Hossein Moiin: By 2020 the average person will download one
gigabyte of personalised data each day, and it will be
for less than $1 a day
Operators and vendors alike regularly deliver astonishing
figures about the growth of mobile data, but Nokia Siemens
Networks boss Rajeev Suri gave a particularly astonishing one
on the Sunday before Mobile World Congress opened in Barcelona
By 2020, he said, wireless networks will deliver an average of
one gigabyte of data a day per user. That is, he elaborated,
the equivalent of one high-definition video a day for each
mobile broadband customer.
That’s a figure almost guaranteed to send shudders
through the chief financial officers of most operators, as they
wonder how to fund the necessary investment. And shudders
through the chief technology officers of most equipment
vendors, as they wonder how to build the networks to carry such
a volume of traffic.
But to Hossein Moiin, CTO of NSN, the forecast is seen as a
challenge that he clearly relishes. And the good news for his
staff — and for the R&D people in vendors across
the world — is that he does not think that the
industry will need a fundamentally new technology in order to
cope with the public’s unending appetite for data
on the move.
The genesis of Suri’s number "comes from a study
we did on the evolution of radio", says Moiin. "We asked the
question: do we need a fundamentally new radio technology? At
that stage we didn’t know, but the operators were
telling us that they need to increase the capacity of their
networks by 1,000 times by 2020."
Moiin is in a good position to assess this need. In a varied
career he spent a long time with Deutsche
Telekom’s T-Mobile, including working as a group
vice president for technical strategy and chief architect. He
has worked at Sun Microsystems as chief technologist at its
network service provider group. Before joining NSN in July 2010
he spent a year and a half at BT responsible for its mobile
technology and architecture — an intriguing job at a
company with no active mobile telecoms business.
And, just in case he wants to get in touch with the roots of
wireless, he lives in Bologna — so whenever he feels
the need he can go and look at the city-centre birthplace of
Guglielmo Marconi, inventor of it all, or visit the Marconi
family home outside the city, where he transmitted and received
the world’s first radio messages.
But let’s leap back from the end of the 19th
century to the second decade of the 21st: when he joined NSN
Moiin started an investigation on how much current mobile
broadband technology can be souped-up in order to meet
expanding needs. "Do we need a fundamentally different new
technology? Or can we get this from existing radio technology?"
he asked his team in mid-2010. They looked at what improvements
can be made over the next decade.
The good news, says Moiin, is that he thinks performance of
current radio technology can be improved by the necessary 1,000
times — made up of a neat 10 by 10 by 10 calculation.
"We can get 10 times the spectral efficiency, 10 times the
performance and 10 times closer cells," he says. "Base stations
will be very different — they’ll be micro
devices, with wifi access and so on."
This dense network of base stations will "increase the absolute
cost but reduce the cost per bit", he says. "In 2020 fibre will
be available in almost all places," so backhaul will not be a
problem, he suggests.
Moore’s law won’t stop
And he’s confident of the cost because
"Moore’s law won’t stop for a decade
or so". Moore’s law, as defined by Intel founder
Gordon Moore in 1965, says that every 18 months the price of
silicon circuitry halves and the power doubles. The rule still
appears to apply 47 years on.
Improvement in silicon circuitry will mean that modulation
systems will be improved, just as 64-QAM is being replaced by
256-QAM. "The normal evolution means you get that factor of
10," says Moiin.
Will much more spectrum become available? He believes it will,
because of the importance of mobile broadband. "Mobile
telecommunications are rights, not privileges. You have to
provide access." And the regulatory regime will have to make
the necessary arrangements, bringing into operation spectrum in
the 5-10 gigahertz range, "at the top end for indoor services,
the lower end for outdoor". More will come from white spaces in
the TV bands, the digital dividend as analogue transmissions
make way for more efficient digital, and other measures. "You
will get 10 times better use of the spectrum," he adds.
And there will be more efficiencies from the use of LTE.
"People will move to LTE based on the capacity they require,"
he says. "We believe that LTE has happened. Its momentum will
only increase." He sees no reason why the more efficient
LTE-Advanced will not become common. After that "there will be
additional advantages in releases 12 and 13 [of the LTE
standard], but that’s some time away".
Less than $1 a day for wireless
But then Moiin adds a surprising forecast to his
CEO’s prediction of one gigabyte per person per
day of wireless data. "That will be one gigabyte of
personalised data," he says, "and it will be delivered for less
than $1 a day."
So how are operators going to afford to pay to expand their
networks on an average annual revenue of $365? "Clearly
operators will need to supplement this with other services if
access is going to be less expensive," he says. "Additional
value needs to be brought in."
And this is where he reveals some of his vision of what service
providers can do in the future. "Operators need to be able to
truly play a transformative role in other industries," he says.
Indeed: "This is a duty of the operator community."
The opportunities are huge, he notes. "Think of the
transformation we need to do in the healthcare industry.
Telecommunications can have a transformative role. And
there’s another role: how do we get people to
battle against global warming?"
Moiin takes an unusual angle to that. Yes, telecommunications
can reduce the need to travel, but he says: "Much of the
economy is about the movement of people and products —
and this can be substituted by the movement of signals through
the telecoms networks. Is it not possible to avoid this
disaster [of global warming]?"
But, products? Moiin is an enthusiast for the emerging
technology of 3D printing, with which objects are created out
of plastic or metal straight from computer designs. Architects
are already using the technique to create models of their ideas
for clients, and it’s possible to buy intricate
jewellery designed on a computer and printed in 3D.
"Think of the possibilities if every neighbourhood were
equipped with a 3D printer," says Moiin, who is looking to the
day when it would no longer be necessary to ship objects across
the world. Instead they could be created from raw materials on
the spot, on demand, with the telecoms networks carrying the
"There is room for telecoms to play a transformative role," he
repeats. "Telecoms has to play a key role. It’s
not just an opportunity, but a duty."
And this, or variants of this, will be what helps the operator
survive in a world where the average customer pays less than $1
a day for their wireless broadband, he sees. "We believe that
the revenue will be complemented by providing additional value
to the end user."
Coming back to basics, he says that NSN has two roles in
working with its customers. First, to partner with service
providers to enable them to provide secure mobile broadband
solutions. "That is our primary business model."
Freedom to think
But there is something else, he says. "The secondary
responsibility of NSN is that it is one of the institutions
that has the freedom to think beyond the next three years, and
help the mobile community to think beyond their immediate
The company has "regular forums with its leading partners about
the evolution of the business", he says. These cover what roles
they see for themselves in the future. "It’s
beyond connectivity. These companies are they gatekeepers of
our digital lives." He sees a world were everything —
books, entertainment, even money — will be digitised.
"What operators want to know is how to be gatekeepers of this.
They know how it works." And then? Moiin and his colleagues can
see their way to an increase of 1,000 times in capacity of the
mobile broadband networks by 2020. What happens after that?
"Ah," he smiles, "we have a beyond-4G programme." So there will
be another generation? Yes, he confirms, but he appears to
dread the task of developing yet another generation of radio
technology from the beginning. "We will have to do it all
again. It’s a lot of work. It gets harder and
harder. The front end is much harder, the intellectual part."
But it will happen. The current generation will last until 2020
or thereabouts. After that we will start to need 5G wireless
broadband. That means the work is already going on in the
R&D labs of the world’s vendors. Back in
Bologna a century or more ago, Marconi would hardly have
believed it. GTB
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