Going the LTE way

Martin Creaner, TM Forum
16 Jul 2009

When I worked at BT in the early '90s, I remember seeing a chart that showed the evolution of mobile technologies. Its view was that analog mobile would evolve into multiple 2G digital standards, but these would then converge into a single ubiquitous mobile standard called UMTS.

In those days, UMTS promised a world where you could go anywhere with a single device and have it work as it would when you were on your home turf. Of course, we all know that economics, business reality and bloody-mindedness got in the way, and we ended up with an alphabet soup of mismatched 3G standards (UMTS, cdma2000, IMT-2000). Furthermore, it took years longer to roll out than expected. When we were on the threshold of a 3G rollout in 1999, the telecom market went bust, and 3G never really made an impact until 2005 or later.

Now in 2009, the 4G network evolution story is being dominated by just one three-letter acronym: LTE (Long Term Evolution). It looks as if LTE is the long-sought-after convergence point that we envisioned back in the early "˜90s. Judging by the flurry of press reports, LTE will move to market a lot faster than its predecessors.

Joining the LTE bandwagon

It looks as if most of the world's carriers and related equipment suppliers have hopped on the LTE bandwagon. Get ready for a slew of LTE rollouts in the next 18 to 24 months. Verizon is looking at a commercial 4G LTE network launch at end-2010. By then or sooner, we'll see other deployments go live in Asia and beyond.

We've seen equipment vendors and professional services powerhouses like Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson, Huawei and Nokia Siemens Networks doing quite well on their initial LTE network contracts. We've also seen former powerhouses like Motorola that have hitched their wagons to LTE's star in the hope that the technology will reverse their fortunes. Motorola, in particular, is reported to be doubling its investment in LTE at the expense of reducing its investment in Wimax.

Which brings us to the question of whether Wimax will upset the perfectly converged picture I'm envisioning. Wimax is definitely out there and will probably deliver sooner than LTE. It has major forces backing it, not the least of which is Intel, while Sprint is continuing its expansion of the technology in a number of major US cities. But I suspect that, again, the forces of economics and business reality will force a hard choice, and all indications are that most suppliers and service providers will tip toward LTE as the best long-term bet, but only if three critical success factors come together.

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