The Basics of Long Term Evolution (LTE)


When it seems that cell phone and mobile computing technologies are merging at amazing pace. It seemed that once most people got used to texting on their cell phones, those phones gave way to smartphones and tasks that needed to be done on a computer could now be done on an iPhone, Blackberry or Android device. The next change that in mobile computing and communications will be similar to the change from analog to digital cellular networks that did away with the days of talking into a brick with an antenna attached inthe late 1990's. The GSM and CDMA networks we use today are set to give way to a new standard technology to power the cellular phones and networks in the next few years.

Long Term Evolution (LTE) is the technology that is set to become the standard for fourth generation wireless networks within the next few years. Most cellular providers are already upgrading their networks to offer LTE service. American regional carrier MetroPCS is already offer LTE service in Dallas and Detroit, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Philadelphia will be next to get LTE from MetroPCS. The Samsung Craft is the first phone to run on LTE that is being offered by Metro PCS. Verizon Wireless has already become the second carrier that offers LTE service in 38 cities on December 5, 2010. Unlike the LTE service offered by MetroPCS Verizon is only offering USB modems for data use, LTE based phones won't come until sometime in 2011. Verizon's arch rival, AT&T wireless is planning to upgrade their network to LTE and begin offering service by the end of 2011.

The picture is much different for the other two American national cell carriers. T-Mobile is already touting their HSPA+ network as 4G but has stated intentions of building an LTE based network, but not in the near term waiting until LTE technology has matured. Sprint on the other hand is building their fourth generation network using WiMAX, a competing technology.

While the early deployments of LTE are being made by America's regional cellular providers, subscribers on other regional carriers will have much longer to wait. Cellular South, Cricket Wireless and ACS Alaska have LTE networks planned but upgrades to LTE will still be about two years away. Other regional carriers such as Cincinnati Bell, DMTS, and Ntelos have not yet stated any intentions of upgrading their networks to LTE.

For Canadian subscribers, Rogers Wireless is currently conducting field trials in Ottawa. The 700 MHz band where most LTE network traffic is expected to be placed doesn't officially become until after Canada's digital television transition on August, 31st 2011, commercial roll out of LTE services isn't expected until 2012. For subscribers on Canada's other two national carriers Bell, and Telus a similar field trials are expected to begin soon with roll out at the end of 2012. Western Canada's cable TV behemoth Shaw Communications is planning their wireless network using LTE technology using AWS frequency bands with build out expected through 2011. Shaw could potentially start offering service to consumers as soon as the 4th quarter of 2011.

Mobilicity and Wind Mobile customers may have an even longer wait. While there is plenty of AWS spectrum that the upstart carriers are licensed to use still available, money may not be as plentiful. While the startup carriers are well financed by foreign investors, they still carry a large debt load incurred through the purchases of their licenses from Industry Canada in 2008, and the cost of building their existing networks. Canada's third startup cell carrier Public Mobile has stated their intention to buy available licenses for the 700 MHz band when Industry Canada holds the auction sometime after August 31st, 2011. Winning spectrum in the 700 MHz band will allow Public Mobile to expand from their base in the Windsor-Montreal corridor that they are licensed to use in the AWS bands.

Leaving Canada's two remaining regional carriers, MTS has not stated any intentions for deploying LTE as of yet. Sasktel is looking at 2015 or later to start deployment of LTE technology. Since both the regional carriers are still only licensed for 850 and 1900 MHz PCS bands look for the regional carriers to buy some 700 MHz spectrum the cost could force the regional carriers to delay any LTE deployment.

Smartphones starting with Apple's iPhone 3G were the devices that drove cellular carriers to upgrade their networks to 3G and cellular subscribers to upgrade the 3G service, and that will be expected when the LTE versions of today's popular smartphones hit the market within the next two years. It is most likely that Google's Android will running on the first LTE based smartphone. With numerous manufacturers making Android phones with market share that Microsoft's Windows Mobile used to enjoy but now the big boys from Redmond can only dream about. Research In Motion will need to get on the LTE bandwagon fast if they hope to hold their own against against Apple. If rumours can be believed, It could be Apple that jumps on LTE first by blindsiding the cellular industry by announcing that they are breaking free from AT&T exclusivity and a LTE based iPhone on Verizon sometime in 2011. Windows Phone 7 hasn't yet proven itself with hardware manufacturers, cellular carriers or consumers, and while Microsoft may be getting Windows Phone 7 ready for LTE, it will be at least a year and half before there is any hardware running Windows Phone 7 on any LTE network and that's only if Microsoft can grab some market share. For HP getting WebOS devices on LTE maybe the thing that pull the operating system that once held great promise out of obscurity. If the corporate bureaucracy inside HP to recognize that and respond would like getting the Titanic and the Hindenburg to turn on a dime at the exact same time.

While LTE is generally considered to be the next generation of cellular technology, LTE can deliver more bandwidth than any cell phone would ever need. LTE would be considered to be the technology of choice to deliver broadband to the under served small towns, remote communities, and rural areas since a lot less expensive wiring would be needed to provide high speed Internet service in these last bastions of dial-up. A fibre optic link from to towers to central offices would be needed the expense of wiring the 'last mile' to subscribers' homes would be eliminated.

The high bandwidth LTE provides would allow cable operators such as Rogers and Shaw to expand outside of their geographical cable network footprints, by providing IPTV over LTE networks. Using IP telephony technology LTE phone companies could offer traditional telephone service in markets outside of their geographical footprints.

Using LTE as a common standard for ultra high speed wireless networks opens up new services and new competition that consumers have previously unseen.


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