3G NETWORK SYSTEMS: THE CHOICE & CHALLENGE THAT AWAIT NIGERIA

November 17, 2006

1st things first, let’s discuss why we are where we are. We shall then recall some historical perspectives and also mention a few personal experiences.

In 1995 the NCC commissioned a study under the title of ‘Study into Cellular Mobile Telecommunications Market in Nigeria’. The report of that study led to various motion-without-movement experiences between then and year 2000 when there was a modification that turned out ‘A magic’.

In the early days of Mobile Systems, there was fragmented market. Systems went by their proprietary standards and generally cared less about interoperability. There were: The American Standards, The European Standards, The Nordic Countries Standards. Two notable realizations emerged:

One; that mobile systems thrive on economy of scale and interoperability makes business sense and two; that even poor countries could be viable markets.

Then emerged the ‘generational’ initiative as in assigning vocabulary to each stage of mobile technology development. Each generation represented an improvement in spectrum capacity usage and ITU took advantage of the global realisation and situated itself for its natural role. It operated in a true belief that business would be truly global and that regulators would have less problems of incompatibility to deal with. The initiative seemed good for all concerned. On top of this, it was also realised that there is money to make everywhere.

The First Generation of systems for mobile telephony was analog, circuit switched, FDMA Access technology, and it only carried voice traffic. The analog phones used in 1G were less secure and prone to interference where the signal is weak. Analog systems include AMPS [in the US], NMT[ In Nordic Countries : East Europe, Asia and Russsia] and ETACS[in UK].

The Second Generation of mobile telephony systems, 2G uses digital encoding. 2G networks support high bit rate voice, limited data communications and different levels of encryption. 2G networks include GSM, D-AMPS (TDMA) and CDMA. 2G networks can support SMS applications.

General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) is a mobile data service available to users of GSM mobile phones. Although GSM is strictly a 2G standard, that GPRS is an enhancement of it makes it code-named a 2.5G generation of mobile phones. GPRS, which supports a wide range of bandwidths, is an efficient use of limited bandwidth and is particularly suited for sending and receiving small bursts of data, such as e-mail and Web browsing, as well as large volumes of data.

2.5G extends 2G systems, adding features such as packet-switched connection and enhanced data rates. 2.5G networks include EDGE and GPRS. These networks support WAP, MMS, SMS mobile games, search and directory.

One of the major limitations of Second Generation cellular communications systems is that data can only be transferred after a connection has been established. This is inefficient if only small amount of data is transferred, and in situations where data is transferred in bursts. 2.5G cellular systems allow a mobile station to be “always-online” for sending and receiving packet data. This allows efficient transfer of small amounts of data, without the overhead of establishing a connection for each transfer. It also efficiently supports bursty data transfers, avoiding the need to allocate capacity to a connection that cannot be reallocated by the network if the connection chooses not to use it. The two major forms of 2.5G enhancements to second-generation cellular systems are the General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) and Enhanced Data Rates for Global Evolution (EDGE). Some GSM networks support the General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) and Enhanced Data Rates for Global Evolution (EDGE).

The Next Generation Network

The next generation networks (NGN) would support all traffic demands. Specifically, it should meet all the following services: A single network must converge voice, data and video traffic, support mobility, have a very high speed switching core, must be packet based technology and must support value added services.

It is usual to refer to 3G systems as a Next Generation Network System. They can also be described as ITU’s IMT 2000 family because it was in the year 2000 that there was unanimous approval of the technical specifications for third generation systems under the brand IMT-2000. The spectrum between 400 MHz and 3 GHz is technically suitable for the third generation. This approval meant that for the first time, full interoperability and inter-working of mobile systems could be achieved.

What specific advantages are envisaged?

IMT-2000 offers the capability of providing value-added services and applications on the basis of a single standard. The system envisages a platform for distributing converged fixed, mobile, voice, data, Internet and multimedia services. One of its key visions is to provide seamless global roaming, enabling users to move across borders while using the same number and handset.  IMT-2000 also aims to provide seamless delivery of services, over a number of media (satellite, fixed, etc…). It is expected that IMT-2000 will provide higher transmission rates: a minimum speed of 2Mbit/s for stationary or walking users, and 348 kbit/s in a moving vehicle.  Second-generation systems only provide speeds ranging from 9.6 kbit/s to 28.8 kbit/s

The often quoted major strengths of Third Generation Mobile technology is its suitability for voice, video and data services including video, video conferencing and Internet access. For equipment vendors and manufacturers, there is universal agreement, a necessity really, that they will be flexible, affordable, compatible with existing systems and modular.

Why embrace 3G?

Considering that Nigerians have demonstrated a thirst for Broadband internet access and that so far there is still lack of broadband internet. Considering also that Digital Subscriber Line, DSL is not known to have been commonplace, there is a pressing need to fill the gap. And 3G may just do that according to some specialists. What is more, recent experiences show that Nigerians create opportunities on emerging technologies. Moreover, it is cheaper and quicker to roll-out 3G/WCDMA than to run communication cables to every home.

With all the above arguments some have forecast that high uptake of services in 3G is therefore expected if launched. Who knows, these may have informed the embrace of 3G by the industry regulator which is known to have issued licenses to all existing mobile service providers.

Wideband CDMA, also known as UMTS in Europe, is 3G standard for GSM in Europe, Japan and the United States. It’s also the principal alternative being discussed in Asia. It supports very high-speed multimedia services such as full-motion video, Internet access and video conferencing. It uses one 5 MHz channel for both voice and data, offering data speeds up to 2 Mbps.

The Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA)

A digital wireless technology that uses a spread spectrum technique to scatter a radio signal across a wide range of frequencies. CDMA is a 2G technology. WCDMA, a 3G technology, is based on CDMA. CDMA has multiple variants, including CDMA 1X, cdma2000, CDMA2000 1X, CDMA2000 1xEV-DO and cdmaOne.

What is possible?

All e-advantages[ e-learning, e-business, e-sports etc] Video Telephony, eMail, Location Services, instant messaging, etc High Speed Internet Access and Interactive Multimedia. These do not come without challenges though. We should expect challenges in the areas of Licensing, infrastructure, and capacity building.

We must be conscious of some drawbacks  such as the reality that  users have to make completely new investment in 3G compliant terminals just as lack of access of majority to the internet may limit penetration.

Recommendations

It is hoped that the structure 3G License fee so far supports affordability going by the enthusiasm with which the existing operators are canvassing for their monopoly of the license. It is at this stage that the often repeated need to review telecom engineering training syllabus in good time to meet current challenges is apt.

4G encourages architecture “openness”. The services that 3G can offer should be such that it can be developed by any content vendor. The architecture is open as opposed to proprietary in that it allows third party vendor to run in the network. The 3G is not necessarily designed with open Application Programming Interface (API). The API in each network decided what developed services that can be used by a network operator in the network. So, 4G is an enhancement to 3G with open API for third party applications (services) developments.

Presented November 2006

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