The Industry Prepares Migration Paths to 4G


Marketers take great care to describe their products-be it a new network, a new piece of equipment or a new applications-in the final, fully deployed and functioning state. The reality is, though, that new technology must be eased in and in most cases is destined to operate side-by-side with older technology for at least some period of time.


That is especially true of networks changeovers, which evolved on what could be described as the slower side of gradual. Indeed, carriers have no interest in fast turnovers, since it is likely that some sections of a network are likely to be adequately served by the older network for far longer than other areas. Thus, vendors and network providers are starting to pay attention to the ways in which 3G, 3.5G and some cases 2.5G networks will coexist with, and eventually be subsumed by, the two 4G entrants, WiMax and Long Term Evolution (LTE).


There have been several announcements on this topic this year, many in anticipation of the CTIA Wireless show this week in Las Vegas. For instance, Alcatel-Lucent announced its Converged Radio Access Network (RAN). InformationWeek says that RAN provides dual support for LTE and earlier Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) networks. The story says the platform uses software-defined radio to enable the free mixing and matching of technology in the same cabinet. Commentary in the story says the technology may be particularly attractive to Verizon Wireless, which is starting the move from CDMA to LTE this year.

Cox Communications has a different challenge, since it is not transitioning an existing network to 4G. Rather, it is building a 3G network, which it will move to 4G in the future. This FierceBroadbandWireless story says the cable operator has chosen Huawei Technologies build a CDMA network that is LTE-ready. The piece provides good details on what Huawei is offering to network providers. The bottom line is that the firm is offering as flexible and broad an upgrade path from 3.5G to LTE as possible.

The vendors must be spending a lot of time watching nature programs on The Discovery Channel since they all seem particularly interested in migratory patterns. Another vendor with products to offer in this sector is ADC. This release says the company will display products, including FlexWave, Prism, FlexWave MMD and InterResarch Fusion at the show. The line is designed to accommodate legacy and next-generation networks, including both LTE and WiMax. The release says the FlexWave Prism enables the delivery of 2G, 3G and 4G signals in tunnels, subways and on campuses. The document is the type of general release big vendors typically offer in anticipation of significant shows. It clearly gives the sense that the vendor sees the importance of gear that runs several networks in parallel.

Tecore, a lower-profile company than ADC, Alcatel-Lucent or Huawei, also made some network evolution news-albeit of a more granular nature. The company said last week that users of its iCore platform will be able to upgrade from 2G and 3G through software downloads. Key feature of the iCore platform, according to the release, include an all-IP IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) core, support for a number of data services and signaling protocol, a carrier-grade Linux operating system and peer-to-peer IP switching. The release is quite comprehensive and suggests the complexities of supporting several types of networks simultaneously.


Amdocs' announcement was different in that it was made in connection with Mobile World Congress 2009 in February as opposed to this week's CTIA Wireless show. In other respects, it is similar. The company said that the products it was introducing can help customers move toward either LTE or WiMax. The introductions didn't solely focus on the network plumbing. The company says services and business models aimed at 4G must be planned even while the network operates in 2.5G and 3G modes. The introductions were the Amdocs Mobile Build Automation Pack; the Amdocs App Store; Amdocs CES and Amdocs BSS Pack.


The race to 4G is fascinating: WiMax already is out of the gate, while LTE has a lot of support lined up and seems to be pushing for earlier introductions. Carriers will be pushed by vendors, competitors and subscribers to upgrade. That will put a lot of pressure on engineering staffs. Luckily, it seems that appropriate tools are becoming available.