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IPv6 Riding the LTE Coattails

In June 2009 we mused in these columns about Long Term Evolution standing for Short Term Evolution as wireless networks started to drown in a data deluge.

It is January 2012 and we keep our heads above the mobile data deluge, even if barely, thanks to a gathering avalanche of LTE networks.

Even the wildest prognoses proved conservative as the GSMA was betting on a more ‘managed’ progression through intermediate steps of gradual increases reasoning that the use of existing investments should be maximized while price declines and threats to existing roaming and SMS revenues also had to be ‘managed’. Continuity implies to postulate that transitions should be gradual, not chaotic or highly disruptive. The last two years, however, turned out to be rather disruptive after a plateau of relative tranquility powered by a steady traffic and revenue growth in the wireless data world. But over the last year we have rather unexpectedly seen industry pillars including Microsoft, Nokia and RIM heaving and creaking under the mobile broadband gusts. Once unassailable Symbian now fades away and Android dominates the charts. Cloud computing combined with ever more Intelligent and versatile end devices is likely to further upset a relatively stable decade when some dominant computer and handheld operating systems were revenue and profit gushers with every new version they issued.

It still holds that faced with deluges of data and floods of handsets and applications, a drought of IP addresses might be perceived as a rather minor issue in the scheme of big things that would be resolved in due time anyway. As address depletion became a reality, the excitement was limited to the circles of digerati and cognoscente but went largely unnoticed by the vast majority. Not so when broadband networks fail to deliver enough bandwidth to provide a satisfactory user experience.

Back in June of 2009 there were no LTE networks operational. Ten of them were forecasted to go live by the end of 2010. The very first to become commercial was Teliasonera in Norway and Sweden on December 14th 2009. In the US, MetroPCS was first of the mark on September 21st 2010 followed by Verizon Wireless on december 5th the same year. In Canada, we saw Rogers Wireless start LTE service in july 2011 with Bell following in September 2011, the same month as AT&T Mobility.

Latest GSM Association figures (registration required) show us that as of January 5th 2012 we have 49 operational LTE networks in 29 countries and 229 deployment commitments in a total of 79 countries. And obviously LTE networks have to be able to talk to each other. This in turn is generating furious activity to deploy IPX exchanges to provide data and voice roaming in an all IP environment, a topic by itself, and keeping a number of us quite busy over the last six months.

And what about IPv6 in all of this? It is or soon will be under the hood. Verizon announced from the start that their devices would support IPv6 as recommended in the LTE specifications and they kept their word. Some mobile network operators have been rather discreet but are quietly working on their IPv6 deployment. They consider upcoming IPv6 support as implicit; IP addresses are IP addresses, their format is irrelevant to the general public.

Mobile operators often cited lack of LTE ready enabled end devices as a delaying factor. That argument is now passé. End of October, the GSA listed 197 LTE enabled devices from 48 manufacturers, up threefold since February 2011 and the list includes 27 smart phones. And If you happen to be enjoying the Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas this week, LTE devices are hot!

Now that both voice and data are becoming more widely available as voice over LTE concerns move backstage, competitive pressure should start working its magic. The choice and the application versatility of LTE enabled devices associated with quality of service and adequate pricing is what turns on a mobile broadband hungry public.

We already start to feel the acceleration of the LTE powered mobile broadband bullet train. The art will be to translate this in IPv6 traffic growth forecasts. I have a vague feeling that the most accurate forecasts will unlikely be based on some prudent extrapolations.

Let IPv6 enjoy the LTE ride.

By Yves Poppe, Director, Business Development IP Strategy at Tata Communications

(Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in these articles are solely those of the author and are not in any way attributable to nor reflect any existing or planned official policy or position of his employer in respect thereto.)

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