Monday, May 23, 2011

LTE: On the path of wireless broadband

LTE is the latest mobile wireless standard being widely adopted in cellular network upgrades.  LTE (formally, the 3GPP Long Term Evolution standard), while often marketed as "4G", is really more of a stepping stone towards LTE advanced, which will meet all of the 4G standards for high speed, high capacity, mobile telephone networks.
Last week, during LTE World Summit 2011, there were a number of reports on the roll out of the new standard. Sweden's Ericsson, an early adopter of LTE (in 2009), continued it's general support of the standard, although noting that assuring interoperability with other networks and having a IP infrastructure to handle the higher loads in place before opening markets were critical to success.  Ericsson is also planning to build on its experience in the U.S. market, where adoption of LTE is being pushed by Verizon and AT&T.
Meanwhile, Verizon announced its expansion of LTE coverage to nine additional market, bringing its current coverage to a total of 55 markets in the U.S. Verizon's chief technical officer, David Small, says their goal is to bring 4G LTE to their current 3G coverage area by the end of 2013.  He indicated that current implementation is providing download speeds between 5-12 Mbs, with 2-5 Mbs speeds on the uplink, comparable to most cable modem networks (but well below the 4G promise of up to 1 Gbs).
AT&T, which has lagged in the actual introduction of LTE, did provide a demo of their LTE network, which they say will be significantly faster than Verizon's, and seven times faster than its current high speed network (HSPA).  During the demo, download speeds reached 28.7 Mbs, with upload speeds of 10.4 Mbs, although engineers acknowledged that actual consumer speeds are likely to be lower, particularly once cell towers reach capacity.  While AT&T has not yet officially set a date for the introduction of its LTE network, a June launch is widely expected.  Initial rumors suggested the introduction was to be tied to the introduction of Apple's iPhone 5, which would be LTE-compatible.  However, delays in LTE chipset availability is said to likely delay the introduction of the iPhone 5, with Apple offering a tweaked iPhone 4S in June instead.

The expansion and introduction of LTE and subsequent true 4G networks won't do much in terms of enhancing telephony and voice services, but will support further expansion of data-heavy mobile systems and services, such as video and interactive gaming.  The big question remaining, though, is how data-driven services are to be priced, as the expansion of tablets and smartphones have led some carriers to impose new pricing schemes based on levels of data usage, rather than the older "unlimited" plans.  Too heavy a "per-bit" pricing level might drive users back to land-line based networks.

Sources: "Arun with a View,"
"Verizon Wireless expands into nine additional markets,"
"AT&T looks to outpace Verizon with 28.7 Mbs LTE network demo,"

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