The pace of change in mobile is boggling. In only a short period of time we've gone from lugging around brick-like "yuppie phones" to pocketing slim, sleek smart devices with more computing power than the entire Apollo moon landing programme. My poor DSL network is already looking a bit sick compared to 4G and the only certainty seems to be change.
I decided to look into what mobile networks of the future are likely to look like and caught up with Stephen McFeeley, the Head of Australia and New Zealand for Nokia to talk about the future of mobile.
PP: What will the mobile network of the future (say 5 years) look like in terms of capacity, latency and voice quality? What factors do you believe will drive these changes? For example, the growth of smartphones, cost of silicon and mobile networks etc.
SF: It's no surprise that mobile data has been explosive in the last few years. We see different statistics and trends every few months and we have a set of our own.
We believe that by 2020 mobile networks will be required to deliver one gigabyte of personalised data per user per day profitably in order to support the whole value chain.
The world is on a threshold of a profound technological shift where billions of objects will be connected. We see networks being central to this shift and enabling "the connected world".
Just imagine the potential - but also the requirements - that remotely controlled unmanned vehicles would bring to mobile broadband networks.
PP: And capacity?
SF: Based on a very simple calculation of subscribers requiring 1GB per user per day, we would like 1000 times the capacity we have today. This will be driven by spectrum efficiency, optimum utilisation of the available spectrum and maximising density; which is what we demonstrated with Vodafone through our small cell portfolio - Flexi Lite and Flexi Zone.
PP: And what about latency?
SF: Customer experience is more relevant today than it has ever been. The expectation in advanced markets is for minimum latency and for videos to play without being buffered. So latency plays a very important part in customer perception of performance and in many applications low latency is essential for correct operation. Today, we believe that we will have virtually "zero" latency at the advent of "5G".
PP: Then there's voice quality?
SF: We demonstrated VoLTE during our event with Vodafone New Zealand and this is something that is planned for trial this year in NZ.
If you had the opportunity to experience it, you would have seen significantly less call set up time and HD Voice quality. You can already experience the difference in quality with Vodafone through HD voice, activated last year - and VoLTE will only improve the experience.
PP: What will this mean to the average person on the street?
SF: Faster, clearer and a seamless experience on the Vodafone network.
PP: Will this massive increase in data speeds and the ability to cram more data into finite radio spectrum see mobile data become a competitive alternative to fixed broadband?
SF: I spoke about spectrum efficiency being a vital part of the capacity required. You can see how LTE-A features such as carrier aggregation will enable us to provide faster speeds and allow people to have superior user experience.
In the future, we will see more spectrum being shared which might be unavailable for use by operators at this point in time. We have conducted the first live trial of Authorized Shared Access in Finland, this has been a milestone for us, as we believe the future requires such usage of spectrum to be dynamic and allow improved customer experience.
Mobile has the capability and potential to offer the benefits of being untethered to fixed wiring and supporting mobility, which means easy access to a huge range of information wherever and whenever. It enables lower cost deployment of services at customer premises and it has ever-evolving performance and quality to meet a lot of future needs. So yes, in many ways mobile data is a competitive alternative for fixed broadband.
PP: Will this huge performance increase have a big impact on the battery life of smartphones?
Smartphone technology isn't standing still either, and we are working in cooperation with many smartphone and chip set developers to ensure the whole end-to-end experience is optimised. Certainly Nokia considers the networks it provides to its operator customers to be 'smartphone' friendly with some of the supporting features we have available.
PP: How will big data come into play with mobile networks?
SF: We have more data in the past two years than in the last 50. We are already using analytics from network data to build our operational intelligence.
From data analytics to cognitive networks, we have developed the algorithms for a predictive analysis engine which sees irregular patterns based on data from mobile networks and predict network and service degradations two days in advance with 95% accuracy.
PP: What sort of impact will all this have on society? Will smart networks lead to a terminator scenario or are you more optimistic?
SF: We believe smart networks will require many enablers such as intelligent software, data analytics, insight and automation. At Nokia, we are certainly optimistic that networks of the future will only lead to improved lives.
We've seen the way devices are used. They've moved from being simply used for communication, through Information Access, through Lifestyle Enhancement and will go towards Behavioural Assistance (you can see an early example with Apple's Siri today). So smart networks will enable an increasingly busy society to make best use of their time and their efforts.