EV-DO Rev B: alive and loving it

25 Jun 2009

The rush to bring LTE to market in 2010 has been fast and furious, but despite the enthusiasm over next-gen mobile broadband, some cracks in the PR juggernaut are starting to show.

At least if you ask operators like T-Mobile International, which has already made clear its concerns about the ability of LTE to support voice services at circuit-level quality in an all-IP architecture (via its involvement in the VoLGA Forum, which seeks to develop specs that would enable LTE to leverage the Generic Access protocol instead of - or in addition to - IMS to serve its voice needs).

In May, T-Mobile\'s head of automation and tools, Tarek Salem, emphasized the need for LTE network gear to support the concept of Self-Organizing Networks (SON), which would enable networks to be self-configuring and self-optimizing.

Salem told Unstrung that SON tech is a must-have for operators trying to configure, optimize and manage at least three different networks: 2G, 3G and LTE. Automation not only reduces the headaches but also saves a bundle on opex.

But while vendors will be offering SON capabilities with their LTE gear, initial apps will be limited, and Salem maintains that it won\'t be good enough unless an LTE macro base station is as easy to install as a femtocell.

Whether VoLGA and SON will be barriers to LTE\'s early rollouts remains to be seen, of course. But with Verizon\'s admission in May that it will roll out LTE at least six months later than planned, some analysts are already making unfavorable comparisons to the rush to upgrade to 3G.

Which is why CDMA vendors like Huawei and ZTE could see a Renaissance for that all-but-forgotten wireless broadband technology, EV-DO Rev B.

Granted, they\'re seeing that already via China Telecom, which owns Unicom\'s old 1x network and has plans to expand and upgrade it to Rev B. So, ostensibly, do the usual pack of CDMA operators who, even as they consider LTE or even Wimax (KDDI, for example, intends to play in both), want to get as much mileage out of their legacy networks as possible. But the China Telecom network alone is widely regarded to have the economies of scale that can make EV-DO Rev B viable.

And considering that some of LTE\'s marquee early adopters are EV-DO operators, the possibility of further delays in LTE rollouts could be a foot in the door for Rev B vendors to make a pitch to CDMA operators - "Why kill yourself upgrading to LTE when you can make a software upgrade to Rev B in the same spectrum you have now‾"

It\'s an enticing argument, and it will be interesting to see how many CDMA operators bite (apart from the WLL deployments that make up a huge chunk of the CDMA operator roster, who will likely adopt Rev B sooner or later, or at least have no use for LTE).

Of course, they\'ll have to wait a bit. Huawei\'s Rev B solution was only launched commercially at the start of this month at the Mobility World Congress in Beijing, and ZTE\'s Rev B solution is scheduled for a Q3 launch. (The first LTE equipment is due to arrive more or less around the same time, give or take a quarter.)

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