LTE network rollouts are in full swing in North America and a hot topic in Europe this week with the LTE World Summit taking place in Barcelona. There’s no doubt that carriers should be excited about the many benefits of LTE. These include better usage of the available spectrum, faster data rates, reduced latency, lower per-gigabyte transport costs and simpler network architecture.
LTE opens the door for amazing new apps and a richer experience, but will it solve the network congestion problem or make it worse? What about signaling? While LTE removes some of the bottlenecks in the network, the most immediate benefits could be eclipsed by other challenges such as the signaling storm that is looming over wireless networks across the globe.
First, LTE generally comes with a simpler IP network, flattens the radio network architecture and eliminates the node traditionally equivalent to the Radio Network Controller (RNC) in the radio network hierarchy. This, in turn, increases the signaling load on the other components, which will have to be scaled accordingly.
Second, today’s 3G networks have a mixture of smartphones and feature phones. LTE however, will be 100 percent smartphones and as a result, the signaling load will be immediately higher because of the always-on nature of smartphone apps.
Third, as carriers move to LTE and thus, more data traffic, they will need to rebalance network resources that have traditionally been balanced to carry voice and messaging and only a small amount of data.
Finally, the “control” channel, which carries the signaling messages used to establish connections, is now responsible for carrying more as data services get more complex. Carriers need to expand the scope of their control services such as authentication, charging, billing, policies and more.
As reported, there is an increase of signaling load coming with LTE, but overall, this has more to do with the nature of the traffic, apps and services that are now enabled by LTE than the LTE technology itself. Ultimately network operation teams will need to rethink some of the basic principles applied to 2G and 3G networks designed for voice.
We’re glad to see that the LTE World Summit is even dedicating one day to the topic of signaling but overall there needs to be more collaboration across all the mobile industry players – app developers, device makers, carriers and network providers – to bring forward an end-to-end solution. If you’re not yet convinced that the issue of app chattiness is a major challenge that cannot be addressed by point solutions, check our infographic on the Signaling Storm.