What's LATE about LTE?

Metaratings
26 Oct 2010
00:00
Article

I spent a few days in Hong Kong last week, flirting with the might of Typhoon Megi which threatened to close down this dynamic city and the only means of escape – the airport. Hong Kong is one of those cities that is constantly changing and a place where new technology is not only accepted by the community it is embraced, nay, demanded.

In terms of wireless technology it is always at the leading edge (some would say bleeding edge), fueled by a very large and incredibly compact population and very competitive CSPs constantly trying to outdo each other to attract the remnants of an over-saturated market. Hong Kong is a microcosm that other markets should study if they want to get an advance view of what will happen in their own markets in due course.

The challenges facing CSPs here are not unique by any means but they seem, at times, to be insurmountable. For example, almost every customer facing element must be bilingual – Chinese and English. Customer service reps have to be able to respond in Cantonese (the local Chinese dialect), Mandarin and English. Bills, SMS pushes, correspondence and messaging has to be linked to the person’s language preference, etc. Although a highly transient prepaid customer base dominates, postpaid customers still generate the big dollars.

So it is no surprise that CEOs, like CSL's Joseph O’Konek, keep pushing for business transformation to achieve customer ‘nirvana’. The moment they stop offering new and innovative services or fail to keep customers happy, they lose them, in an instant. CSL is already deploying its LTE network but realizing early on that backward compatibility and total population coverage may be an issue, it opted for a dual-mode LTE and DC-HSPA+ network upgrade.

DC (Dual Cell) HSPA+, a standard under 3GPP Release 8, doubles the downlink speeds of HSPA by combining two 5-MHz carriers to create a 10-MHz channel, which means peak downlink speeds of 42 Mbps on its 21-Mbps HSPA+ network.

TelecomAsia reported that the object of deploying both LTE and DC-HSPA+ at the same time is to offer a fallback option for LTE that doesn’t result in a noticeable drop in connection quality – a surefire way of losing high value customers.

However, as is so often the case, even though the new network is fully functional there are very few devices available to take advantage of it. We are not just talking about handsets but modems and 'dongles' allowing connectivity for computing devices. It would be fair to presume that customers attracted to LTE, and presumably it's higher pricing structure, will primarily want to use smartphones on the new network and ones that will have the ability to fall back to the 3G/HSPA network if they lose LTE coverage. But those devices are not here yet and, for whatever reason, it doesn't seem that the major smartphone providers are rushing to fill the gap.

In view of the fact that over 30 LTE networks will be deployed by year-end around the globe, one wonders why phone makers, so concerned about keeping up with the Apples, are not concentrating their efforts on bringing out LTE smartphones to get a jump on the competition. Maybe it's a case of better LATE than never?

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