A number of different technologies are being developed or improved to offer higher speeds for fixed and mobile broadband networks, as operators are preparing to compete with each other and carry video traffic in 3D and at higher resolutions, which is expected to happen in the coming year.
Broadband speeds have arrived at the point where increasing them is a challenge for most types of fixed and mobile networks as providers move toward offering 3D and other more advanced services. However, there are things that network providers can do, such as merging several links into one connection in both copper and mobile broadband networks.
But broadband speed isn't just about the connections in the "last mile." Equipment that connects users to a network, for example, mobile base stations, also needs to be able to keep up and not become a bottle neck. And raw capacity isn't the only way to increase speed - content delivery networks, which push content closer to the user so it can be obtained more quickly, will become more widely used, according to Ericsson.
In addition to those advances, these are four network technologies that are likely to become more important in 2011:
10G GPON The use of passive optical network (PON) technology in fixed broadband networks has grown in popularity in the last couple of years, thanks to lower costs compared to using an optical fiber for each household. The technology calls for several households to share the same capacity, which is sent over a single optical fiber.
Today's systems have an aggregate download capacity of 2.5G bps (bits per second). The move to 10G GPON increases that by a factor of four, hence the name. The technology is also capable of an upstream capacity of 10G bps, which is eight times faster than current networks, according to Verizon Communications.
The increased capacity can either be used to handle more users or increase the bandwidth.
In December 2009, Verizon announced that it had conducted the first field-test for the technology. Since then, a number of operators have conducted tests, including France Telecom, Telecom Italia, Telefonica, Portugal Telecom, China Mobile and China Unicom, according to Huawei.
The first commercial services based on 10G GPON are expected in the second half 2011, according to Alcatel-Lucent. Pioneering operator Verizon hasn't announced any commercial plans yet, according to a spokesman.
Besides broadband, the technology is also being pitched for mobile backhaul use.
The DSL family of technologies still dominates the fixed broadband world. To ensure that operators can continue to use their copper networks, network equipment vendors are adding some new technologies to VDSL2 to increase download speeds to several hundred megabits per second
To boost DSL to those kinds of speeds, the vendors are using a number of technologies. One way is to send traffic over several copper pairs at the same time, compared to traditional DSL, which only uses one copper pair. This method then uses a technology - called DSL Phantom Mode by Alcatel-Lucent and Phantom DSL by Nokia Siemens - that can create a third virtual copper pair that sends data over a combination of two physical pairs.
However, the use of these technologies also creates crosstalk, a form of noise that degrades signal quality and decreases bandwidth. To counteract that, vendors are using a noise-canceling technology called vectoring. It works the same way as noise-canceling headphones, continuously analyzing the noise conditions on the copper cables, and then creates a new signal to cancel it out, according to Alcatel-Lucent. Products are now entering field trials and the first commercial services are expected to be launched in 2011.
Just like 10G GPON, it is also being pitched as an alternative for mobile backhaul.
LTE The rollout of Long Term Evolution (LTE) is now under way in Europe, Asia and the US, and by the end of 2011 about 50 LTE commercial networks will have launched, according to an October report from the Global Mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) detailing current operator launch plans.
The first round of LTE services, with the exception of MetroPCS and its Samsung Craft phone, connects users with USB modems. That will change in 2011 with the arrival of LTE capable smartphones and tablets. Verizon Wireless expects such handsets will be available by mid-2011, according to a statement.
The bandwidth and coverage operators can offer depends on their spectrum holdings.
LTE isn't just about offering higher speeds to metropolitan areas. In Germany, the government has mandated that the mobile operators first use the technology to offer broadband to rural areas.
Besides higher speeds LTE also offers lower latencies, which will help the performance of real-time applications sensitive to delays, including VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) video streaming, video conferencing and gaming, to perform better.
The rollout of isn't going to happen overnight, even for those operators that have are now launching services. By 2013, Verizon plans to cover its entire 3G network with LTE. Telenor in Sweden also plans to have its network upgrade complete by 2013, according to a statement.
LTE may be getting most of the attention, but 2010 has been a banner year for High-Speed Packet Access (HSPA+). Migration to HSPA+ has been a major trend this year and more than one in five HSPA operators have commercially launched HSPA+ networks, according to the GSA.
However, today's download speeds of up to 21M bps is far from the end of the line for HSPA+. Nine operators - including Bell Mobility in Canada and Telstra in Australia - have already launched services at 42M bps. The average real-world download speed is 7M bps to 14M bps, according to Bell.
To get to that speed, operators use a technology called DC-HSPA+ (Dual-Channel High-Speed Packet Access), which sends data using two channels at the same time.
More than 30 DC-HSPA+ (42M bps) network deployments are on-going or committed to, including T-Mobile in the US. It will launch services next year, but isn't ready give any additional details on timing, according to a spokeswoman.
Also, five operators have already committed to 84M bps, which is the next evolution step for their HSPA+ networks, the first of which is also expected to arrive next year.