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LTE comes into focus

Long Term Evolution (LTE)-based services are garnering a lot of attention in the mobile broadband industry, despite the fact that they are at least two years away from being deployed.

Technically speaking, LTE is a modulation technique that is the latest variation of Global Systems for Mobile Communications (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.

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. For instance, a recent survey conducted by market research firm Chadwick Martin Bailey reports that nearly half of all enterprises currently use 3G cellular services, and that more than one-third plan on using WiMAX technology within the next year.

The major reasons for deploying mobile enterprise applications, the survey finds, include increased employee productivity and increased employee availability, as more than 80% of corporate users list both of them as key reasons for using more mobile technologies. If demand for increased mobile broadband speeds continues to be strong, LTE could be in a good position to compete with WiMAX as a widely deployed mobile broadband standard when it comes to market in 2010.

Although LTE-enabled devices won’t hit the markets for at least two years after WiMAX-enabled devices, LTE does have some key advantages that could help bring it up to speed with rival technologies such as WiMAX and the CDMA-based Ultra Mobile Broadband.

“LTE (Long Term Evolution) is the preferred development path of GSM/W-CDMA/HSPA networks currently deployed, and an option for evolution of CDMA networks. This essential evolution will enable networks to offer the higher data throughput to mobile terminals needed in order to deliver new and advanced mobile broadband services. The primary objectives of this network evolution are to provide these services with a quality at least equivalent to what an end-user can enjoy today using their fixed broadband access at home, and to reduce operational expenses by means of introducing flat IP architecture,” says Alain Sanchez, Chief Marketing Officer for EMEA, Alcatel-Lucent.

“LTE will step alongside GSM and HSPA networks. LTE will be the common technology on which 3GPP and 3GPP2 (standards for multi-media delivery over 3rd generation, high-speed wireless networks) worlds converge. Nokia Siemens Networks is committed to be ready with its solution and is working with the broader industry to for deployment and driving uptake starting in 2010,” says Petri Moilanen, Head of Sales for MEA, Nokia Siemens Networks.

With the advent of LTE, industry experts carriers to change the way they price services, as LTE will enable them to sell more data a lower than today. “With LTE, we need to remember that we are talking about a completely new era in mobile communication.Before this becomes a reality, we need to examine a number of factors contributing to the overall ecosystem of the technology. Services and applications, terminals and handsets and finally the pricing strategy, are all major contributors to the success of this new age of mobile communications. Operators will have to look at the way this will affect their business model which will need to change,” says Ihab Ghattas, Assistant President – Middle East, Huawei Technologies.

Zhang Renjun, Senior Vice President of ZTE Corporation, offers another perspective: LTE system provides wireless access for broadband data, which is different from 2G/3G technology. Currently, LTE voice is VOIP which lets carriers consider a suitable voice charging policy. There are also other voice solutions such as SRVCC and CSFB (CS Fall Back). For CSFB, solution carriers may keep pricing the same as 2G/3G, however carriers may change their prices for other solutions.

The widespread adoption of LTE could also result in more manufacturers designing mobile devices that place more emphasis on video and data and less on voice. “Innovation within the wireless industry continues at a rapid pace. We certainly expect to see new capabilities, services and even device features become available that take advantage of not only faster networks such as LTE and HSPA+, but also evolutions in semiconductor technology and new developments in mobile software,” says Jay Srage, VP of Business Development, Qualcomm.

How will LTE stack up against WiMAX?

Before making any comparisons between LTE and WiMAX, says Golvin, 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 standards process.

Additionally, notes Gartner analyst Phil Redman, LTE shouldn’t be compared to WiMAX in its current incarnation. In all likelihood, he says, LTE will be deployed at around the time that WiMAX has upgraded to the 802.16m standard, which is expected to deliver download speeds of 100Mbps for mobile applications. From this perspective, LTE and WiMAX stack up very well against one another, since LTE is also expected to deliver peak download speeds of 100Mbps.

The big issue, then, might not be which technology delivers faster data speeds but which one is 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.

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