Techworld

Is LTE the next must-have mobile broadband technology?

4G technology attracts Verizon and AT&T-- and a lot of hype

Long Term Evolution (LTE)-based services are garnering a lot of attention in the mobile broadband industry, despite the fact that they are at least two years away from being deployed.

LTE, considered by many analysts to be the next big wave in 4G wireless technology, is due to be launched commercially in 2010 by Verizon and AT&T, roughly two years after the Clearwire coalition's big commercial WiMAX launch slated for later this year.

Technically speaking, LTE is a modulation technique that is the latest variation of Global Systems for Mobile Communications (GSM) technology. Its developers at the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) dubbed it "Long Term Evolution" because they view it as the natural progression of High-Speed Packet Access (HSPA), the GSM technology that is currently used by carriers such as AT&T to deliver 3G mobile broadband.

GSM is by far the dominant mobile standard worldwide, with more the 2 billion global customers. In the United States, however, the only carriers that currently use GSM are AT&T and T-Mobile. Carriers Verizon and Sprint both use the rival Code Division for Multiple Access (CDMA) technology, although Verizon is due to move over to the GSM side when it launches its own LTE network sometime in 2010.

While it is far too early to predict how successful LTE will be in the enterprise market, recent trends indicate that demand for the technology could get a significant boost as businesses demand ever-faster mobile broadband access. For instance, a recent survey conducted by market research firm Chadwick Martin Bailey reports that nearly half of all enterprises currently use 3G cellular services, and that more than one-third plan on using WiMAX technology within the next year.

The major reasons for deploying mobile enterprise applications, the survey finds, include increased employee productivity and increased employee availability, as more than 80 per cent of corporate users list both of them as key reasons for using more mobile technologies. If demand for increased mobile broadband speeds continues to be strong, LTE could be in a good position to compete with WiMAX as a widely deployed mobile broadband standard when it comes to market in 2010.

"We're seeing some indications that enterprises are beginning to look at wireless broadband as extension of the network itself," says Mike Jude, an analyst at Nemertes Research. "They're starting to think about how to enable mobile networks with access to company applications such as enterprise research planning, customer relationship management and inventory."

What makes LTE so special?

Although LTE-enabled devices won't hit the markets for at least two years after WiMAX-enabled devices, LTE does have some key advantages that could help bring it up to speed with rival technologies such as WiMAX and the CDMA-based Ultra Mobile Broadband. In the first place, LTE has been adopted as the 4G technology of choice by every major wireless carrier in the United States except for Sprint Nextel. Indeed, Verizon and AT&T think so much of LTE's potential to deliver high-speed mobile broadband that they each plan to dedicate spectrum they recently acquired in the 700MHz auction to LTE deployment.

"LTE is a very natural evolution from where we are now," says AT&T Wireless spokesman Mark Siegel, who notes that AT&T is the only major US wireless carrier to currently use LTE predecessor HSPA for its 3G technology. "We still have a lot of room to build out our HSPA network before we have to go to LTE. When we do eventually make the switch, it will be backward compatible with our 3G technology, whereas Sprint and Verizon will need to make a much more abrupt transition from where they are now with their 3G technologies."

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