Methodical March Toward LTE Is Turning into a Sprint

Carl Weinschenk

The meeting of the wireless industry at the CTIA conference in Las Vegas is a good time to step back and recognize that the methodical march forward of LTE is becoming something of a fast jog and, soon, will be a sprint.

That’s the word from ABI Research. The firm said that the two forms of LTE – time-division duplex and frequency-division duplex (LTE-TDD and LTE-FDD) – will gain momentum between now and 2018.

The firm projects that LTE-FDD will enjoy a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 33 percent and cover 57 percent of the worldwide cellular footprint by the end of the study period. LTE-TDD will expand at a 43 percent CAGR, but top out at 52 percent coverage. The higher CAGR and smaller coverage is because LTE-TDD platforms are licensed in fewer markets. The press release also offers an overview of the spectrum being awarded in LTE auctions.

Perhaps the clearest sign that the industry truly has entered the world of full LTE deployment is a news note from CTIA 2013. Light Reading Mobile reports that Verizon Wireless may offer LTE-only devices by the end of 2014. The reason is the emergence of Voice Over LTE (VoLTE). Today’s LTE networks are data only, so 3G still is a must. Once voice also is carried by LTE, the need for the older network quickly recedes.

At that point, the rest of the 3G story will be a long goodbye:

A 3G phase-out would likely take years, however, as many customers are still currently on 3G phones. Wales said it will support 3G through the end of the decade and wants to ensure the best customer experience possible. That's why the first batch of single-mode LTE devices will likely not be smartphones.

The bottom line is that LTE is the new normal. TechHive very conveniently summed up its findings in the first paragraph of a story in which the carrier landscape was surveyed. The overall sense is that there is no lack of LTE:

For the second year in a row, AT&T's LTE service has proven to be the fastest in our survey across the United States. T-Mobile LTE appears to be spreading rapidly, and is pumping out high speeds. Verizon LTE is reasonably quick and easily the most pervasive, while Sprint LTE lacks speed in urban centers.

Other signs that LTE is reaching commodity status are not hard to spot. For instance, Sprint Nextel said in Las Vegas that it will roll devices that support LTE in three bands – including the 2.5 GHz band in which Clearwire plans to deploy LTE. The subtext of the announcement, of course, is that Sprint is trying to acquire Clearwire. That shouldn’t minimize the significance of the broad acceptance of LTE that the announcement suggests.



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