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Thanks to the seamless integration of LTE TDD with its GSM/UMTS networks, the Saudi Telecom Company (STC) has substantially enhanced both its mobile broadband (MBB) services and overall network efficiency, keeping the operator and its customers on the cutting edge.
In 2011, Saudi Arabia had more than 10 million MBB subscribers, with users of pure data services accounting for nearly 70%. Streaming video, P2P download, and Facebook have been the three most sought-after mobile Internet services, but all are both time- and resource-intensive, putting heavy strain on the network. Quality and stability are a must. Operators will need to do more than simply offer more bandwidth if they wish to improve network accessibility, video buffer times, and P2P download speeds, as users demand.
A 2010 survey showed that customer satisfaction with MBB in Saudi Arabia was rated at 2.72 (on a 5-point scale), with 70% of churned users yearning for higher Internet speeds and packages. With video services exploding across the Internet, LTE deployment had become a must for STC to complement the existing UMTS network. As for spectrum resources, the operator had two blocks of 40MHz and 12MHz at 2.3GHz at its disposal; the 40MHz continuous block proved ideal for LTE TDD deployment, enabling a network of great capability and efficiency.
STC plan is to use the LTE TDD as an HSPA+ supplement layer to accommodate higher throughput demand, with its GSM infrastructure continuing in service and developing in conjunction with LTE TDD, with all technologies upgraded as needed.
After evaluating the relevant solutions in terms of overall technical strength, network performance, comprehensiveness, and ease of evolution, STC adopted Huawei’s SingleRAN solution, which enables the operator to update its GSM hardware and upgrade its legacy UMTS network to HSPA+ with four 3G carriers, all during LTE TDD installation.
Thanks to SingleRAN, STC can share sites, cabinets, and transmission resources among all three networks, while GSM+UMTS or GSM+LTE TDD networks can also share baseband units (BBUs), reducing the site space, transmission resources consumed, power consumption, and CAPEX & OPEX. If STC ever deploys LTE FDD on 1.8GHz or 2.6GHz, only a software upgrade is needed for the BBUs, as GSM, UMTS, LTE TDD, and LTE FDD (if added) can share sites, cabinets, BBUs (where UMTS, LTE TDD, and LTE FDD networks share the main control boards), and transmission resources.
As for the LTE TDD RF elements, Huawei’s Radio Remote Unit (RRU) features four transmitters and four receivers (4T4R) and multicarrier architecture, which combine to ameliorate both network capacity and coverage considerably. Currently, STC only uses 20MHz of spectrum for its LTE TDD network, yet the maximum single-sector downlink rate exceeds 100Mbps. As users and traffic grow, the remaining 30MHz can be utilized as needed for multi-carrier base stations, which will elevate network capacity by 50%.
In conjunction with SingleRAN, Huawei's core network solution SingleEPC allows STC customers to access GSM, UMTS and LTE TDD networks simultaneously, reducing investment in the core network while improving network interoperability, while Huawei SingleOSS enables STC to effectively manage its GSM, UMTS, and LTE TDD networks concurrently, making for greatly reduced labor costs and improved overall upgrade efficiency.
STC’s LTE TDD network is currently focused on high-traffic zones, while its UMTS covers urban and some suburban areas, handling low-volume data and voice services. Its GSM network covers the entire country and provides voice and a few low-volume data services through GPRS and EDGE. This coverage enables those with multimode Wi-Fi devices or USB data cards to switch between network technologies as needed.
Since its commercial launch in September 2011, STC has been aggressively expanding its LTE network to cover all major cities and high-traffic zones. With its technologies seamlessly integrated, STC has dramatically improved its MBB services, giving credibility to the name it chose for its MBB brand, QuickNet.