LTE Phones Will Lag Behind Networks
Some mobile operators may be planning to deploy initial Long-Term Evolution (LTE) networks next year, but handsets that support the mobile broadband technology are unlikely to be available in the mass market before 2011 at the earliest, according to analysts.
Long-Term Evolution is regarded by many carriers as the gateway to next-generation wireless networks, and, indeed, some are already talking about LTE as 4G technology. Verizon Wireless in the U.S. and TeliaSonera AB (Nasdaq: TLSN) in Sweden are expected to be among the first to deploy LTE in 2010.
This doesn't mean, however, that users can expect phones that support LTE to be offered among initial products that can run on the networks. This is largely down to the fact that LTE chipsets are expected to start being sent to vendors in the second quarter of this year, and there is a significant design lag time between getting sample silicon and introducing commercial handsets. (See Gearing Up for LTE.)
"The general rule of thumb is that it takes about a year and a half," analyst Linley Gwennap from semiconductor specialist The Linley Group told Unstrung recently. "With LTE I wouldn't be surprised if that dateline extends."
This is because vendors and carriers may need to carry out more testing of the new phones as they get deployed on the new technology, Gwennap says.
So far on the chipset side, Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM) has said that it expects to start sampling LTE chipsets in the second quarter of 2009. LG Electronics Inc. (London: LGLD; Korea: 6657.KS) , meanwhile, showed off an LTE modem at this year's Mobile World Congress.
LG has said its chip "can achieve wireless download speeds of 60 Mbit/s and upload speeds of 20 Mbit/s." By comparison, the fastest high-speed 3G phones currently on the market download at a maximum possible speed of 7.6 Mbit/s.
The Linley Group's Gwennap expects the earliest handsets will use a LTE modem chip with a separate silicon baseband. This will make them big, expensive, and "battery-hungry," he predicts.
"2011 is when I would expect to really first see mass-market [LTE] handsets," Gwennap says.
"Although we'll probably see some early examples hit the market sometime in 2010, I doubt we'll see any kind of significant volume until well into 2011," agrees Carmi Levy at AR Communications Inc. "Carrier network infrastructure and service offerings take time to build out, and the demand for handsets simply won't be there until the surrounding landscape is ready to support them."
Heavy Reading senior analyst Gabriel Brown thinks that 2011 may even be too early to expect a serious stream of handsets utilizing the new technology.
"2011 is likely to be modems and maybe some early devices, not mass-market product," he says. "2012 is when it will start to pick up volume."
Verizon CTO Dick Lynch told Unstrung at Mobile World Congress that Verizon is expecting to initially introduce data cards, followed by PDAs and the like, when it first fires up commercial LTE in 2010. The carrier hasn't yet said when it expects to have handsets on the new network. (See MWC 2009: Verizon Picks LTE Vendors.)
No. 1 cellphone maker Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK), meanwhile, anticipates having LTE "devices" on the market next year, but hasn't provided an exact date. There is some speculation that Nokia may actually launch its first laptops with the new wireless technology onboard. (See Ready for a Nokia Laptop?) — Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung