Good Days for LTE as the 4G Platform Wars Heat Up

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The announcement is short on specifics, but the main point -- that Verizon Wireless has tabbed Long Term Evolution (LTE) for its 4G infrastructure -- is clear. The joint owners of the company -- Vodafone and Verizon -- say that there will be trials next year. Suppliers will include Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson, Motorola, Nokia-Siemens and Nortel.


The release treads carefully when discussing devices: It says that discussions have expanded beyond traditional suppliers to include consumer electronics companies, since wireless functionality will embedded in non-traditional devices. However, it names none of these companies.


The lines between cellular and wireless -- mostly Wi-Fi -- are blurring. For instance, cellular provider Sprint Nextel was a tremendous proponent of WiMax until the company and its investors got cold feet. There also are creative ways for the technologies to work together in a manner that accentuates the advantages of each. Cellular has more ubiquitous coverage and is supported by established service providers, while WiMax is less expensive and has greater capacity. Ultra mobile broadband (UMB) is another post 4G wireless platform.


It's been a good month for LTE. Two weeks ago, the GSM Association settled on the technology as the successor to High Speed Packet Access (HSPA) 3G technology. This PC World story says that Global System for Mobile communication (GSM)-based carriers are uniformly backing LTE and that NTT DoCoMo, a carrier in Japan, could be the first to widely use the technology. The platform is referred to in the piece by the more descriptive nickname of "Super G."


This week, Juniper Research released a study that predicts that about 24 million people will use LTE by 2012 after it becomes commercialized two years earlier. The goals for the technology include downlink and uplink rates of 100 Mbps and 50 Mbps, respectively, reduced latency, increased spectral efficiency and operation in both the time Division Duplex (TDD) and Frequency Division Duplex (FDD) domains.


LTE isn't the only player scoring wins, however. In September, a group of apparently related small companies -- Pine Cellular, Pine Telephone and the Choctaw Electric Cooperative -- signed with Nortel to provide WiMax services to rural areas of southeastern Oklahoma. This is but one example of many deployments. This ComputerWeekly story details research released by Maravedis that says in the third quarter of 2007, 58 percent of WiMax networks worldwide are fully commercialized and only 18 percent are trial-only. It does not appear to be a strictly apples-to-apples comparison.


This Telecompetitor analysis of Verizon Wireless's move focuses more on its impact on the cable industry than what it means for the dog fight between cellular companies. The bottom line, the writer says, is that the move to faster LTE service will accelerate people's tendency to forego wireline services altogether. That's clearly bad news for the cable industry, which is behind the telcos in the wireless game. Ownership or strong partnerships exist between wired telcos and cellular companies, while the cable industry may have to resort to buying wireless players to keep pace.


The bottom line is that service providers and vendors are working very hard on at least three advanced platforms. While the jury still is out on which will win, there is no denying that LTE has enjoyed a good autumn.