Network innovation driven by rapid mobile data growth

June 06, 2012 // By Rick Merritt
A handful of companies are creating systems to build cellular enterprise clouds, just as others aim to build cellular carrier clouds.

Meanwhile some startups are working on 70-80 GHz radios for next-generation mobile backhaul networks while others are preparing a next-generation of Wi-Fi hotspots using 802.11ac and new authentication standards.

These are some of the innovations at work, according to speakers at the Linley Tech Carrier Conference here.

“The thing that surprises me personally about the carrier space is that even though it is slow to move and it takes a long time to design and qualify systems, it’s very dynamic,” said Bob Wheeler, a principal analyst at The Linley Group (Mountian View, CA), the host of the event.

“We think of the carrier market as being slow moving, but there’s a whole lot of stuff coming on the market very fast now,” agreed Stephen Turnbull, marketing manager for the wireless access division at Freescale Semiconductor, a panelist at the event.

The rise in mobile data from smartphones and tablets is driving the changes. Mobile systems giant Ericsson predicts a five-fold growth in mobile data subscribers over the next five years will drive a ten-fold increase in mobile traffic. What’s more, the portion of that traffic generated in urban and metro areas will rise from about 25 percent to nearly 60 percent over that period, it forecasts.

The swell is driving carriers to create new distributed networks using small cell base stations to augment their traditional nets of macro-cell base stations. Some of the small cells are geared for use in buildings to keep big business users happy, especially given the latest LTE services sometimes use frequencies that don’t penetrate buildings well. Startup Spidercloud is one of several companies--some still in stealth mode-- building systems for these enterprise cellular clouds, Turnbull said.

Meanwhile some carriers are experimenting with more centralized networks that pool base stations to save money. China Mobile is pioneering this area of so-called Cloud Radio Access Networks (RANs), but others are starting to get into the act, including