With former WiMAX operators switching to LTE faster than you can say “what a waste of time that was”, predictions for the rate of LTE 4G network coverage are being revised. Guy Daniels reports.
According to a new report from ABI Research, at least half a million base stations will be installed or upgraded for TD-LTE by the end of 2016 – just in time for the ITU-approved LTE-Advanced to come to market. Note that these figures are just for the time division variant of 4G LTE, not the frequency division LTE that is currently favoured in Europe and North America. But it’s the version that is gaining traction in Asia and will probably be the best bet for long term growth.
Aditya Kaul, practice director for mobile networks at ABI, said that this rollout will come at the expense of the dead-on-its-feet WiMAX standard:
“It was only two years ago that nearly every WiMAX operator, including operators with unpaired TDD frequency spectrum, were planning to deploy WiMAX 2. Today, almost all of them have switched plans and are deploying TD-LTE instead.”
Jim Eller, principal analyst for wireless infrastructure, added that despite being first to claim true 4G capabilities, the IEEE 802.16 WiMAX standards simply weren’t good enough to persuade telcos to switch from their GSM-based evolutionary paths:
“A funny thing happened on the way to the forum. Despite starting two years later than WiMAX 2 [the ITU-friendly advanced version of WiMAX, known formally as 802.16m], TD-LTE emerged as a viable alternative.”
He adds that China Mobile was the early promoter of TD-LTE technology, as a 4G evolution path for its 3G network based on TD-SCDMA technology. China Mobile started its second phase of the TD-LTE Large Scale Trial Initiative (LSTI) in December and it will run until June 2012.
According to ABI’s Jake Saunders:
“China Mobile announced plans last month to install an additional 10,000 to 20,000 TD-LTE base stations in 2012 and perhaps another 60,000 in 2013.”
TD-LTE commercial service has been launched in Brazil, Japan, Poland, Saudi Arabia, and other countries. TD-LTE deployments are underway in Australia and Scandinavia and large-scale TD-LTE networks are planned in the United States and India. With vendors such as Qualcomm producing LTE chipsets that will support all LTE variants, any additional cost for building different versions of infrastructure and devices should be minimized to an acceptable level.
And talking of devices… Verizon Wireless, the largest US mobile operator, revealed yesterday that it had sold 2.2 million 4G devices during the fourth quarter of 2011. The figures were given in an analysts call with Verizon CFO Fran Shammo, and are thought to split fairly equally between handsets, and USB dongles and mi-fi adaptors.
However, the company sold 4.2 million iPhones in the fourth quarter – twice as many as in the third quarter. So despite the promise of better speeds and connectivity, 3G iPhones continue to outsell LTE phones by around 4:1. But given how new LTE is, a lack of consumer understanding and patchy coverage, 1.1 million phones is pretty impressive.
For the record, Verizon was offering LTE handsets from Motorola, HTC, Samsung, LG and Pantech – from Motorola the Droid Razr and Bionic; from HTC the Rezound and ThunderBolt, and from Samsung the Galaxy Nexus, Stratosphere and Droid Charge; from LG the Revolution; and from Pantech the Breakout.
The GSA (Global mobile Suppliers Association) has today confirmed that 49 LTE operators have now launched commercial services, with 285 operators committing to commercial deployments or engaged in trials or studies. It forecasts that by the end of 2012 there will be 119 commercial LTE networks in over 50 countries. Alan Hadden, President of the GSA, said:
“The number of commercial networks more than doubled as operators obtained new spectrum, and many were also able to re-farm existing spectrum (particularly in the 1800 MHz band) for LTE deployments.”
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