LTE, considered by many analysts to be the next big wave in 4G wireless technology, is a modulation technique that is the latest variation of GSM technology. Its developers at the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) dubbed it “Long Term Evolution” because they view it as the natural progression of High-Speed Packet Access (HSPA), the GSM technology that is currently used by carriers such as AT&T to deliver 3G mobile broadband.
LTE speeds have been demonstrated in the neighborhood of 100 Mbps in both the downlink and uplink from a mobile device, fast enough to alter the way we think of mobile devices and the way networks are structured. However, it should be noted that recent, more conservative estimates put the downlink number closer to 20 Mbps, which is still pretty fast.
LTE is scheduled for its first commercial deployments this year, with major technical deployments have already been launched in Japan and the US. In the Middle East, operators such as Saudi Telecom Company and Etisalat in the UAE are running trials, with transition to 4G services expected to start slowly by the end of year or early next year.
“LTE is a matter of when, not if. The telecom industry is moving from a circuit-based topology to a packet-based one. Operators are looking to scale and at the same time de-cost their networks. LTE is a perfect solution, which will help them to offload data from expensive spectrum, freeing up network capacity and offer advanced applications such as video,” says Noel Kirkaldy, Director of Solutions Marketing, Motorola.
Kai Sahala, Head of Mobile Broadband Marketing, Network Systems at Nokia Siemens Networks, offers another perspective : “ In the era of mobile broadband where many countries in the MENA region are fast approaching saturation levels of mature mobile market, the growth for the region’s operators will now come from advanced mobile data service offerings rather than basic connectivity. There is a need for a system that could handle mobile broadband and later also legacy services with low overall costs per bit and smoothly integrates in 3GPP based infrastructure. The way forward for mobile connectivity is LTE.”
Another reason for operators to make the switch to LTE is that it is the de-facto evolution path of the CDMA EVDO, TD-SCDMA and 3G mobile standards that is based on a full flat IP architecture and is optimized for data and multimedia traffic. The primary reason to move ahead rapidly with LTE deployment plans is that user demand for mobile broadband is picking up and more capacity and speed is required for growing traffic, and LTE is the most efficient technology around. “LTE is the first technology that is one, common agreed mainstream technology evolution from any existing standard such as CDMA, GSM, WCDMA – or WiMAX. Past technologies did not have this extensive level of support. As a result, products will be broadly available, which will drive adoption,” says Sahala.
Amr El Leithy, President-Middle East & Africa, Alcatel-Lucent, says, operators’ interest in LTE is accelerating based on the new services and applications that the solution provides. “This differs substantially from the situation we saw with 3G, mainly because the industry is aligning around a single next-generation wireless technology standard (LTE) for the first time in history. This is providing a much larger and more consistent foundation for infrastructure and device vendors alike, which will almost certainly speed up the introduction of services. In fact, we are testing our solution with several key device partners now in support of our customer engagements, and believe that both infrastructure and devices will be ready in time to support customer timelines. We also expect LTE devices to find their way into all sorts of applications – many of which we never considered before.”
While it is far too early to predict how successful LTE will be in the enterprise market, recent trends indicate that demand for the technology could get a significant boost as businesses demand ever-faster mobile broadband access. “The promise of LTE for the enterprise market is FMC (Fixed-Mobile Convergence) providing users with an experience similar to that of fixed line broadband both in terms of bandwidth and latency, meaning applications that can be delivered on a fixed line will soon be available over the air and full mobility with LTE,” says Kirkaldy.
Sahala agrees that being an efficient broadband technology, LTE can provide a great platform for connectivity and mobility regardless of location “This offers enterprises a new way of doing business without the limits of location – enterprise connectivity with practically all applications in use anywhere anytime provides endless possibilities for working.”
How will LTE stack up against WiMax, while is making steady progress? While LTE does promise greater data speeds, they have yet to be achieved by live or trial networks, whereas mobile WiMAX is now a tried and tested standard. “These are both competing yet similar technologies based on OFDM. We believe both technologies can co-exist,” says Kirkaldy.
Before making any comparisons between LTE and WiMAX, it’s important to note a key distinction: WiMAX is able to deliver high-speed data today, while LTE is not. Thus, it’s difficult to compare a technology that is already up and running with a technology that is still in the oven.
Industry analysts say the big issue would not be which technology delivers faster data speeds but which one is the most widely available. LTE currently has an advantage over WiMAX in that it’s designed to be compatible with both Time Division Duplex (TDD) and Frequency Division Duplex (FDD), the two main legacy techniques for dividing downlink and uplink communication channels on the same transmission platform. WiMAX, on the other hand, is only compatible with TDD so far.
“Both technologies coexist and will do so also in the future but LTE will be the mainstream technology going forward. LTE is a common agreed evolution path to all technologies including WiMAX – since LTE is a common technology for both FDD bands – including those used by CDMA, GSM and WCDMA/HSPA – as well as TDD bands, currently either unused or used by WiMAX. This means that the economies of scale are there for LTE,” sums up Sahala.