Game plan

With the first LTE deployments expected in the US within the next 12 months, CommsMEA assesses the merits of fourth generation technologies and how operators stand to benefit.

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By  George Bevir and Roger Field Published  March 3, 2009

With the first LTE deployments expected in the US within the next 12 months, CommsMEA assesses the merits of fourth generation technologies and how operators stand to benefit.

Fourth generation wireless broadband technology Long Term Evolution (LTE) made massive strides at this year's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

Over the past few months WiMAX has been hogging the 4G headlines with some high profile launches around the world, from Saudi Arabia to Pakistan to the US, but US carrier Verizon Wireless' announcement in Barcelona last month that it had chosen Ericsson and Alcatel-Lucent to build its fourth generation LTE wireless broadband network - the first agreement of its kind - was a significant step for the GSMA-backed technology.

LTE is expected to deliver an experience similar to that of fixed-line broadband, with comparable bandwidth and latency. US vendor Motorola claims LTE offers up to four times the capacity for HSPA and EV-DO voice and data standards, and increased speeds will not only mean faster email and internet access, it will also allow new services to be developed and integrated.

Although Verizon Wireless last month claimed that it had recorded download rates of 50mbps to 60mbps during recent trials, the actual speeds that consumers will experience could be considerably lower when LTE services are rolled out, as much will depend on the amount of spectrum regulators decide to allocate to the carriers.

Fred Wright, senior vice president Motorola Home and Networks Mobility, says that the allocation of spectrum is one of the issues surrounding LTE at the moment.

"There are only a few countries that have held auctions - Norway, for example, has just finished up an auction and there are two or three other countries in Western Europe," he says.

"More and more of those auctions will be held in the coming months and as that spectrum gets auctioned off carriers will begin to start making decisions about vendors and who they want to select."

Verizon Wireless' trial used the 700 MHz spectrum which had been used for television signals but was acquired by Verizon, AT&T and others following an auction by US regulator the FCC.

Motorola's first commercial release of LTE solutions is expected to take place later this year, and it is  expected to include products for the 700MHz and 2.6GHz spectrum bands which the vendor says will help operators increase coverage and capacity of their networks.

3G migration

Vendors say that it makes sense for existing operators to switch to LTE as equipment that is already in place can be upgraded to the faster standard. Indeed, a key selling point of Motorola's latest base stations is that they will be compatible with future migration from GSM and Edge to LTE.

"LTE will be a migration play, which means that in every case it will be specific to the customer," says Eric Pradier, vice president MotorolaHome and Networks EMEA and Asia Pacific Services.

"It won't be green field contracts as with WiMAX, it will be migration contracts where the value proposition will be much more than just to deploy the technology. It will be about how the existing infrastructure is migrated, with a very phased approach, offering new services and savings."

Pradier says that he expects to see LTE trials in the Middle East at the start of next year. "I think that we could see some first steps in 2010. There are operators who want to launch wireless broadband services and for who the quick evolution to the first stage of LTE could be the solution."

Pradier adds that "the more sophisticated" markets with "a high level of standards in terms of services" appear likely to be the first in the Middle East to deploy LTE.

Verizon picks LTE suppliers

US carrier Verizon became the first carrier to pick its fourth generation network vendors when it announced Ericsson and Alcatel-Lucent as its 4G network suppliers.

Verizon Wireless, a joint venture of Verizon Communications and Vodafone, selected the vendors for its initial LTE radio access network deployments in the United States. The US carrier is expected to become the first wireless company to offer commercial LTE-based services in the United States from 2010.

Chief executive officer of Alcatel-Lucent, Ben Verwaayen, said: "With LTE's bandwidth and its ability to co-exist with the current 3G platform, we look forward to partnering with Verizon Wireless to build the next-generation foundation that will economically enable new forms of communications using fixed and wireless, as well as mobile broadband."

Verizon Wireless also announced that Starent Networks has been selected as a packet core vendor, and that Nokia Siemens Networks and Alcatel-Lucent have been selected as key suppliers for the IP Multi-Media Subsystem (IMS) network, which will enable rich multimedia applications regardless of access technology.

The company said that it expects to maintain commercial service on its 3G service "well into the next decade".

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