Hossein Moiin: By 2020 the average person will download one
gigabyte of personalised data each day, and it will be delivered
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 in February.
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 design files.
“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 needs.”
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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