Archive for February, 2012


Monday, February 27th, 2012


The announcement this week that Deutsche Telekom’s T-Mobile USA unit plans to launch LTE services in most of the 50 largest metropolitan markets over the next two years means that all four leading US mobile operators will have commercial LTE networks up and running by the end of 2013, several years ahead of earlier expectations.

After lagging well behind their European counterparts in the rollout of 3G services in the early 2000s, US network operators, led by Verizon Wireless, the joint venture between Verizon Communications and Britain’s Vodafone group, have led the rollout of commercial LTE services, spending billions of dollars in recent years on upgrading network infrastructure.

For their part, the major handset makers are rushing to deliver LTE smartphones, remembering perhaps that Motorola’s delay in offering 3G handsets during the last technology transition was a major factor in its subsequent crisis and split-up.

Since Verizon Wireless, the largest US mobile operator by subscriber numbers, first launched its LTE network at the end of 2010, its rivals including AT&T Mobility and Sprint Nextel have accelerated their own LTE rollout plans in a helter-skelter effort to retain customers and remain competitive.

For example, Sprint Nextel, which currently resells Clearwire’s WiMax 4G service, is investing heavily in an infrastructure upgrade project called “Network Vision” that will enable the third-largest US wireless carrier to launch LTE services in selected markets this summer.


Clearwire itself has also announced plans to deploy LTE technology alongside its existing WiMax network and offer the service on a wholesale basis to regional network operators and new industry entrants.

However, the precise timing of the US network operators’ LTE announcements has been driven in part by their particular requirements and spectrum holdings. Verizon Wireless, for example, needed to move to LTE because its older 3G network, based on a technology called CDMA, was running out of steam.

Conversely, T-Mobile USA has been forced to rely on upgrades to its existing 3G network because it has lacked the spectrum to move to LTE – a problem partly resolved by the spectrum it will receive from AT&T after the collapse of its $39bn takeover bid for T-Mobile at the end of last year.

Nevertheless, the rapid shift to LTE in the US primarily reflects the accelerating adoption of smartphones and the emergence of the mobile internet as a real alternative to desktop internet access.

As AT&T’s network problems in the wake of the launch of Apple’s iPhone in mid-2007 demonstrated, the US carriers needed to upgrade their networks to cope with the mobile data tsunami unleashed by advanced smartphones including those powered by Google’s Android operating system.

Unlike the first generation of smartphones pioneered by companies like Nokia and Research In Motion, the latest smartphones come with easy-to-use touch screens, super-fast processors, advanced mobile browsers and powerful third-party ‘apps’ which are fuelling a surge in mobile data usage.

Underscoring this, Ericsson’s most recent traffic and market data report predicted that global mobile data traffic will grow by 10 times between now and 2016. In the US, the Federal Communications Commission has projected that the nation’s wireless carriers will face a 275 MHz “spectrum deficit” by 2014 if no new spectrum is opened up for use.

LTE technology, based on the same communications protocols as the internet, offers a partial solution to this conundrum because it uses scarce spectrum much more efficiently than older 2G and 3G technologies and therefore offers a mechanism for operators to accommodate much higher data loads. Looked at another way, LTE is a more cost effective mobile technology for data-heavy networks.

As Lyn Cantor, president of Tektronix Communications, which advises mobile operators on how to maximise network efficiency, notes: “The fact that carriers are losing money on the subscribers that are heavy data users is one of the key drivers of the move to LTE to create a scalable architecture that will drive down the delivery costs of data.”

What is already clear is that the shift in the market to LTE has already begun. A recent forecast from Juniper Research estimated that the number of LTE subscribers will reach 428m by 2016 with a surge in growth taking place in 2012.

“This year promises to be a watershed for LTE, as some wireless operators take stock of the economic and competitive environment in their respective markets and consider their rollout options. It may no longer be a case of ‘if’ an operator will launch an LTE network, but the ‘when’ is a different story,” says Mr Cantor.

Meanwhile, LTE pioneers like Verizon Wireless are already looking to migrate mobile voice calls over to their new networks using a technology called Voice over LTE or VoLTE. That will enable them to free up underutilised 2G and 3G spectrum and reuse that for the next generation of LTE called LTE Advanced, which is projected to deliver average download speeds in the 100 megabits per second range, opening up a whole new set of opportunities for mobile operators.


Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha