Mobile networks traditionally have been engineered for reach, which is why lower frequencies are preferred to higher frequencies. The small cell trend, and carrier Wi-Fi, suggest something new is happening, namely a shift of value and therefore network design principles.
Where in the past coverage has been the primary driver of network design, now that concern is balanced with a need for capacity. There are some corollaries. Capcity solutions tend often to rely on small area, low-power solutions, rather than high-power macrocells.
It is no accident that people mostly consume high-bandwidth apps when they are stationary, at home or in the office, not while “on the go,” using the macrocell network. Tariffs and handset software encourages such behavior.
Home and office Wi-Fi, used for offload, is one such example. But small cells use the same approach, as does carrier Wi-Fi.
Also, to a growing extent, it is possible to envision primary reliance on Wi-Fi and untethered access, with mobility a secondary method of access, primarily for low-bandwidth, on the go connectivity.
That’s the theory behind Republic Wireless and Scratch Wireless, for example. Scratch Wireless offers unlimited domestic market text messaging, with unlimited voice when connected using Wi-Fi, and then supplemented by prepaid mobile voice and mobile Internet access.
All of that suggests a possibly-historic reversal of the ways mobile bandwidth and services have been provided, with more emphasis on a “use the fixed network first, then switch to mobile if necessary” approach.
Significantly, that changes the historic value of the fixed network, which now becomes an essential part of the way mobile communications are supported. For fixed network providers, that should go quite some ways towards addressing what some have termed “mobile envy.”
As it turns out, the enduring strategic value of a fixed network now pivots towards backhaul of mobile traffic.
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