RCR Wireless provides us a set of interesting predictions for the direction of telecom in the coming year. First, if they can overcome some difficult technical hurdles, the work that wireless companies have been doing on VoLTE and VoWi-Fi may finally come to full fruition this year, with VoLTE expected to become a standard offering. This will require companies to balance the difficulty of migrating customers from legacy networks and the challenges of interconnection and interoperability with the benefits of higher quality. The convergence of WiFi and LTE is seen as inevitable, but will include debates about the use of LTE in the unlicensed spectrum. License-assisted access, the LTE-U Forum’s LTE-U spec, and LTE Wi-Fi Aggregation are expected to move to the forefront as strategies for WiFi utilization, and how well LTE-U truly coexists with WiFi in a real-world network will continue to be the subject of speculation, debate, and keen watchfulness by mobile, cable, and other operators.
In employment trends, restructuring and streamlining by Sprint, Verizon and Qualcomm, and the merger of Nokia and Alcatel-Lucent will lead to layoffs and downsizing. Hiring will be led by companies that build and maintain networks, especially with major players like AT&T and Comcast increasing their rate of network building to keep up with Google. Centralized RAN – radio access equipment owned and controlled by a mobile operator, but not co-located with the antennas it serves – may create a path to shared active infrastructure. Verizon Wireless is expected to complete a centralized RAN build in San Francisco in anticipation of the Super Bowl, with base station hotels being considered a viable option in any area that has a metro fiber ring. This expansion could also lead to an increase in hiring.
Another hot topic for carriers will be virtualization which, like in the data center world before it, will put an end to the culture of proprietary boxes and racks of equipment, with more advanced carriers like AT&T, Telefonica, and NTT DoCoMo leading the way. AT&T has a aggressive plans to push virtualization control over an additional 70% of its network within four years. While 5G won’t be deployed until 2020, this year will see a continued change from a marketing buzzword and wishlist to a viable standard. This will involve discussion and debate over what needs it will serve, what technologies will be involved, the relationship between 5G and current technologies, and what the services will look like; 2016 is expected to be the year that the real standards work will start happening, which in turn is expected to help provide clarity on the path to implementation. Meanwhile hiring and research will be driven by the Internet of Things, including how low-power wide area networks may become an alternative to cellular for IoT connections, driven by the realization that connectivity is only the tool – data is the ultimate product.
When it comes to policy matters, the FCC’s planned 600 MHz incentive auction – currently scheduled for March 29 – will be a major focus with a possible 45-day wait for companies that wish to bid on the spectrum that is offered. The FCC’s rules eliminate bidding on up to 30 MHz of the 600 MHz by big players like Verizon Wireless and AT&T Mobility, and Sprint has announced that it will not participate which, combined, may decrease the overall take of the auction. Net neutrality will also be a major focus with companies deciding how they can fit into the new rules, led by T-Mobile US’s “Binge On” which allows customers unlimited video content and was tentatively approved by the FCC as meeting the goals of being pro competition and pro innovation. Meanwhile all eyes will be on the election since a change in party at the Presidential level will mean a change in party of FCC leadership which could please telecom operators who are critical of the current FCC leadership as being too consumer-focused.