LTE interest gathering steam

It’s been a busy summer for the LTE crowd, with the technology gaining some considerable traction among early adopters in Europe, Japan and the US, and all eyes on 2010 as the year Long Term Evolution goes commercial.

James Middleton

September 21, 2009

5 Min Read
LTE interest gathering steam
LTE picking up steam

It’s been a busy summer for the LTE crowd, with the technology gaining some considerable traction among early adopters in Europe, Japan and the US, and all eyes on 2010 as the year Long Term Evolution goes commercial.

US carrier Verizon Wireless was first out of the gates in mid-August, with the announcement that it had completed its first successful LTE data calls in Boston and Seattle using the 3GPP Release 8 standard in 700MHz spectrum. The data calls showcased streaming video, file uploads and downloads, web browsing and VoIP. Verizon, which is shifting its 4G strategy to LTE from a 3G rollout based on 1x EV-DO, has ten LTE cell sites up and running in700MHz spectrum in both Boston and Seattle acting as a test bed to help Verizon understand how to best prepare cell sites and how to add the technology to its network.

To this end, the company could do worse than pay attention to exiting infrastructure vendor Nortel, which recently teamed up with Korean manufacturer and sometime partner LG to demonstrate a 3GPP standards compliant data handover between a LTE network and a CDMA network. The demo, which took place at Nortel’s R&D centre in Ottawa, Canada, showed that user activities like video downloads, web surfing, and VoIP calls can be maintained when a mobile data user moves between LTE and CDMA coverage zones.

Nortel and LG said that initial LTE networks will co-exist with existing CDMA networks for some time, as users migrate over to the 4G networks, so inter-technology handover will allow mobile users to move between LTE and CDMA networks without losing data connectivity. This means that operators can run these networks concurrently without impacting services.

Larry Murat, vice president of LTE R&D, Nortel. “Although CDMA networks will remain the primary networks for many years to come, LTE will become a key piece of the networking puzzle as early as next year.”

Verizon said it expects to commercially launch LTE in up to 30 markets in 2010, covering 100 million people, with an eye to full nationwide coverage in 2013. This vision is shared by second-placed Japanese operator KDDI, which in August tapped Motorola and NEC to build its LTE network, with an eye to launching commercial services in late 2012.

It’s fair to say that the dust settled on the mobile broadband technology wars in 2008, with 3GPPP systems such as HSPA and LTE the clear winners, and 3GPP2 systems such as EV-DO and Ultra Mobile Broadband the clear losers. Mike Roberts, principal analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media, and author of the Future Mobile Broadband: 3rd Edition report, notes that Verizon’s decision to deploy LTE effectively killed off UMB and made LTE the de facto evolution of EV-DO systems.

A case in point is US operator MetroPCS’ recent commitment to roll out LTE in 2010. Verizon may have been thought to have driven the final nail into the coffin of CDMA, but it looks like there are more to come. The fifth biggest mobile operator in the US announced plans to migrate to LTE for its 4G strategy, with the intention of launching commercial services in the second half of 2010.

But while LTE cemented its position as the top next-generation mobile broadband system, WiMAX is still standing, albeit with a more narrow focus on bringing broadband to emerging markets.

KDDI is another 1xEV-DO carrier making the jump to LTE, but it is also hedging its bets on 4G as a major investor in Japanese mobile WiMAX licensee UQ Communications, which has an aggressive WIMAX rollout schedule. UQ has set itself a target of more than 90 per cent population coverage nationwide by the end of its 2012 fiscal year (31 March 2013). By that time, the company says it will have 1,161 cities covered through 38,000 base stations, including 19,000 indoor base stations or femtocells.

KDDI is deploying its LTE network in both the 1.5GHz and 800MHz bands. The company intends to offer commercial LTE services by December 2012 following a series of trials scheduled to begin in mid 2010. The carrier has said it plans to have a national broadband mobile phone service covering 96.5 per cent of Japan by the end of 2014.

Over in Europe, meanwhile, Deutsche Telekom-owned T-Mobile has unveiled what it claims is the world’s first multi-user LTE test network “with mobility” in the Austrian city of Innsbruck. The German incumbent carrier worked with Chinese vendor Huawei to establish the network. Austria is at the leading edge of European mobile data usage, with market leader Mobilkom Austria deriving one third of its revenues from mobile broadband services.

T-Mobile claimed its deployment, which uses the carrier’s 3G network as an infrastructure base, is the largest test network in Europe. It spans 60 cells and has been running since the beginning of July. The company said that the trial network is designed to gather user feedback as well as to test the performance and robustness of the technology, although it did not say how many users are participating in the trial. T-Mobile said it is using new NGMN devices as part of the text network, which are capable of 50Mbps in both up- and downlink. Trial services include high speed file transfer and high quality video on demand.

But Informa’s Roberts warns on the effects of the global downturn, which have boosted HSPA+ but slowed LTE, with virtually all major mobile operators vocal in their support of LTE, but also quietly admitting that the downturn and other factors have delayed their LTE rollout schedules by several years. “WCDMA/HSPA operators are now focusing more on HSPA+ upgrades, which will bring major improvements in capacity and data speeds, at a much lower cost than deploying LTE,” Roberts says.

Informa Telecoms & Media forecasts that by the end of 2013 3GPP systems will account for 72 per cent of global mobile broadband subscribers, 3GPP2 systems for 22 per cent and WiMAX 6 per cent.

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James Middleton

James Middleton is managing editor of | Follow him @telecomsjames

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