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Evolution to LTE in EMEA will require Sophisticated Diameter Signalling

in Blog, Diameter, EMEA, Tekelec, LTE

Trends in Europe, Middle East and Africa all point in the same direction, as operators know that brand innovation relies on the speed at which they adopt LTE. Concurrent to LTE investments should be investments in ‘Diameter’ signalling infrastructure – critical behind-the-scenes communications necessary to make LTE succeed.

Spending growth on network planning and optimisation for Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) is predicted to be less than half that of the Caribbean and Latin American  (CALA) region, according to Analysys Mason  research – with a CAGR in EMEA of 5.2% compared to CALA’s 12% for the period of 2011 to 2016.

But does that reflect what is truly happening with LTE investments in EMEA and the consequent signalling increases that will come with LTE?

As EMEA mobile operators invest in LTE (see “A Closer Look,” below), a sophisticated signalling infrastructure will be required to effectively handle the huge surge in Diameter messages triggered by LTE. The LTE Diameter Signalling Index® predicts that LTE Diameter signalling traffic in EMEA will see a 320% CAGR from 2011 to 2016, making it the second fastest growing region in the world.

In comparison, according to the Cisco Visual Networking Index: Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update, 2011–2016, mobile data traffic for the region is projected to grow at CAGR of 76%.

The LTE Diameter signalling increase is attributable to the fact that LTE will mean more sophisticated roaming arrangements, concurrent data sessions, video streaming, QoS guarantees and behavioural changes via social networking. All of these trends will create exponential increases in the amount of Diameter signalling MNOs must manage.

Always-on smart devices and advanced services will require Diameter signalling to set-up data sessions, authorise subscriber activity, authenticate subscribers and accurately charge for data usage. The constant “pinging” and orchestration will require that EMEA operators either proactively manage Diameter traffic now using Diameter Signalling Routers (DSR) at the earliest stages of LTE, or invest in DSR solutions once the network is built out.

Waiting could increase the risk of outages and add costs when deploying in markets where smartphone uptake is increasing and where the sophistication of services is on the rise.

A Closer Look at EMEA LTE Trends

European deployment of LTE networks currently lags behind that of North America and Asia Pacific. EE announced that by the end of October 2012 it would launch 4G networks in 10 cities throughout the UK, but with limited subscribers. In addition to EE's 1800MHz network, there will be a spectrum auction held by Ofcom, the UK regulator. Ofcom plans to progress the long-delayed auction of radio spectrum with domestic operators O2 and Vodafone anxious to compete now that EE has been given special dispensation to re-farm its 2G spectrum for the purpose of rolling out 4G services. It’s now anticipated that O2 and Vodafone could be in a position to deliver 4G services as early as May 2013 rather than the initially estimated October 2013 launch date.

Despite the slow uptake of LTE in Europe overall, Germany and Nordic countries like Sweden and Finland, have launched commercial LTE deployments. In fact, TeliaSonera was the first in Europe to announce a commercial LTE service back in 2009. Since then, Telekom Austria, Deutsche Telekom and O2 Germany have followed suit.

Countries like France, Italy, and Spain, however, are still slow to move, although there’s evidence of change underway. For example, Telefónica Spain has been involved with LTE trials the past 18 months or so, and this month, France Telecom’s CEO indicated he would spend €1 billion over the next six-to seven years upgrading the company's networks to LTE.

Additionally, auctions for spectrum will broaden. While in 2009 and 2010 there was a lot of activity with the 2.6GHz spectrum across Europe, it is now the 800MHz Digital Dividend spectrum – ideal for 4G – that will open up. Regulators across Europe are recognising that devices are working in alternative LTE bands and that operators are refarming existing spectrum. They also see European MNOs consolidating to grow their bidding power in the 800MHz spectrum.

Trials and commercial deployment announcements will be ongoing.

Middle East
About 7.5 million Middle East subscribers will be on LTE by the end of 2015, according to a report issued by Signals and Systems Telecom, a market intelligence and consultancy firm.
According to the report, Saudi Arabia alone is expected to account for more than 5.4 million subscriptions by 2015. That represents a CAGR of 197% from 2011 levels. There have been LTE launches by all three major incumbents in Saudi Arabia – a region that was among the first to commercially offer TD-LTE user devices. Saudi Arabian mobile operator, Mobily, launched its first LTE service in the Middle East last year, followed closely by STC. Zain KSA has also made LTE announcements this summer about deploying in Riyadh and other cities within the eight countries it serves across the Middle East and North Africa.

The UAE is also likely to follow suit as Etisalat has completed 4G LTE speed tests and its rival also has pilots under way.

Signals & Systems Telecom forecasts that Africa will see 11 million LTE subscribers by the end of 2015 as well. LTE deployments in the continent are also gaining momentum as a number of operators are trialing LTE technology, including Vodafone, Etisalat Misr and ECMS, which are starting in Egypt. Others are starting in South Africa, including MTN, Cell C, and Vodacom, and Globacom is beginning in Nigeria.

Operators have deployed their initial trial networks at 1,800MHz, since the 2.6 GHz band has not yet been auctioned in most countries in Africa.

As evidenced in the LTE Diameter Signalling Index®, roaming, concurrent data sessions, video streaming, QoS guarantees and behavioural changes via social networking will drive Diameter signalling in EMEA, as in other regions of the world.

As MNOs roll out LTE services, they will need to manage communication among multi-session devices and increasingly sophisticated networks. Diameter Signalling Infrastructure will effectively coordinate and orchestrate as long as it includes:

  • Digital Signalling Routers
  • Policy Servers
  • Online and Offline Charging
  • Mobility Management Entities
  • Policy Control Enforcement Points
  • Session Management User Data Repositories

Those elements will comprise the New Diameter Network (NDN), which provides a more centralised approach (as opposed to a mesh approach) to effectively route, measure and monitor Diameter traffic.

The NDN will prove essential to EMEA operators, which must acknowledge the need to move toward service-oriented, all-IP networks if they are to support consistently growing business models.

(Article by Doug Suriano, CTO, Tekelec)

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