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Ericsson and Akamai pair to side-step mobile net neutrality

Network infrastructure: less sexy, more important

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MWC 2011 Edge-of-network caching, mobile payments and Wi-Fi management: it might not fit into your pocket, but network infrastructure is trying hard to be interesting.

Ericsson takes the title for Monday‘s most-interesting announcement at MWC, taking the stage with Akamai – a company that already delivers 30 per cent of the web from caches at the edge of the fixed network – to say the two companies will be offering the same functionality to mobile operators.

Ericsson will also be hawking its own mobile-payments system, to be white-labelled by network operators, but dismissed Wi-Fi as an adjunct to real networks that isn't worth integrating. Nokia Siemens, on the other hand, reckons that Wi-Fi needs to be bought into the fold, and will be helping operators to manage customers across networks.

But both companies agree that network traffic is going to rise massively, and that the best way to handle that is with more base stations, lots more base stations. Those base stations will consume less power and be increasingly intelligent to make deployment cheaper, but ultimately more boxes on more buildings to feed the, apparently, unquenchable thirst for bandwidth.

And unquenchable it is – Ericsson reckons we‘ll be consuming 25 times our current bandwidth by 2015, which is a hell of a lot of Facebook updates, though the company clarified be saying that most of additional traffic will be video.

Akamai will help deliver all that data. The company already makes a nonsense of net neutrality – caching content from popular sites at the edge of the fixed networks to ensure their content arrives faster and at lower cost to the access provider. Akamai reckons that somewhere between 15 and 30 per cent of the content viewed by surfers is already coming from their caches, and with Ericsson they'll be offering that capability to mobile operators too.

Ericsson estimates it is already handling half the traffic delivered to smartphones, thanks to the company's strength in the USA and Europe, but having been through a grim year, Nokia Siemens is now snapping at Ericsson's heels.

Both companies are puffing their ability to do TD-LTE, squeezing 4G networks into an unpaired channel (send and receive alternate on the same frequency). TD-LTE is looking increasingly important, as operators and national regulators see the advantage of moving away from the strict pairs of frequencies that have until now been the standard model. Nokia Siemens even has a demo of TD-LTE in Barcelona, in conjunction with China Mobile, and is trumpeting two deals in South Korea.

But while both Ericsson and Nokia Siemens are surviving well, they‘re also picking over the remains of those who weren't so lucky. Nokia Siemens is still trying to buy up Motorola's infrastructure assets, and the fighting over Nortel's intellectual property is far from over. But most worrying is the growth of Huawei, whose low-cost alternatives have been attracting a lot of interest.

Nokia Siemens reckons it can win by focusing on the basics, while Ericsson plans to add value to its offering with additional services and features. Whether network operators are prepared to pay for either of those things isn't clear, but they are, finally, spending some money on infrastructure – much to the delight of those left to collect it. ®

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