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Evolving to LTE

Change is always an inevitable part of a development process because it is the only way that things move forward. Cliché as it may seem but the statement best describes what LTE is experiencing right now, starting a few years ago. When LTE was proposed to the market by NTT DoCoMo of Japan in 2004, not everybody agreed that it would be the next international standard of mobile computing. But in 2008, LTE has its break in the telecom world when Ericsson demonstrated the world’s first end-to-end mobile call enabled by LTE on a small handheld device, and Motorola demonstrated an LTE RAN standard compliant eNodeB and LTE chipset at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain. From then on there has been no looking back.

Recently the technology has captured the headlines again as it continues to increase it footprint across the globe. A report published by the GSA (Global mobile Suppliers Association) shows that LTE is happening all around the world. Mobile phones, computer and consumer electronic devices including notebooks, netbooks, UMPCs, tablets, gaming devices, cameras, PMPs and more will have embedded LTE connectivity. IT has also been predicted that there will be huge growth in M2M apps enabled by LTE. The LTE standard supports hand-over and roaming to existing mobile networks and most devices have ubiquitous MBB coverage.

The Evolution to LTE report confirms that currently there are about 208 operators that are now investing in LTE. Compared to last year, it has significantly increased by 98 operators. The report also highlights significant LTE progress in a number of countries and territories. It highlights deployment involving LTE systems whether they are being deployed or being planned to be implemented. The figure on this note shows that this increased compared to the same period last year. The report confirms 154 firm LTE network deployments are in progress or planned in 60 countries, including 20 networks which have been commercially launched. A further 54 operators in 20 more countries are engaged in LTE technology pilot trials or tests, ahead of formal commitments to deploy networks for commercial service (these are referred to as pre-commitment trials). Taken together, it means that 208 operators in 80 countries are now investing in LTE. The report covers both LTE FDD and LTE TDD systems.

The 60 countries and territories having firm LTE network commitments are Andorra, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong S.A.R., Hungary, India, Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jersey, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Latvia, Libya, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Monaco, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore , South Africa, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Tunisia, UAE, UK, Uruguay, USA and Uzbekistan. It also shows countries where LTE networks are being launched namely Austria, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Lithuania, Norway, Philippines, Poland, Sweden, USA and Uzbekistan.

Based on the data, it proves that LTE is the fastest developing mobile system technology since it was announce or proposed to the market. And based on this the GSA has raised its market outlook and now anticipates that at least 81 LTE networks will be in commercial service by end 2012. The reports also mentions that growing international interest and acceptance of LTE TDD are confirmed and numerous studies, trials and deployments are still underway or planned in countries like Australia, China, India and other Asian markets, Europe, the Middle East, Russia and North America.

It is also reflected that LTE is not only increasing its footprint but it is also evolving as well in terms of its modality and its capabilities. A strong momentum has been seen on reports that are gearing towards deploying LTE in re-farmed spectrum, particularly 1800 MHz (i.e. LTE1800).

In relation to being the fastest technology developed and deployed, recent reports by ABI Research shows that subscriptions to the technology are racing beyond expectations and it points to strong demand for fast wireless data connections. It shows that during the first quarter of 2011, Verizon Wireless activated half a million LTE-enabled devices, while Japan’s NTT DoCoMo scored 25,000 LTE subscriptions. They’ve added that LTE adoption will take off more rapidly than expected and more operators are announcing network launches and existing players are widening network coverage. It has been as well noted that as mobile data speeds increase, the idea of replacing fixed lines with wireless connections becomes more popular and a current trend for consumers. ABI also highlighted and forecasted that North America will reach 387 million mobile subscriptions by 2016, from which close to 85 million are potentially LTE-enabled subscriptions.

In terms of devices, GSA reports show that 42 manufacturers have announced 137 LTE-enabled user devices, about a 40% growth in the number of products launched in the first 3 months of 2011. Most devices are designed to ensure ubiquitous mobile broadband coverage by supporting existing mobile network technologies – i.e. dual mode working. The report indicates each device where complementary modes are supported, e.g. HSPA, HSPA+ and/or EV-DO and TD-SCDMA as appropriate, in addition to the LTE mode.

Here is the breakdown of LTE devices as of June 2011 compared to the figures reflected for March 2011 the figures in brackets:

  • Modules = 27 (22)
  • M-Tablets = 8 (7)
  • Notebooks/netbooks = 7 (6)
  • PC Cards = 2 (1)
  • Smartphones = 9 (6)
  • Routers (including personal hotspots) = 45 (28)
  • USB modems/dongles = 39 (28)

For the past few months, LTE has been capturing the headlines, showing that deployments are underway for us to move toward the next generation of computing: LTE. From operators’ deployment of infrastructure to manufacturers’ data of devices being manufactured and geared toward the new technology, it is clear that everything is pointing to LTE as the wireless telecommunications industry continues to experience robust growth moving into the second half of 2011. The global mobile industry has now passed the 5.5 billion subscriptions milestone, according to the report. And although some markets may have reached saturated penetration levels, new wireless technologies are expected to push subscriptions even higher and we can be assured LTE is one of the technologies leading us there.