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By Adrian O’Connor, CEO, Benetel Ltd

The way in which the mobile communications sector has evolved over the decades has been truly fascinating to watch. At first, communication was totally reliant on analog signals and only voice services could be supported. As we moved from the 1980s into the 1990s, there was a shift into the digital domain. This improved voice quality and also allowed initial data-oriented services (like text messaging) to be benefitted from. The popularity of handsets subsequently began to ramp up dramatically in the years that followed. Next came mechanisms for providing basic Internet access. These would be enhanced greatly after the advent of 3G, with more spectrum allocated, higher data rates supported and advances in the underlying engineering being witnessed.

At the core/backhaul, things were changing too, as network infrastructure migrated to being fully IP-based. This gave operators much more scope for introducing all sorts of compelling services that would capture subscribers’ imagination. It was still predominantly the same equipment manufacturers who were producing the hardware on which networks were built though. This didn’t really change throughout the 2G, 2.5G or 3G eras. Only now, well into the 4G age, have operators looked to break away from this dependency and investigate what the alternatives are.

Now there are almost 6 billion mobile subscribers worldwide, and the smartphone is considered to be an essential item in most peoples’ day-to-day lives – with a significant percentage of our waking hours spent using one. The breadth of activities that can now be carried out through connecting to a mobile network is staggering – streaming movies, downloading music, taking video calls, playing online games and even entering in augmented reality scenarios, are just a few of the many high bandwidth multimedia examples that are commonplace today. And there is, of course, potential to go way beyond this in the years ahead, as next generation infrastructure gets rolled out.

When Benetel was originally founded, back in 2001, it was a design services company – taking on various different customer projects from telecom clients. Before long we realized that there was a well-defined path via which the company could progress, if we fully focused our attention on small cells – where it was clear there would be growing potential, as each new mobile generation was calling for greater coverage density so as to keep up with ceaseless increases in demand. Since then we have been devoted to this market segment, developing specialist skills here and introducing a series of pioneering innovations for radio access networks (with solutions for both outdoor and indoor deployment). We’ve also partnered with other key players within the supply chain in order to become part of valuable fronthaul ecosystems.

As a team, we are fully prepared for what the next phase in the history of the mobile sector has in store. This won’t just be in terms of the technological challenges currently being set by 5G, but also how the commercial landscape is going to fundamentally alter too. Widespread network virtualization and the emergence of open interface standards will mean that new business models must be explored, so that numerous previously unserved vertical markets can be addressed. The dominance of established equipment manufacturers will start to be questioned further and opportunities are certain to open up for innovatively-minded companies.