included topics such as how operators should balance the investment between New Radio (NR) and LTE and how they can protect their investment and maximize its potential. It also covered how operators can reduce the complexity of multi-network operations and accelerate the migration of 2G/3G users to LTE networks in order to leverage higher operational efficiency.
Dr. Tang Xiongyan, Chief Scientist at China Unicom, argued that LTE will be the basis for NR in the 5G era. The enhancement of LTE will lay the foundation for providing a superlative 5G experience in the future: “LTE, with its advantages in coverage and ecosystem, will still be a major cash cow for operators in the next five years. China Unicom issued a tender for 416,000 LTE base stations in February to strengthen LTE coverage and capacity and cope with the current traffic growth. Migration of 2G/3G users to LTE has been initiated to improve the operation efficiency of the entire network.”
David Gannon, Vice President of Technology Strategy & Industry Relations at Deutsche Telekom, pointed out: “Narrowing the user experience gap between LTE and NR is critical in the 5G era. Continuous NR coverage cannot be achieved overnight. In the early years of 5G deployment, LTE will become an effective supplement to NR coverage. An LTE network with ultimate user experience needs to be set up to ensure a consistent user experience when users leave the NR coverage. In addition, Deutsche Telekom is also considering adopting the network architecture evolution path from the initial rollout using the so-called non-standalone Option 3X to Option 4 and then to standalone Option 2. We expect to leverage the wide 4G radio coverage (LTE) to quickly deploy the more advanced 5G radio coverage (NR).”
Delegates also discussed challenges that will arise in network evolution such as how to promote the development of the low-cost VoLTE terminal industry to encourage the migration of 2G/3G users to LTE. They also discussed how to enhance VoLTE interconnection among operators and how to properly allocate LTE and NR spectrum resources to maximize spectral efficiencies as well as how to enable terminals to support certain LTE evolution features and maximize network potential.
Henry Calvert, Head of GSMA Future Networks, commented: “Neither the introduction of new technologies nor the phase-out of old ones is easy. Users need to witness the benefits of network evolution for themselves. LTE is currently in such a special phase.”
The GSMA Future Networks Programme will continue to study these challenges to help operators with network transformation. There will be a further LTE Evolution roundtable at M360 Latin America.