Most Americans now carry a smartphone. Just over 70 percent of mobile phones in use today are smartphones, and around 90 percent of the phones sold are smartphones, so the old-fashioned flip phone will soon be a distant memory. These smartphones are essentially miniature computers that we carry around in our pockets and purses, and we increasingly rely on them to keep on top of all the many things we have to do in our busy lives. They do so much that our more basic mobile phones of the past could only dream of – it’s no wonder some have suggested we call these phones not just smartphones but superphones!
So much of what these phones are capable of resides in the phones themselves – the computing power that runs the software, the cameras that take ever-better pictures, the storage that holds our music and photos, and so on. And then the apps that come with the phone and those that we install bring the hardware to life by letting us edit our pictures, order taxis, browse the web, watch our favorite movies and TV shows, and more. But there’s a critical component that’s easy to overlook because so often it just works: the network.
As we find ourselves well into the 4G LTE era, it’s as important as ever that the networks that power these devices and the apps they run be as smart as the phones themselves.
A smart network is one that doesn’t just nominally cover an area, but provides you with the more localized connectivity you need to get the job done, whether deep inside a building or during a major event at a crowded stadium. The next phase of network technology is not about broad coverage, but about the details.
Network technologists often use the term “heterogeneous networks,” or “hetnets” for short, to describe what will happen in this next phase. Whereas in the past the vast majority of network coverage was provided by “macro” cells, where a single cell tower covered wide areas, the next stage will be about providing coverage in a much more localized way, either to fill in gaps in coverage or to provide greater capacity in very high traffic areas. Some carriers have used Wi-Fi in some of these areas, and that can provide a fix, but Wi-Fi also tends to get overwhelmed easily by high traffic. A longer-term solution is to deploy “small cells” and another technology known as a distributed antenna system (DAS) to serve these areas.
Under either of these approaches, carriers deploy smaller cell sites in focused areas to provide increased capacity or better coverage. A truly smart network will mix these various approaches in the appropriate way and then install intelligence in the network to coordinate these different technologies and pieces of infrastructure to deliver the service experience customers expect. And the great thing about this approach is that it keeps you on the cellular network, with all the features and functionality it offers, meaning that in addition to accessing the data network, you can send and receive calls and text messages.
Without such smart networks, no matter how smart our phones are, they’re only going to be able to do a fraction of what they’re capable of. Good connectivity is like oxygen to these devices. As such, if you’re making decisions for your family or your company about which network to use, you’ll want to be sure that you’re choosing a smart network to go with your smartphone.
About Jan Dawson:
Jan Dawson is Founder and Chief Analyst of Jackdaw Research, an advisory firm focused on the consumer technology industry, and works with many of the world's largest technology companies. He was previously a telecoms and technology analyst at Ovum for 13 years.
Any views or opinions presented in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Verizon Wireless.