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China Mobile: Forerunner in synergized network development

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To alleviate pressure from continuous capacity expansion of the macro network, operators have turned to building one WLAN network after another. How should operators synergize the development of multiple networks that coexist? China Mobile Shandong provides the answer.

China Mobile is one of China’s and the world’s leading operators, with the largest number of subscribers globally. In the GSM era, its stable network, excellent voice service and superb customer service gave it the edge over its competition, lending a strong momentum to it in the GPRS/EDGE area. However in the 3G era, due to limitations of the whole industry chain for the TD-SCDMA network which it operates, it had not been able to exploit its advantages in network, branding and management prowess.

This posed great challenges to the China Mobile Group and its subsidiaries at the provincial level, and raised questions as to how it could break out of the limitations, and continue lead in mobile broadband.

Synergized development of four networks

To tap into the great potential of the mobile broadband market, operators used to promote 3G network cards to acquire subscribers quickly. While giving a huge boost to its data traffic, this approach failed to raise China Mobile’s revenue. According to Wang Jianzhou, Chairman of the Board of Directors for China Mobile, it was not enough to meet the increasingly growing user demand for data traffic via the existing GSM and TD-SCDMA networks. One of the feasible solutions to this was WLAN, an effective measure to offload wireless data traffic.

In 2010, the China Mobile Group decided on its strategy of supporting future network growth via the synchronized development of GSM, TD-SCDMA, TD-LTE and WLAN networks. It has been a common goal among the China Mobile Group and its provincial subsidiaries to leverage WLAN’s advantages in offloading big data traffic, not to mention its low cost, easy deployment and high speed, in order to provide higher-speed network experience for subscribers.

China Mobile Shandong is the vanguard of this strategy. As one of China’s developed eastern provinces, Shandong has seen its economy growing fast and user demand for data services becoming increasingly diversified and stronger. Given its high cost and lengthy construction cycle, it was obviously not practical for the 3G network alone to meet such strong demand. WLAN, as a good supplement, could effectively offload data traffic from GSM and TD-SCDMA networks to alleviate network pressure and provide high-bandwidth services for subscribers.

The two challenges of WLAN

As early as 2008, China Mobile had deployed Wi-Fi in some important cities. Yet, it still needed to work out practical approaches to give full play to WLAN and maximize its resource utilization.

How to leverage advantage in subscriber resource

How to leverage China Mobile’s huge subscriber base to the benefit of its WLAN network development has been an area of concern among China Mobile’s subsidiaries. China Mobile Shandong has a huge subscriber base using 3G network cards, with good network stickiness. This would be a perfectly good starting point for WLAN network, if it could attract such high-quality subscribers to the WLAN network, which would not only alleviate 3G network pressure, but also make room for potential 3G network subscribers. This was the reason why China Mobile Shandong adopted the strategy of utilizing its existing 3G network card subscriber base to develop WLAN as a supplement to 3G.

How to maximize network resource utilization

Back in 2008, China Mobile launched its “Wireless City” strategy and framed plans to develop WLAN subscribers independently. Yet, it failed to attract enough users and led to low network utilization, as to subscribe to WLAN, people needed to apply for new accounts and go through traditional portal authentication. They also could not switch smoothly between GSM/TD-SCDMA and WLAN.

Meanwhile, GSM/TD-SCDMA networks were getting increasingly overloaded, with frequent occurrence of congestion in hotspots. How to divert subscribers to WLAN network had become a big headache to China Mobile.

China Mobile Shandong realized that the inconvenient traditional way of accessing Wi-Fi and users’ ingrained habits deterred them from initiating the transfer. Only by accommodating the users’ habits and allowing them to transfer between TD-SCDMA and WLAN without any feeling of inconvenience and obstacle, could it spur the take-up of WLAN among users and divert traffic away from GSM/TD-SCDMA to WLAN. Allowing users to access its network in the simplest way became a top priority for China Mobile Shandong.

Unified authentication comes to the rescue

In 2010, China Mobile Shandong conducted rounds of competitive tests on numerous vendors’ solution offerings. Huawei SingleSDB’s UIM solution came out ahead in the race and was selected by China Mobile Shandong to realize unified authentication for TD-SCDMA and WLAN, so that users could experience both ubiquitous TD-SCDMA network services and high-speed Wi-Fi services.

TD-SCDMA + Wi-Fi

Targeting its existing 3G network card subscribers, China Mobile Shandong launched its TD + Wi-Fi package based upon Huawei’s UIM solution. With this package, subscribers need only upgrade its client-end software to access high-speed WLAN in Wi-Fi hotspots via their existing 3G network cards.

In Wi-Fi covered areas, WLAN network will be the automatic choice, instead of TD-SCDMA, giving subscribers higher speeds. For areas outside Wi-Fi coverage, the macro network, be it GSM or TD-SCDMA, will be the automatic choice, providing users with good coverage and continuous network services.

Using this automatic network transfer, WLAN perfectly complements high-coverage GSM/TD-SCDMA with its high speed, realizing the two goals of offloading traffic and improving network quality.

Seamless authentication

Compared to the old package, China Mobile Shandong’s new package offers additional Wi-Fi services at no extra cost, removing the tariff obstacle for subscribers.

Secondly, while accessing the WLAN network, subscribers need not go through the inconvenient portal authentication process by inputting user name and password. Instead, the UIM solution enables SIM authentication for subscribers and they need not be involved at all in the process, the same as using the 3G network. They can also access services in PS areas while they stay with WLAN, just like before.

The only difference in user experience is that they can feel the higher network speed. Based on this seamless transfer, China Mobile Shandong can now divert 3G subscribers to WLAN and increase its WLAN network utilization, boosting its confidence in developing wireless broadband.

Growing effect in traffic diversion

China Mobile has a very solid foundation for massive deployment of Wi-Fi hotspots, as it has well-established indoor coverage for its GSM/TD-SCDMA networks all over the country, and most of its resources can be shared by WLAN.

This is why China Mobile Shandong, after success with its pilots on UIM, was highly optimistic about the next step. Realizing that most data services were utilized indoors, the operator deployed Wi-Fi hotspots in the province, basically realizing full coverage in school campuses, office buildings, residential buildings and business hubs. Wi-Fi hotspots are becoming the major access points for data services and data traffic diversion is taking effect.

Prelude to synergized network development

With Huawei’s UIM based on SingleSDB platform, China Mobile Shandong has realized integration of its GSM, TD-SCDMA and WLAN networks, which effectively diverts data traffic, alleviates pressure on the network and provides high-speed data services to subscribers, giving a boost to its long-term network development.

In December 2010, at the fourth Mobile Internet International Seminar, Huang Xiaoqing, President of China Mobile Research Institute said: “China Mobile must offer a network of multiple accesses. That is why we have long been working on the integration of GSM, TD-SCDMA, TD-LTE and WLAN. With multiple network choices, subscribers could utilize the mainstream GSM and TD-SCDMA networks for voice services and LTE or WLAN for data. This not only meets user experiences demand, but also enables effective alternation of mobile communications resources and network.” As we can see, the China Mobile Group has set WLAN at a strategically equal position with GSM, TD-SCDMA and TD-LTE. Unified authentication and network integration will pave the way for the strategic initiative of synergized network development.

Huawei’s UIM, with its data integration edge, supports smooth evolution to SingleSDB. It lays a solid foundation for the integration development of subscriber data and thus for the synergized development of GSM, TD-SCDMA, TD-LTE and WLAN for China Mobile.

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