Do Fixed Networking Products Really Matter as the World Goes Mobile?

Jason Marcheck
Jason Marcheck

As we were finishing up the latest iteration of our monthly round up of telecom vendor services contract announcements, we paid special attention to Alcatel-Lucent’s announcement with China Mobile on a wholesale network transformation project. Unlike most LTE network rollout deals we typically see, this one called not only for the requisite macro base stations and mobile core equipment, but also for small cells and GPON kit in order to enable China Mobile to provide its users with high-speed broadband access regardless of where they might happen to be or what device they might be using at any given time.

Comprehensive? Yes. A sign of things to come? Could be.

Over the past few years, most of us that follow this market have been trained to focus almost exclusively on mobility. Consider that now our phones are WebEx consoles, our iPads are TV sets, and LTE has turned the world into a giant virtual office. So, who cares about FTTx and fixed networking in general? It’s just the plumbing, right?

Well, not so fast. As Dr. Sanqi Li, Huawei’s Carrier Network CTO, reminded us at the vendor’s recently concluded Global Analyst Summit, mobile broadband also now means fixed networking. In some ways, Dr. Li’s point makes sense, given the source. Huawei is one of the world’s largest fixed network vendors. Come to think of it, so is Alcatel-Lucent. (Remember the announcement referenced above?) In a rare moment of agreement, both fixed networking giants could be seen to be on the same page with respect to the need for operators to consider fixed networking technologies in their long-term mobile broadband deployment strategies.

Why so? Because, even as most of us agree that the concept of “5G” has yet to be clearly defined, there is a prevailing sense that it will involve some aspect of fixed networking to accommodate the expectation of having ubiquitous connectivity regardless of location or terminal device. This means that going forward, operators might well be including line items regarding FTTx equipment capabilities (at the very least, as a key enabler for mobile backhaul) as well as fixed-mobile network integration and optimization services in their future mobile broadband RFPs.

It certainly seems like China Mobile did just that. It also seem like a fairly logical bet that Alcatel-Lucent – with the full set of fixed and mobile equipment and corresponding services capabilities – stood out vis-à-vis competitors that might have come up short on product capabilities related to either the fixed or mobile sides of the equation. Now, to be clear, I’m not suggesting that all vendors need to be one-stop shops. However, it does perhaps serve notice to mobile equipment specialists that real partnerships with fixed networking technology suppliers might be required as the market begins to moves toward a definition of 5G that includes more than just radio access technology.

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