Home > 3GPP, Broadband, LTE, WiMAX > 3G to 4G – Differences & Challenges

3G to 4G – Differences & Challenges

Walking to work with rain pattering on my face, I was thinking – why is everybody scrambling to get 4G networks rolled out ? And why is everybody beating their chest like a quintessential Gorilla in the media – proclaiming the best network by standards of coverage or speed. Why is there a media blitz about coverage maps, speeds and ‘like’ 4G experiences ? Is HSPA+ like 4G ? Well some operators have touted HSPA+ as ‘4G’  in the media. I am a Telecom engineer by profession and these buzz words confuse me between fact and reality, and I can only guess what it does to a layman.

During my last trip to India, last year an older gentleman asked me if I can spec out a good phone for him to buy. He wanted to buy a 3G phone as he ‘overheard’  that they can perform better and access the internet faster. I had a hard time explaining to him that it is not the phone but the network that needs to be enabled first – we just started rolling out a 3G networks in India !

In the USA here we are working on deploying the 4G networks. I come back to my original question – but why ? Is there one killer app that is a bandwidth hog or one device that needs this broadband level bandwidth ? There is no straight answer for this – we have created bubbles around us at home and work with WiFi and enabled devices around them. It would be great to have it surround us and envelope us to make it a bigger bubble, with access to on-demand apps and services like Hulu, maps, food places with Zagat ratings etc. So what is changing our behavior ? Why are we demanding more bandwidth from the operators with flatter ARPU’s, and ever increasing demand for data. Are now a generation that depends on internet for most of our social media interaction or being in constant touch with each other. Working for operators has taught me this, the slew of smartphones with iPhone leading the pack has thrown the network capacity into a growth frenzy. The pipes as we know are filling faster than the operator can deploy, what used to be a single T1/E1 per site has migrated to IP/AAV and the average user. And in this preparation for the next wave of Smartphones and data demands, all carriers are rushing to introduce the next-generation – 4G.

As an operator what is changing with 4G ? Lets dwell on some history with 4G  – both the Radio Network as well as Core network is changing, with 3G the major difference was the Radio side, with minor tweaks applied to the Packet core side. With W-CDMA technologies the traditional GSM operators had to learn that the traffic channels were no longer limited to 200 KHz in size and that power control with network load (cell breathing) played a big role in coverage footprint.  With 4G we are back to the concept of channels or resource blocks of 180 KHz each.

Voice will remain circuit switched for some time as legacy networks continue to be widely used, but the future with LTE and beyond is voice over IP. That will bring new challenges for the core network, especially for quality of service. Voice likely will be given higher priority over most data because users have a lower tolerance of diminished quality for voice calls.

Categories: 3GPP, Broadband, LTE, WiMAX
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