|"4G Race-LTE takes upfront lead; too early to call?" (RCR)|
In the race to 4G, LTE takes upfront lead
Too early to call?
~ Allie Winter | RCR Wireless News | www.rcrwireless.com/article/20081112/WIRELESS/811119963/1099/in-the-race-to-4g-lte-takes-upfront-lead | November 12 2008 - 5:59 am EDT--
Above is a Verizon Wireless’ CDMA cell site. The provider plans to migrate to LTE.
The ever-evolving nature of the wireless market has its eyes set on so-called 4G technologies. These are expected to be higher-capacity networks based on Internet Protocol standards that will support wireless broadband speeds of up to 100 megabits per second. While there is no definition yet set for such 4G networks, despite the best PR efforts of certain camps, it appears the early winner is the Long Term Evolution standard, which has gained backing by most major wireless players around the world.
Making the move to LTE technology will require more than a simple migration for carriers; it’s a complete transformation. In order to get LTE up and running, wireless providers need to upgrade their radio access equipment to new infrastructure equipment, according to Chris Pearson, who heads the industry group 3G Americas.
“When you look at utilizing technology in a cellular environment, right now 1s and 0s are going through the air based on a wide-band CDMA network, but that changes as you go to LTE,” he said. “It’s really a major, significant upgrade of equipment on the radio-access side.”
Pearson also noted that the antenna will play a big part in LTE implementation. Pearson recommends carriers install MIMO (multiple input multiple output) equipment, saying that it will allow for multiple paths of radio access technology that will bridge to the device and back to the base station more efficiently.
Both AT&T Mobility and Verizon Wireless have confirmed that they’ll be moving in the LTE direction. But as Verizon Wireless is a CDMA provider and AT&T Mobility is on the GSM side, their transition paths will be different or at least take place at a different rate. GSM carriers likely will take the step to upgrade to HSPA+ first, adding a bit of life to their existing 3G equipment. In fact, even some Canadian CDMA operators have said they’ll implement HSPA first, before going to LTE.
Looking at Canada’s choice to add the HSPA path in between, Anthony Berkeley, Director of LTE Strategy at Alcatel-Lucent, said that move will not become a major trend.
“Operators will go straight from CDMA to LTE,” he said. “Does it make sense to put your subscriber base through that type of challenge? I don’t see that as an efficient move, given the time span.”
Phil Marshall, analyst with the Yankee Group, agreed, saying that for CDMA operators, it was not wise to add an extra step into the equation. Verizon Wireless is an example; it has chosen to go directly to LTE with no in-between technology upgrades.
“[I think carriers] should try and leap frog the competition and bring LTE as fast as they can to the market,” Marshall said.
For GSM carriers though, the extra step might make sense. Chris Pearson said upgrading to HSPA+ before moving to LTE is a smart migration path because the move will improve the network and allow carriers, such as AT&T Mobility, to spend incremental amounts of money.
“You can increase your technology performance without adding the hardware,” Pearson said.
“If I was a service provider and was on the GSM path, I’d run through the HSPA path for sure,” Marshall added. “The upgrade is going to be less [expensive] for HSPA+ and it gives me a longer and more financially satisfying . It also improves the immortalization of 3G infrastructure.”
Berkeley said even if LTE is a ways off, carriers must make LTE decisions now ensuring that the infrastructure equipment being installed will be able to handle multiple technologies while they move from 3G to 4G offerings.
“Operators want to ensure that anything they’re buying today will do LTE tomorrow,” he said. “[They need] to make sure that these networks work in harmony and operate well together.”
New technology usually brings new challenges. Operators deploying LTE equipment will have to upgrade their backhaul solutions, Berkeley said, because the backhaul solution also must be IP-based.
“They haven’t really embraced IP as a backhaul solution until recently,” he said. “But it’s mandatory for LTE. They’re moving from ‘we’re thinking about it’ to the ‘have to do it’ mode.”
Recently, mobile operators have been turning to fiber for backhaul solutions and it has become popular throughout the United States. And while Marshall agreed that an IP backhaul solution will be necessary, he noted that fiber is also a wise choice, especially when carriers can benefit from it financially.
“If AT&T brings fiber to a tower, but there are three other tenants on that tower, it can lease to them,” he said.
Further, Marshall said pseudo-wires will become a trend soon because the solution will be capable of merging both legacy and next-generation technologies together into a single transport and converting them back out at the other end.
LTE has yet to be seen. Industry analysts and professionals agree that the process will take some time, likely not popping up the way EDGE technology did a few years ago. Berkeley said there is a lot of work to be done, not just with trialing and testing, but in making sure the carriers understand how exactly to implement LTE into their networks.
“It’s more than just equipment,” he said. “It’s easy to get focused on the base stations, but it requires a lot of transition throughout your business.”
It also requires a lot of money. And there’s no doubt carriers will cough up the cash, but it could lengthen the timeline as operators likely want to make sure they have it right before throwing LTE into customers’ laps.
“You’re looking at hundreds and millions of dollars of investment,” Pearson said.
And then not every wireless operator believes LTE is the best solution for deploying a 4G network. The new Clearwire Corp. is aiming for a time-to-market advantage by deploying WiMAX across its spectrum assets. To date, the new company has launched service in Baltimore, and plans to deploy in several markets, including Chicago, in the upcoming months.
Motorola says it completed LTE sessions at 700 MHz
Motorola Inc. said it completed what it termed the industry’s first over-the-air LTE data sessions using 700 MHz spectrum. The Schaumburg, Ill.-based equipment vendor said it used its LTE Radio Access Test Network and its LTE eNode-B platform with a prototype device. Companies that won spectrum in the 700 MHz auction may use that band to deploy LTE technology.
“This field test shows the progress we’ve made in preparing to deliver a commercial LTE solution for testing ad early limited deployments in 2009,” said Darren McQueen, VP, Wireless Broadband Access Technology at Motorola.
The company said its sessions included mobile video streaming and other high data-rate applications. The tests were performed at Motorola labs and at an outdoor location in central Illinois.