What Is Mobile Broadband?

This question would actually be very simple to answer except that it depends on your vantage point. The most defining word in the question is the definition of the term ‘Broadband’. Basically it is anything above what a traditional phone modem can deliver or 256k. The standards group CCITT defined “broadband service” in 1988 as requiring transmission channels capable of supporting bit rates greater than the primary rate which ranged from about 1.5 to 2 Mbit/s. This was supported by the recent Broadband Stimulus plan by the US Government.

The term ‘mobile’ refers to anything that is not connected by a cable, or is connected via a radio network such as a mobile cellular network, a WiMax network or in some cases WiFi as provided in Airports and other hotspots.

In the most current usage today Mobile Broadband is used to describe both cellphones and laptops using data over the airways. These connections are used to surf the web, download or upload files, transmit emails and in some cases to provide voice and video calls. These latter calls are generally provided by an Over-the-Top (OTP) application such a Skype. Very few if any cellular providers today use their data networks for voice calls.

In the very near future that will all change as VoLTE (Voice over Long Term Evolution) evolves and provides an all IP network. Currently most providers are moving to an IMS (IP Multimedia Subsystem) core that will obsolete the current voice centric networks. In most cases these carriers are providing voice over one network Spectrum Email and data over a second. This is complicated for the management of networks, the users’ devices and hardware providers. The licenses for the spectrum allocated for LTE (700MHz) are coming up for review where the license holders are required to start a rollout within the next year or their license will be modified.

The current 2, 2.5 and 3 G networks are all dual networks where voice and text messaging travel over a very traditional part of the network and the data is sent over the a completely different IP network. This is called backhaul and is very costly because all of the data and all of the calls must be backhauled to a central point that could be thousands of miles away from the originating cell site.

This creates problems especially for rural carriers where the backhaul is very expensive and the bandwidth is very limited. In some cases the voice and data traffic needs to go over satellite and is even more expensive and bandwidth limited. This is why the penetration of both cellular and broadband in some of the rural communities is so poor.

In an IMS network the need for backhaul is dramatically diminished because calls and data all travel over the same pipe and switching can be accomplished right at the cell site. Thus calls within an area do not need to be transported back to a central switch and then hair-pinned back to the same location. This wastes 2 complete channels. In an IMS IP network it does not take up any channels or bandwidth. The call is handled right at the site so there is no need for backhaul at all.

The same goes for data. Instead of bringing all of the data back to a central point, the data can enter the network or internet right at the site. Again, this eliminates the need for any backhaul. It is more efficient, cost effective and requires a lot less maintenance.

For a rural community this evolution provides a needed step to reducing the cost to deploy both cellular and broadband networks. This includes providing broadband over a mobile network. Broadband services can very quickly be deployed in these communities without the need for fiber or cable to the home. Install an LTE network based on an IMS core and provide the kids in school with an inexpensive USB broadband dongle, and they are now part of the connected generation. Thus the term ‘Mobile Broadband’ and why it has such a focus within the rural community.

However, this evolution is not without its pain. Currently very few carriers have implemented a complete IMS core network. Equipment and handset vendors must provide networks and devices that integrate with multiple networks. Handsets will have several radios in them to be able to use a range of networks. This drains batteries and contributes to variations in levels-of-service. This is something customers or subscribers do not understand nor care about.

This coming change in network architecture will put a great deal of pressure on the incumbent wireless switch manufacturers as companies such as LEMKO deploy these next generation networks to the rural carriers in a very timely, cost effective way. This is done without the need for expensive infrastructure, complicated networks with their complicated array of switching centers, billing servers and data demarcations. These systems are used by Public Safety organizations around the world and with the simple push of a button they can provide cellular communications within minutes of a disaster where the old way took days. It is that easy.


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