Can Smartphones Get Smarter?

Giant leaps in network capacity will mean more data for smartphones and tablets.

The computing horsepower of today’s smartphones outstrips the supercomputers from just a few decades ago, yet a slow wireless network can bring even the most powerful pocket device to a standstill. The problem could become more common as the ranks of mobile device users swell and the demand for data surges. Thick forests of cell towers won’t meet projected demand, but so-called “small cells” installed in homes and businesses do offer a means to expand network capacity and could set the stage for even smarter smartphones and tablets.

Chris Gilbert Ubiquisys CEO

"Smartphones could get an awful lot smarter," said Chris Gilbert, Ubiquisys CEO.

According to a Cisco forecast, by 2016 there will be 10 billion mobile connections worldwide and the compound annual growth rate of mobile data traffic will approach 80 percent. By offloading traffic from today’s 3G networks to radio spectrum during peak periods, small cells can boost capacity, and the technology is integral to the LTE networks now being deployed.

Well known for making femtocells, small base stations that improve indoor mobile coverage from fixed line broadband, Ubiquisys has been collaborating with Intel on “smart cells” for 3G, LTE and Wi-Fi access points that can increase processing power and storage at the network edge. In a recent interview, Ubiquisys CEO Chris Gilbert discussed the differences in how wireless networks are being deployed in developed and emerging markets and what additional network capacity means for mobile devices.

What challenges do you see in deploying small cells?

There’s a lot of noise about the new type of cellular infrastructure called “small cells.” Small cells are about producing an enormous amount of cellular data for all the new devices. My company [Ubiquisys] is one of the companies producing small cells. If you’re putting in all these cells to get this extra capacity there are a couple of problems to solve. The first is how do these cells, from a radio point of view, co-exist with the cellular networks already.

The second is how to handle this amount of data when it comes off the wireless cellular system and onto the Internet. In wireless systems, particularly cellular systems, there’s security all over the place. The radio link is secured, there’s authentication that we use withSIMcards. But as data comes off the wireless networks and goes onto ground-based networks all of that has to be secured as well so that at no point is any voice or data unencrypted and therefore susceptible to being listened to.

How soon will this technology be widely available?

This is not a 10-year wait. Most operators in the world have some form of small cell program. They’re either trying it, thinking about it or actually deploying it. In fact, most countries in the developed world have cells deployed in one way or another.

We’re now in the multimillion-cell level around the world. The next layer will take probably the next 2 to 3 years to really get underway where much, if not most, of the traffic of the cellular systems is on this technology. Over the next 2 to 3 years you’ll see data rates going up dramatically.

How will added network capacity change the need for computing power?

When you have this amount of data, the requirement for computing is going up like crazy. Imagine a cellular system that’s got 400 to 500 times the capacity of what we use today. You can do a heck of a lot of new things with it. Every time we put in a small cell, we’re also putting in a computing platform. The smaller cells actually go in people’s homes and it affects consumer electronics. Imagine every home in the world having its own cell station with all the capacity it provides just there for their family.

From a device point of view, for the consumer, nobody has to change anything. However, smartphones could get an awful lot smarter and the iPads can get even smarter and use even more data and the networks will be able to cope with it intelligently.

How do demands for data differ by region?

Data usage in Asia is particularly high compared to the rest of the world and therefore they’re driven to small cells much quicker. We’ve been deploying quite a few networks now in Asia with this new type of technology. Here in Europe it’s relatively slow, but it’s beginning to get underway. There’s almost a complete reversal of what we saw in the deployment of GSM and to some extent also 3G.

Perhaps most interesting is what happens in undeveloped markets. These people don’t have old networks so they can start with a new network that has many times the capacity of the old legacy networks that the developed world has. It’s particularly well-suited to developing countries that don’t have the fixed infrastructure. In African and Latin American countries where there’s no cellular coverage at the moment, they’re being serviced by satellite.

The systems that have lots of bandwidth and can deliver it to lots of people are a major leveler of the world, a flattener if you like. Because you’ve got this amount of capacity and the cost of the capacity and delivering it is radically different from what we’re used to, the consumer is going to benefit from a lot more data for a lot less cost. That has a lot of connotations — a developer on one side of the world can access a hundred million people on the other side of the world at virtually no cost.

Can Smartphones Get Smarter?

Giant leaps in network capacity will mean more data for smartphones and tablets.

The computing horsepower of today’s smartphones outstrips the supercomputers from just a few decades ago, yet a slow wireless network can bring even the most powerful pocket device to a standstill. The problem could become more common as the ranks of mobile device users swell and the demand for data surges. Thick forests of cell towers won’t meet projected demand, but so-called “small cells” installed in homes and businesses do offer a means to expand network capacity and could set the stage for even smarter smartphones and tablets.

Chris Gilbert Ubiquisys CEO

"Smartphones could get an awful lot smarter," said Chris Gilbert, Ubiquisys CEO.

According to a Cisco forecast, by 2016 there will be 10 billion mobile connections worldwide and the compound annual growth rate of mobile data traffic will approach 80 percent. By offloading traffic from today’s 3G networks to radio spectrum during peak periods, small cells can boost capacity, and the technology is integral to the LTE networks now being deployed.

Well known for making femtocells, small base stations that improve indoor mobile coverage from fixed line broadband, Ubiquisys has been collaborating with Intel on “smart cells” for 3G, LTE and Wi-Fi access points that can increase processing power and storage at the network edge. In a recent interview, Ubiquisys CEO Chris Gilbert discussed the differences in how wireless networks are being deployed in developed and emerging markets and what additional network capacity means for mobile devices.

What challenges do you see in deploying small cells?

There’s a lot of noise about the new type of cellular infrastructure called “small cells.” Small cells are about producing an enormous amount of cellular data for all the new devices. My company [Ubiquisys] is one of the companies producing small cells. If you’re putting in all these cells to get this extra capacity there are a couple of problems to solve. The first is how do these cells, from a radio point of view, co-exist with the cellular networks already.

The second is how to handle this amount of data when it comes off the wireless cellular system and onto the Internet. In wireless systems, particularly cellular systems, there’s security all over the place. The radio link is secured, there’s authentication that we use withSIMcards. But as data comes off the wireless networks and goes onto ground-based networks all of that has to be secured as well so that at no point is any voice or data unencrypted and therefore susceptible to being listened to.

How soon will this technology be widely available?

This is not a 10-year wait. Most operators in the world have some form of small cell program. They’re either trying it, thinking about it or actually deploying it. In fact, most countries in the developed world have cells deployed in one way or another.

We’re now in the multimillion-cell level around the world. The next layer will take probably the next 2 to 3 years to really get underway where much, if not most, of the traffic of the cellular systems is on this technology. Over the next 2 to 3 years you’ll see data rates going up dramatically.

How will added network capacity change the need for computing power?

When you have this amount of data, the requirement for computing is going up like crazy. Imagine a cellular system that’s got 400 to 500 times the capacity of what we use today. You can do a heck of a lot of new things with it. Every time we put in a small cell, we’re also putting in a computing platform. The smaller cells actually go in people’s homes and it affects consumer electronics. Imagine every home in the world having its own cell station with all the capacity it provides just there for their family.

From a device point of view, for the consumer, nobody has to change anything. However, smartphones could get an awful lot smarter and the iPads can get even smarter and use even more data and the networks will be able to cope with it intelligently.

How do demands for data differ by region?

Data usage in Asia is particularly high compared to the rest of the world and therefore they’re driven to small cells much quicker. We’ve been deploying quite a few networks now in Asia with this new type of technology. Here in Europe it’s relatively slow, but it’s beginning to get underway. There’s almost a complete reversal of what we saw in the deployment of GSM and to some extent also 3G.

Perhaps most interesting is what happens in undeveloped markets. These people don’t have old networks so they can start with a new network that has many times the capacity of the old legacy networks that the developed world has. It’s particularly well-suited to developing countries that don’t have the fixed infrastructure. In African and Latin American countries where there’s no cellular coverage at the moment, they’re being serviced by satellite.

The systems that have lots of bandwidth and can deliver it to lots of people are a major leveler of the world, a flattener if you like. Because you’ve got this amount of capacity and the cost of the capacity and delivering it is radically different from what we’re used to, the consumer is going to benefit from a lot more data for a lot less cost. That has a lot of connotations — a developer on one side of the world can access a hundred million people on the other side of the world at virtually no cost.