North American carriers are expected to taper off spending on 4G LTE as key initial deployments are wrapped up through 2014.
"As a whole, operator industry capex spend continued to increase in 2H12, remaining higher than the previous two years; however, TBR believes that capex spend will slowly decline in dollars spent through 2014 as larger operators wrap up LTE investment," write analysts at Technology Business Research in a new report on 4G network spend at Tier 1 operators.
As the main deployments are completed though, operators will be looking at other methods to boost coverage and capacity. "The completion of LTE networks will force operators to differentiate their networks around speed and efficiency, resulting in LTE-Advanced and small cell advancements to supplement coverage in highly trafficked areas," TBR suggests.
T-Mobile USA is already deploying a network that can be said to be LTE-Advanced-ready. The operator is deploying 3GPP Release 10 of the LTE specification. (See Why You Should Care About LTE-Advanced (Eventually).)
AT&T Inc. has been the most public about its small cell plans; saying that it will deploy 40,000 units by 2015. Verizon Wireless has merely said it is planning to deploy 4G small cells in 2013 as part of an incremental program of LTE-Advanced "improvements" to its network. (See Cisco: A Verizon 4G Small Cell Provider?)
I think it's safe to say that considering the startup buys and fundings that are happening now, software will also play a big role in eking more capacity and performance out of existing networks.
Consider Cisco Systems Inc.'s recent buyout of Intucell for its self-optimizing network technology. Intucell has been working with AT&T on SON since April 2011, and AT&T deployed the technology through the network in 2012. (See Cisco to Buy AT&T's Favorite SON Startup.)
Or consider the $12 million in funding for cell congestion startup, Vasona Networks, this March. (See Vasona Grabs $12M to Tackle Cell Congestion.)
LTE-Advanced and 4G small cells are likely only part of the picture when it comes to increasing capacity on the network. Mobile video compression, data compression and self-optimizing techniques are also bound to be in the mix.
This could make things interesting for traditional infrastructure vendors as the spending mix shifts and possibly shrinks in the coming years. We can already see vendors like Cisco up their spending on mobile software technology, while non-traditional vendors like Oracle Corp. are trying to get their hooks deeper into the mobile market.
— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Light Reading Mobile