Director, Mobile Core for Etisalat : “I believe LTE will be more cost-effective than other technologies”

Mohammed AbdelQadir, Director, Mobile Core for Etisalat

Mohammed AbdelQadir, Director, Mobile Core for Etisalat, UAE is speaking on Day One of the LTE MENA 2013 conference, taking place on the 13th-14th May 2013 at the JW Marriott Marquis, Dubai. Ahead of the show he gives us an overview of LTE in the Middle-East region and describes some of the technical and business challenges facing the operator.

What major developments have there been with regards to the LTE industry in your region this past year?

There have been a number of major developments in the Middle-East region that have contributed to the wider LTE industry.

  • In the UAE Etisalat launched its LTE service in December 2011, while Du launched its LTE service in June 2012 using 1800MHz FDD-LTE.
  • In Saudi Arabia three mobile operators launched LTE in September 2011.
  • In Oman, Omantel launched TD-LTE in mid-2012.
  • In Bahrain the Bahrain TRA announced in March 2012 plans for licensing “post 3G” spectrum at 2.5GHz and other spectrum bands.
  • In Qatar: Qtel is planning to launch LTE in Qatar and Oman (via Nawras).
  • In Kuwait: In October 2012, Kuwait’s Ministry of Communications authorised operators to introduce LTE on the 1800MHz band.

However, despite all of this the number of LTE subscriptions in the Middle-East is still only in the low thousands. The Middle-East is not alone in the slow take-up of LTE and as a new technology subscriptions worldwide are still relatively low. However, operators in the Middle-East are also still in the early stages of developing their pricing and how they will promote LTE to consumers.

One of the factors behind the low take-up of LTE in the Middle-East, and other regions, is the lack of LTE devices. Additionally, the wide range of modes and spectrum bands that are being used is problematic. Nevertheless, as the availability of LTE devices grows and the wider availability of LTE networks and promotion by operators will boost the technology. However, it will be some time before LTE becomes a mainstream technology in the Middle-East. Informa is forecasting that the number of LTE subscriptions in the Middle East will be a modest 7.8 million by the end of 2017.

The LTE MENA conference is taking place on the 13th-14th May 2013 at the JW Marriott Marquis, Dubai. Click here to find out more about the event.

What are the chief technical challenges you are facing?

A key challenge is the lack of terminal support. Other challenges are spectrum availability and effective radio planning in order to reduce interference. Another issue is the convergence of LTE with our 2G/3G core network and how best to implement Voice over LTE. The key issues with VoLTE are concerning call handover, call setup and QoS and whether to use CSFB and/or SRVCC technologies.

Is VoLTE part of your plans and what benefits will it bring both to operators and consumers?

VoLTE will enable operators to offer innovative voice services over the LTE network. Etisalat is looking to launch VoLTE technology but this will be based on the availability of compatible handsets.

Does it make sense to think of LTE as a fixed-line replacement in certain cases?

I think that LTE can be considered as a replacement of fixed lines in general. In some specific areas such as rural regions, where fibre resources are not abundant, or remote areas where FTTx is still a long way from happening, LTE can offer a good and cost effective fixed-line replacement.

Where do small cells fit into your plans, if at all?

In order to provide customers with a better experience, more coverage, reachability and bandwidth we think small cells are a technology that needs to be deployed. Various levels of radio access technologies are currently available on our network, including 3G femtocells.

Do you believe that RCS services can genuinely help the industry compete with OTT?RCS services are definitely one way to compete. However for RCS to become a success in the long-term it will require more collaboration between operators and the standardisation process to be completed as soon as possible. If RCS can offer same, or better, customer experience and ease of access as OTT services it can be a good alternative for consumers.

Is there a clear business case for monetising LTE?

Operators are still determining the right way to monetise LTE and as of now they are focused on providing basic high-speed data connectivity, while leveraging their existing fixed broadband networks to increase their presence.

Key areas where operators can monetize LTE include “IP Video” over LTE and cloud and M2M services for the enterprise market that offer better and guaranteed quality that for standard consumer grade services. In the long-term though, I believe LTE will become more cost-effective than other mobile broadband technologies.

What do you think will be the most exciting new development in LTE in 2013?

More smartphones that support LTE and VoLTE along with the implementation of CSFB & SRVCC will provide a platform for commercial and technical readiness. It will be interesting to see how the introduction popular handsets that are LTE capable will affect network performance and signaling load and what affect that will have on customer expectations.

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