Can Mobile Operators Withstand the Heat of Summertime 3G and 4G Network Usage?

By Erik Linask May 15, 2012

As the birds chirping outside the window wake you up in the morning, you realize spring is nigh, and summer is rapidly approaching.  It means the turtlenecks and snow blowers have been put away, making room for shorts and lawn mowers.  It means pool covers are coming off and chlorine levels will be checked.  It means tents, backpacks, canoes, and volleyballs can all be brought out of hibernation.

“We’ve got summertime music and we’re in the thick of it… Weekend’s started up, green grass, brown eyed girls, let’s do it!”

For Jimmy Buffett, back on his 1999 Millennium tour, it meant he was about to break into his signature rendition of the popular Van Morrison tune.  But for the rest of us, “it” can be any outdoor activity – the choice is yours.

Today, though, in addition to your preferred activity, you’re also likely to tote along one or several pieces of technology. 

It might be a waterproof gadget, such as a tablet so you can read your eBooks; or wireless speakers to enjoy and stream your favorite Buffett tunes; or your phone to monitor your grill temperatures or other outdoor cooking technology.

The fact is, despite the appeal of leaving technology behind for a few days, we’ve set expectations of availability, and are hard-pressed to randomly forsake those expectations. 

Likewise, mobile operators have set similar expectations for connectivity when we sign up for their 3G and 4G services, so we can access our favorite mobile gadgets and applications while enjoying the weather.  The problem is there are more users and more connected devices coming onto wireless networks each month – and greater bandwidth required during the summer months as users are outdoors – away from the comfort of WiFi – and reliant upon cellular connectivity.  Even if you’re not connected yourself and are just out for a bike ride, there’s a good chance wireless technology gets an assist in keeping you safe.

The good news, for Verizon subscribers, is the Basking Ridge-based operator leads in wireless network quality in the majority of the United States (U.S. Cellular heads up the North Central region). 

Still, regardless of your carrier, as the warmer weather approaches, network congestion will become an increasingly prevalent issue, slowing website loads, delaying SMS and MMS delivery, causing apps to fail, and resulting in dropped calls.

“The rapid expansion of smartphone usage has changed the ways in which wireless customers use their devices, which also impacts network quality,” says Kirk Parsons, senior director of wireless services at J.D. Power and Associates.

Based on J.D. Power’s most recent study, conducted during the second half of last year, wireless users indicated they connected to the Internet or email five percent more often than in the previous six month.  In addition, problems experienced by users nationwide increased significantly for Internet and email connections during the period.

“It's critical that wireless carriers continue to invest in improving both the voice quality and data connection-related issues that customers continue to experience," added Parsons.

Where’s the opportunity?  Small cells.  Pico- and femtocells allow operators to deliver the much-needed bandwidth to subscribers and relieve network congestion and the packet delay that causes even the most patient user to curse carriers.  Operators need a quick and easy way to expand network footprint and relieve network stress, but can’t afford the time or cost to build new cellular base stations.  Smalls cells also don’t require users to migrate between networks, ensuring consistent coverage and reducing dropped signals.

In order to limit subscriber frustration with lack of coverage and inadequate bandwidth availability, operators must be able to react quickly to expand their capacity in localized areas, even as they continue to invest in longer-term infrastructural enhancements.  Today’s subscriber is looking for tomorrow’s answer.  It’s going to get hot enough in the coming months – no subscriber wants to get burned by poor coverage.

Edited by Stefanie Mosca

Group Editorial Director

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