When it comes to 4G, the real story in 2014 won't be rollouts of LTE so much as rollouts of TD-LTE.
That's not to say FDD LTE won't be a factor. Of course there will be plenty of activity on that front, and even beyond as operators in need of extra throughput start rolling out LTE-Advanced.
But TD-LTE hasn't been idling on the sidelines all this time. Indeed, at least 60 operators have deployed TD-LTE, over 20 of them commercially, according to ABI Research. And 2014 looks set to be the year the ecosystem starts firing on all cylinders.
That will be thanks in large part to China, as the nation's operators officially get their 4G licenses (which they were scheduled to get by the end of this year, after we went to press). China Mobile will give TD-LTE a full-on commercial launch, and China Unicom - which has also been trialing TD-LTE - could well follow suit, depending on the license it gets.
While China will get much of the credit for driving TD-LTE due to its sheer scale, it's not the only market driving this. Regionally, India and Japan will also add to TD-LTE demand, as will comparatively smaller-scale rollouts in Malaysia and Australia. Russia, the US and the Middle East are also pegged as significant hotbeds of TDD activity.
Meanwhile, the scope of supply contracts in China, Japan, Russia and the US has already driven the cost of TD-LTE network equipment down to around the same level as FDD gear. Factor in the lower costs for unpaired spectrum - which tends to be almost half the price of FDD LTE spectrum (depending on the market) - and a standalone TD-LTE network comes with a 13% lower TCO compared to FDD LTE, says ABI.
There's also the device angle. Every major smart-device manufacturer has now launched TD-LTE compatible devices - to include Apple, whose new 5S and 5C iPhones support China's TDD bands. Devices will ideally have to support both FDD and TDD to really take off, but the chipsets to support both have been ready for some time - Samsung has already announced plans to release dual-mode versions of the Galaxy S4 and Galaxy S4 mini for China once TD-LTE goes fully commercial.
All of this sets the stage for TD-LTE to become part of the 4G saga in 2014, whether its Wimax operators transitioning to LTE or FDD-LTE players looking to supplement their 4G offerings any way they can. Meanwhile, here's another factoid from ABI that drives the point home: by 2018 53% of the APAC population will be covered by TD-LTE - while 49% will be covered by FDD LTE.
Seven key strategies for thriving in 2014:
- Time to change your mindset
- New adventures in apps
- Finance services finally go mobile
- Monetization gets personal
- Mobile data traffic goes mega
- Copper crucial to FTTH plans
- Time for TDD
This article first published in Telecom Asia Vision 2014 Supplement