Acclaimed by many as the future of telecommunications, Long Term Evolution (LTE) is increasingly becoming the most attractive option for mobile network operators.
Assessing recent LTE developments from a South African perspective, Thiagesapillai Anpan, vice president for the Vodacom Group at Ericsson South Africa, explains why the standard's strong heritage, growing support base and easily adopted evolutionary path are making it the first choice for so many.
China Mobile's announcement earlier this year that it would join mobile communications giants, Verizon and Vodafone, in their LTE trial was yet another exciting endorsement of the 4G mobile broadband standard.
The company, which, together with China Unicom, has also recently signed GSM/EDGE expansion framework agreements with Ericsson for $1,5-billion, is already the world's biggest mobile operator in terms of subscriber numbers and its embracing of LTE is a reflection of the standard's growing attractiveness. Ericsson is the operators preferred vendor and the LTE trial should begin in the third quarter of 2008.
The three-way operator trial is focussing on both the frequency-division duplex (FDD) and time-division duplex (TDD) varieties of the LTE standard. As well as evaluating the performance of LTE with different spectrum types, the trial is confirming the potential interoperability of different LTE systems. This raises the exciting prospect of seamless global roaming between operators and, eventually, the end of the CDMA versus GSM distinction. As several analysts have already observed, 4G LTE looks set to become the common bond that will unite mobile networks globally.
LTE is emerging as the dominant next-generation broadband wireless technology and this is reflected in the growing support it is attracting from the world's largest mobile operators. Why is the standard increasingly being viewed as the de facto 4G technology?
As consumers demand ever more bandwidth-intensive applications and genuinely 'untethered' mobility, performance is naturally, a decisive factor. LTE is potentially capable of up to 100Mbps download and 50Mbps upload per cell as well as of delivering latencies of as little as 5ms (for small IP packets) for each 20MHz of spectrum available. LTE can also handle up to 200 simultaneous users per 5MHz slice of spectrum.
The near finalising of the LTE specifications by the Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) has also lent even greater impetus to LTE's emergence as the strongest 4G alternative. LTE will be officially included in the upcoming 3GPP Release 8, which is expected to be completed and 'frozen' before the end of this year.
LTE is on track and real. Ericsson has been working closely with the 3GPP standards boards and has already shown that the standard is ready with the unveiling of the first LTE-capable platform, the M700 series, in April this year.
As its name implies, Long Term Evolution allows network operators to continue to build on the firm foundation and strong heritage of the proven HSPA platform. Many are finding LTE's clearly defined and easily adopted migratory path a compelling enough reason in itself, since the standard promises a less disruptive, incremental evolution to an all-IP mobile broadband network, based on existing, proven technologies.
The first LTE networks will be available in 2010 and widespread LTE deployment will begin in 2012. This incremental evolution is an ideal roadmap for South African operators that are still developing their 3G services and keen to manage costs and build demand using the various "pre-4G" technologies and products, like data-centric laptop modems, that are scheduled to become available in the interim.
LTE offers South African operators numerous technological and economical advantages, but what about the consumer, since 4G is also about meeting their needs? Well, a lot of current research suggests that mobile broadband customers want a cost-effective and common experience, using any device, anywhere in the world.
So, in the end, the interoperability of different LTE systems may well prove to be the main reason for embracing the standard since it offers operators a unique opportunity to align themselves to a unified, compatible 4G technology.