Salkic: “Operators in the Middle East have consistently driven innovation”

Adnan Salkic is a senior business consultant of strategic planning for SwedTel Management Group, who include Saudi Arabian carrier STC among its clients. He is appearing at the LTE MENA conference taking place on the 29th-30th April, Westin Mina Seyali, Dubai, UAE. We speak to Salkic about his perspective on LTE deployment strategies in the Middle East region and his thoughts on why it is a key technology for operators looking to lower costs and increase network efficiency.

Why do you feel LTE is an important technology for the telecoms industry?

Fifteen years ago we started with voice, so that’s how mobile operators started selling their services. Today though, we have a huge demand for data traffic. The big question is how are mobile operators going to deal with that? Under the current explosion of mobile broadband traffic, mobile operators are likely to face significant increases in operational costs.  While data traffic is growing exponentially in many markets, competition is driving ARPUs down. Mobile operators are under pressure to cut, or at least control, OPEX to stay profitable, even in the short term.

The main question is how to carry larger volumes of traffic, support a higher number of users and   improve the mobile broadband experience through faster download speeds and better indoor coverage, but without requiring costly network expansion?

The potential strategic solution is to use new innovative business models. Mobile operators need to unlock new revenue streams with a win-win ecosystem of devices, 4G services, applications and cloud strategy.

LTE deployment is a key cog in this innovative business model and as such has become the fastest developing mobile communications technology ever, moving into an accelerating commercialisation phase in all regions. The industry is heavily committed to LTE as the next step in the evolution of mobile broadband services.

The decisions to be taken are more about when, and in which way, LTE technology has been introduced into the market, and about the appropriate business models for profitability.

What markets that you’ve worked in have seen innovation in the LTE market?

Network operators in the Middle-East region have consistently driven innovation in the mobile communications market. Middle-East MNO’s are leaders for early LTE deployment. The commercial launch of an LTE network by MNOs in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in Q4 2011 were also the world’s first LTE TDD network to be deployed.

What are the key bands for LTE spectrum in your experience?

Generally spectrum re-farming provides operators with the opportunity to deploy LTE in the 850/900MHz frequency band. This lower frequency range offers attractive network coverage, which lowers OPEX costs. I believe that re-farmed 1800MHz spectrum is set to become a prime band for LTE deployments throughout Europe, MEA and beyond.

What are your thoughts on network sharing with competitors in order to lower OPEX costs?

As mobile operators globally report strong data traffic and revenue growth from mobile broadband and are increasing investments in their infrastructure, there is potential for network sharing with competitors.

This would be of use of a Single RAN inside GSM, UMTS and LTE networks. The network sharing model describes various technology solutions along network layers from passive RAN/site sharing to active RAN sharing; roaming based sharing, fixed access sharing, broadcast network sharing to application sharing.

When mobile operators deploy LTE or carry out modernisation they would really want everything they build to be accommodated by a Single-RAN solution. The major benefit brought by a Single-RAN is flexible resource usage. This includes optimising spectrum allocation and using the air interface in the most efficient way with different technologies in parallel. The RAN sharing and Single-RAN approach helps us reduce significantly operational costs regarding spare parts, logistics, and training, while providing higher flexibility for increasing traffic.

How are operators differentiating LTE from 3G services to customers?

Operators with LTE networks are differentiating on price and quality of service (speed and coverage) rather than on devices or services. MNO’s that are 4G leaders have focused on specific customer segmentations and innovative business models as part of a 4G strategy that targets data-heavy users, providing low-cost and more efficient business operations. I believe in the near future operators will not focus just on speed as a primary benefit of 4G, but they will also try to create an ecosystem for 4G-specific applications and services.

How will VoLTE fit into the strategies of the mobile network operators?

Introducing the GSMA’s VoLTE standard into LTE networks depends on initial LTE coverage and chosen deployment strategy. I believe that LTE deployment strategy starts with hot-spots of coverage, which includes three successive expansion phases of the LTE network with VoLTE:

In the first expansion phase, for mobile broadband purposes there will be spotty LTE coverage, leveraged by data-heavy consumers at premium prices.

The second phase includes a strategic direction with the introduction of the GSMA’s VoLTE for LTE subscribers with expansion of LTE coverage.

The final phase bridges the remaining gaps in LTE coverage – or complements it with other access technologies, building a complete packet based network for all types of services.

Also LTE Advanced will definitely be 10 times bigger with up to 1Gb per second compared with LTE and that means M2M and cloud computing will create massive opportunities for mobile operators to create different services to offer to subscribers.

Why is attending the LTE MEA conference so important to you?

LTE MENA Conference 2012 in Dubai is a perfect choice to meet the leading global  experts to share their ground-breaking LTE technical and business experiences.

Adnan Salkic, senior consultant, network strategic planning & performance, SwedTel Management Group , will be speaking on Day One of the LTE Middle East and North Africa conference takes place on the 29th-30th April, Westin Mina Seyali, Dubai, UAE. Go to the website to register your interest.

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