LTE: The fiber alternative

Tony Poulos
17 May 2011

I have spent a lot of time over the last year pondering and reporting on the merits of next-generation broadband networks such as FTTH compared to wireless broadband offerings such as Wimax, HSPA+ and LTE in its various guises. My opinion has always been that fixed broadband far and away outperforms its wire-free cousins and would always be my preference. But today I'm not so sure.

It seems the only time I connect to an Ethernet port these days is in hotel rooms (and usually to connect a personal Wi-Fi router) or at home for connecting a Wi-Fi modem/router. The rest of the time I am 100% wireless. My phone, my iPad and my notebook are all unencumbered and free to roam around as often as I do and, for the most part, without issue. Yet, in the back of my mind, I still feel that plugging my PC directly into the fiber network is a far more satisfying experience performance-wise.

However, after speaking with Jaikishan (Jai) Rajaraman, GSMA's senior director for Asia Pacific, I'm beginning to question not only my own preferences but also those of countries embarking on the rollout of national FTTH broadband networks. It seems countries like China, India, Japan, Indonesia and South Korea planning massive LTE network rollouts agree. Jai estimates that 127 million people in APAC alone will be LTE connected to the internet by 2015 - 50% in China alone and 10% from Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Taiwan and the Philippines.

Jai explained that the two dominant LTE strains - TD-LTE and LTE FDD - each has different spectrum requirements and therefore different benefits. However, moves are afoot to promote the convergence of the two standards. TD-LTE, for example, works with unpaired spectrum mainly available in 2.3- and 2.6-GHz bands and with so little contiguous spectrum available in most markets, it has its advantages.

It is the 700-MHz spectrum that holds the most promise. Currently used in many markets mainly for free-to-air TV service, this low-frequency band offers greater distance and better in-building coverage. The reallocation and release of this spectrum will be at the mercy of regulators, but there will be no shortage of takers when it becomes available. LTE, by design, is very efficient at using spectrum, but one of the challenges facing chipset and device manufacturers is the multiple spectra any one device may need to connect to, potentially 15 or more, and the more per device the shorter the battery life.


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