Faster speeds and better coverage will appeal to business customers. But when can we expect something extra for enterprise customers?
If you don't already have a 4G symbol on your smartphone screen, worry not as the high bandwidth technology LTE (Long Term Evolution) is coming to a network near you. The mobile manufacturers association, Global Mobile Suppliers Association (GSA), estimates that there will be 234 commercial LTE networks in 83 countries by the end of 2013
LTE improves mobile broadband speeds significantly and cuts network latency, making it easier to use real-time applications. Currently, operators tend to promote LTE in a vanilla flavour: the offering is similar whether you are a business or consumer. But the capabilities of the new technology could lead to new breed of services and price plans for enterprise users such as premium data or application prioritization.
As they upgrade networks, most operators are offering LTE as they have with 3G - a data bundle with a fair use policy. Occasionally, a challenger with less customers and surfeit of capacity may offer unlimited bundles. Either way, LTE users appear to be getting more bangs for their buck.
New service offerings aimed at enterprise users should appear in 18-24 months. These may include premium data plans offering high QoS guarantees; fast and immediate service upgrades; QoS guarantees for telepresence and cloud applications; and support for M2M and embedded devices.
Currently, operators are focused on network deployment and improvement. They know that in order to offer more differentiated services that truly exploit 4G they must also make significant investment in their back-end systems to realize the kind of control and insight into what's happening on their networks they need.
Orange LTE product manager, Regis Dubois suggests future enterprise services might include better document sharing; faster displays and instant access to corporate intranet-based desk environments; and better support for online applications, such as video conferencing, video monitoring or cloud computing solutions.
One potential LTE-related produce innovation is the 'Turbo' button. In this scenario, a user is making an HD video conferencing call, streaming a movie, or sharing large documents. The network notes this and warns them the activity may quickly use up their data allowance, offering them better (video) quality and enhanced QoS for the session, for a fee. At the touch of a button, the customer may then get to continue what they are doing without consuming their data allowance, at higher quality and without 'lag' or network-based interruption.
US carriers are expected to begin migrating voice from 2G and 3G networks to LTE toward the end of 2013. While this will add to the congestion on the shiny new LTE autobahns, it also offers opportunities for enterprise solutions: such as telepresence-based conference calls in which the network automatically directs multi-user calls to the most appropriate devices, PCs or land lines.
However, such service provision requires carriers invest intelligence in network management and billing systems. While today's priority is 4G deployments, work to upgrade such systems is ongoing: no one will use the 'Turbo' button if they don't get the upgrade fast.
To offer personalized data and service plans operators require deep, granular insight into what is happening on their networks, the ability to manage traffic flows and customer use patterns. This will allow them to differentiate services based on quality or activity.
back office improvements
Improvements to 4G back-end intelligence should empower users to better check and manage data allowances. Many customers confine high bandwidth activities to Wi-Fi as they are fearful of exceeding data limits. Theoretically, LTE will be able to offload traffic on the fly, without user intervention. This also makes sense as focus turns to controlling network congestion and creating pristine customer experiences. The advantage is that intelligent traffic management makes it easier for carriers to guarantee good service to gold standard customers.
Operators are currently focusing LTE deployment on main population centres, thus any QoS agreements offered have one large caveat: prioritization is not available everywhere. As rollout broadens and deepens, this should hopefully become less prevalent.
For the immediate future, a pure LTE play seems unlikely. Orange's Dubois observes that HSPA+: "Is already a technology breakthrough, offering throughputs up to three times better than 3G." Like many carriers, 4G devices provided by Orange are also HSPA+ compatible.
So although new enterprise-focused LTE products, services and data plans are on the way, these will be introduced only on a limited basis at this stage in the network's evolution.
Find out more about the Orange LTE plans here: