Overcoming the mobile glut
The success of iPhones and other smart phones, the huge surge in downloads of applications – often not optimised for mobiles – and the frenetic acceleration in the number of transactions among users are soon going to push mobile networks into overload. In Switzerland, where smart phones already represent one in two mobile device sales, the volume of data transmitted on telecommunications networks is now doubling every seven months. Meanwhile, a glance at the future promised by the extraordinary research conducted in the universities and innovative companies of Western Switzerland indicates this acceleration is set to... accelerate. If consumers adopt the new technologies such as augmented reality, high-definition video streaming, mobile videoconferencing, the Internet of things and sensor networks, this will simply demand the installation of ultra broadband. The first new mobile networks based on 4G (fourth generation), a technology known as Long Term Evolution or LTE, are living up to their promises for much needed ultra broadband. But their deployment has been slowed by the economic crisis. Even so, auctions for 4G licences have already started in some countries, including Germany and Korea. Switzerland’s national telecommunication operator, Swisscom, is currently conducting a city-wide trial in Granges, in the canton of Soleure. The company has not yet set a launch date for LTE, but it has already stated that the technology is stable, opening the way for broad LTE deployment in the coming years.So the prospects are encouraging. And while the introduction of 3G around 2000 triggered unrealistic expectations and contributed to the technology bubble whose implosion hurt and sometimes destroyed both established and new players, the adoption of 4G is likely to happen more swiftly this time. Meanwhile, the FTTH (Fibre To the Home) networks construction, at last starting in most of our cities, will require heavy capital investment for infrastructure owners. So is it possible to find the resources to build 4G infrastructures in parallel?The answer is yes – because the only way to offer mobile customers downloads of 100 megabits per second, maybe up to one gigabit per second, is to deploy the fibre optic networks that can feed the numerous antennas needed for 4G. So convergence at the infrastructure level will help – although the deployment of 4G masts will still need to go through the spectrum authorisation process and overcome some localised opposition.
This makes the exact timing of 4G deployment anybody’s guess at the moment, but it is safe to bet on the increased capacity of mobile networks. This is good news for information and telecommunications companies in Western Switzerland. Above all, it means opportunities for the Alp ICT cluster that acts as a catalyst to bring the full spectrum of digital technologies from lab to market.Two examples are cloud computing, which will offer massive processing power for light terminals such as smart phones; and energy efficiency, which is becoming critical for battery-powered devices. In fact, cloud computing is an offspring of the region: grid computing was invented by CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research in Geneva (which also invented the World Wide Web), and this know-how has now been adopted by others in the region. Also demand from the watch industry has spurred our electronics researchers to develop a core competence in finding new ways of powering mobile devices efficiently.All of that puts Western Switzerland at the centre of the next mobile revolution. This is excellent news!Eric BachmannPresident Alp ICT