Verizon, SKT run risks of leading LTE pack

Caroline Gabriel/Rethink Wireless
09 Jan 2012
SK Telecom’s HetNet
Another operator looking to ride on the LTE cutting edge this year is SK Telecom of Korea, which has announced one of the first wide-scale deployments based on the voguish, but largely untried, HetNet concept.
HetNet increases capacity and reliability by implementing multiple layers of cells, often in different bands and potentially supporting different technologies in parallel (3G, LTE and/or Wi-Fi, which in turn rides on the spread of multimode devices and femtocells). Carriers are highly interested in the idea and deployments are likely to go mainstream from 2013-14, but SKT is taking the risk of adopting this approach before it is mature, in order to stay ahead of rivals in one of the world‘s most sophisticated and demanding mobile and broadband markets.
The leading Korean cellco says its new HetNet will enable the simultaneous use of different net-works to deliver data services at the combined speed of both standards, claiming a world-first deployment which supports simultaneous 3G, Wi-Fi and, from Q2, LTE. This will then be up-graded next year to LTE-Advanced standards, boosting peak data rates beyond 100Mbps and staying a step ahead of main rival Korea Telecom, which has its own multinetwork strategy, “3W” (Wi-Fi, WiBRO and W-CDMA) and recently embarked on its own LTE moves.
SKT promises the world‘s first smartphone to support HetNet – not just the ability to move between the different networks but to harness the sum of their speeds and capacity. All its new smartphones will support the new approach from the start of 2013 and the cellco aims to push for the standardization of its Heterogeneous Network Integration Solution through groups including 3GPP and the ITU.
SKT has also developed a femtocell which supports LTE and Wi-Fi simultaneously. These will be used to boost service quality and as a step towards the HetNet, in the 84 cities where it plans to have LTE up and running by April this year.
KT is also taking innovative approaches as it adds LTE to its 3W program. Although it was the third carrier to go live with LTE, after SKT and UPlus, it will reach 90% of the population by April. It was initially delayed by regulatory hitches in its bid to shut down the 2G network in its 1.8GHz spectrum, in order to use this for LTE, but permission was finally obtained during the holiday period. The new network makes heavy use of small cells and “virtual” or software programmable base stations (a platform KT calls LTE Warp), again indicating how the Korean operators – like their counterparts in Japan and China - are pioneering new approaches to network design, such as cloud RAN and HetNet.
By contrast, early movers in the US and Europe are tending to build their first 4G networks conventionally and aim to introduce the new topologies as data demand requires, in phase two, and often in tandem with an LTE-Advanced upgrade.