Sheila Kavanagh, head of mobile networks at Vodafone Ireland, told the Engineers Ireland conference that the company’s €1 billion network investment will see 4G rolled out this autumn. Mary Anne Carrigan reports
Tech

The recent acquisition of the spectrum licences allows mobile operators to take advantage of the former 2G and analogue TV spectrum and roll out 4G services as soon as this autumn, according to Sheila Kavanagh, head of mobile networks as Vodafone Ireland.

Speaking at the 2013 Engineers Ireland Annual Conference earlier this month, Kavanagh told assembled delegates that in the last ten years, Vodafone has invested €1 billion in its networks.

She stressed that the company was a total telecoms provider, offering fixed-line and as well as mobile services. “We’ve invested in the fixed-line area by making a number of acquisitions recently. These include the purchase of Interfusion and Complete Telecom.”

Interfusion was a business-only telecommunications company that designed, implemented and managed IP infrastructure for clients running data services, while Complete Telecom was a Dublin-based business offering data connectivity solutions, with specialist skills in integrating data communications networks and systems for businesses. These included the design, implementation and support of advanced LAN, WAN, security and IP telephony systems.

Last July, the Vodafone Group also acquired Cable and Wireless Worldwide, the global telecoms company providing managed voice, data, hosting and IP-based services. Cable & Wireless Ireland now trades as Vodafone.

“We made all of these acquisitions so that we could strengthen Vodafone’s offering in the unified communications area, as well as bringing additional capabilities around contact centre solutions, hosting and data services,” said Kavanagh.

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“In ten or 15 years, we’ve moved from traditional voice and text services to the really rich mobile broadband service available on mobile today. In real life, this means that customers can now get email, Youtube, Facebook, apps, gaming and all of the capabilities we take for granted now.”

4G TECHNOLOGY

Vodafone’s current focus is on 4G and Kavanagh explained the differences between it and previous generations of technology. “Basic 2G services are voice and text capability; with 3G, we saw the first steps in terms of data capability on your mobile. Now with 4G, it really means that data is going to be a very rich experience. You get a good experience on 3G today, but TV on your mobile really becomes a reality with 4G,” she said.

Late last year, Comreg awarded 4G spectrum licences to four mobile operators: Vodafone, Hutchison 3G, Eircom (Meteor/eMobile) and Telefónica Ireland (O2). Vodafone, which paid €160.8 million up front with €119.7 million following up to 2030, acquired by far the largest portion of the spectrum available in the 800MHz, 900MHz and 1,800MHz ranges.

One of the upshots of the spectrum licences is mobile operators can take advantage of the former 2G and analogue TV spectrum (800MHz and 900MHz) to bring 3G broadband services to areas that previously were unable to access 3G mobile data. Nine other markets including South Africa, mainland Europe and New Zealand have already launched 4G, but the UK and Ireland lag behind in this area due to their later acquisition of the analogue TV spectrum. Securing this spectrum now means that all mobile operators in Ireland will be able to deliver 4G services in the autumn of this year.

“With this spectrum, we’ve been able to evolve our 3G network to bring data services everywhere you have voice. So where you can make a voice call today, in the next 12-to-24 months, you’ll also be able to have a really rich data experience. That comes with the 3G capability.”

Kavanagh explained that 4G will be even faster, allowing for 300Mbps on the downlink and 150Mbps on the uplink. In contrast, 3G HSDPA+ has a DL throughput of just 21-42Mbps and UL throughput of 11Mbps. “It’s a high-speed data network over the air. Call set-up timer and latency, which are key metrics in terms of data performance, are also going to be much faster – basically, it means that anywhere, at any time, you’ll be able to get this kind of improved service.”

DATA-ONLY DOMAIN

When talking about 4G and this evolution, it must be borne in mind that 4G is a data-only domain and not necessarily a voice service capability. Kavanagh believes that this capability will come with time, but said that the initial stages of 4G will fall back to the 3G or 2G networks for voice capability.

“Voice capability will depend on falling back to this other technology to allow 4g to be enabled. In other markets, we’ve already developed our capability and the fallback times in. Carrier aggregation is really important – this is the combination of two carriers to form a common aggregated resource over which a user experience can be served.

“The downlink is available first; the UL is not yet finished in 3GPP. With 10MHz and 20MHz bandwidth combination, we see up to 1.5 times the average throughput increase – a maximum 225Mbps for Category 6. So we should be able to further improve downlink and uplink speeds, providing an even faster service.”

Kavanagh explained that 4G is a completely new network and not an enhancement of existing networks. “It’s a new radio networks system – a new core network with new capabilities. It’s a full IP solution, but it doesn’t have voice domain and also requires new handsets,” she said.

Only about 2-5% of handsets are currently 4G capable. The Vodafone head of mobile networks said that “a bucketload of investment” was required in this area because the handsets were needed to make 4G happen. “It’s vital that we continue to invest and subsidise those handsets for customers, because devices are key enablers and they’re going to be more expensive. We anticipate that we’ll see 10% of people with 4G-capable handsets before the end of the next financial year.”

She added that Vodafone intended to invest another €5000,000 in the next three-to-four years in its networks.

ACTIVE ANTENNAS

The development of the technology itself also plays an important role in facilitating the delivery of 4G. “New antennas on our masts will also help in this area. We can find a carrier within our spectrum to deliver even faster services, doubling the speed on the uplink and downlink and improving the latency even further,” according to Kavanagh.

“Battery life is another important if you’re a heavy data user. The handsets and chipsets within are being developed to be more battery efficient. Mobile networks are also evolving and optimising their networks to be less draining on battery life, and we’ll see that developing with time as well.”

Some devices available in Ireland are already 4G capable. As a provider of handsets and modems, Samsung is advanced in this area with its Galaxy Express, S3 and S4, according to Kavanagh. “Nokia Lumia 820 and 920 are also 4G ready, as are HTC One, HTC One SV and Sony Xperia Z. Apple is slightly behind, but the iPhone 5S will perform better.”

All mobile operators in Ireland will be launching their commercial 4G services in autumn. According to Kavanagh, Vodafone has already started trialling its services with large corporate customers and the company also engaged with other properties in the market too to demonstrate its 4G capabilities.

“In the coming year, we expect to see between 40-60% population coverage in terms of 4G capability. However, although 4G is a major advance in terms of data capability on the mobile, 3G capabilities are also there and all providers are rolling out what we call U900 capability. That’s bringing data where you have voice today. Between 70-80% of handsets will have that capability and can avail of that service over the next 12-to-18 months,” Kavanagh concluded.

http://www.engineersjournal.ie/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/Sheila-Kavanagh1-1024x628.jpghttp://www.engineersjournal.ie/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/Sheila-Kavanagh1-300x300.jpgDavid O'RiordanTech4G,Engineers Ireland
The recent acquisition of the spectrum licences allows mobile operators to take advantage of the former 2G and analogue TV spectrum and roll out 4G services as soon as this autumn, according to Sheila Kavanagh, head of mobile networks as Vodafone Ireland. Speaking at the 2013 Engineers Ireland Annual Conference...