Beyond the 5G hype, many rural carriers focused on LTE investments

While 5G is and will remain the topic du jour in the telecom industry, it will be years before the next generation of cellular makes its way out of metropolitan areas to provide widespread access to new types of services. In the meantime, rural carriers that serve smaller markets in the U.S. have concerns more pressing than 5G—a major one is is upgrading to an IMS core in order to deliver voice-over-LTE services, which can provide a better quality of experience for the end user while streamlining network operations.

This topic will be highlighted next month at the Competitive Carrier Association’s annual convention, slated this year for Oct. 1 to 3 in Orlando, Florida. The IMS/VoLTE discussion, including speakers from Ericsson, Huawei, Nokia and Interop Technologies, is just one session in a diverse program line-up available here. RCR Wireless News recently spoke with CCA President and CEO Steve Berry to get a better understanding of the issues facing rural operators that will be highlighted during the event.

He explained that with 3G network deactivations by Tier 1 operators already on the schedule for the early 2020s, as well as what that will likely imply for device OEMs, it’s time for rural carriers to develop and execute a strategy around IMS and VoLTE.

“Most of them will tell you the pain point is cost and then concern about how do you make smart decisions to transition,” he said. “You need an IMS core and it’s not cheap. You’re not going to have a fallback from 4G LTE. The smaller carriers, if they want to have a roaming relationship and receive and operate with new customers coming into their market, they’re going to have to be compatible with the devices that the consumers are going to be carrying.”

Berry continued, emphasizing the need for strategically approach VoLTE investments with a long-term eye on shifting to 5G in the most efficient way possible. “Depending on the type of decisions you make on your IMS core and your built out and your RAN, you can build it so maybe you don’t have to do an equipment upgrade. Maybe you can do a software download.”

To 5G, Berry weighed in on whether the demand for 5G-type services in rural America can create the return necessary to justify the investment by rural carriers. He noted that while the same capacity crunch driving metro investment isn’t necessarily a major problem in rural areas, the need for internet of things-type services, a primary 5G use case, are needed.

“Yes, 5G is going to be important for rural America. It’ll be awhile before you see a true 5G network deployed ubiquitously in rural America. It’s sort of a beauty is in the eye of the beholder. In this case, it’s what does the consumer think is beautiful. Some people will tell you 5G is the be all and end all. In urban and suburban America, they’ve got to get to the capacity requirements. In rural America you have to have those same type of services. For example, how are you going to do precision agriculture in rural America if you don’t have the constant access to connectivity for all these devices?”



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