Ready or Not, Here Comes LTE-Advanced
If you've worked in wireless for a long time, you know that nagging feeling that the industry sometimes is getting ahead of itself. In fact, you might feel that way right now when it comes to Long Term Evolution-Advanced (LTE-A). Although the first LTE-A networks won't launch until 2013, and although the consensus is that it won't be a mainstream technology until 2015 at the earliest, some operators and vendors were already putting out press releases last year about how they're "LTE-A ready."
And that's just the beginning of the marketplace confusion. As the new Heavy Reading 4G/LTE Insider, "LTE-Advanced: The Hope Beyond the Hype," explains, once LTE-A makes its commercial debut, it will spur a debate over what is and isn't 4G -- and possibly even 5G. As with HSPA+, which many operators label 4G, it's likely that some operators will market their 3rd Generation Partnership Project Release 10 (3GPP R10) networks as 5G.
Additional marketplace confusion will come from the fact that operators and vendors are free to implement some LTE-A features as they see fit. For example, is a network truly LTE-A only when it uses multiple-input, multiple-output (MIMO) orders of 4x4 or higher? At 8x8, does it become worthy of a 5G marketing moniker? All of these variables will affect operators' ability to differentiate their services in the eyes of consumers and businesses.
One thing is clear: LTE-A is worth studying today because its impact will be so far-reaching tomorrow. That impact won't be limited to wireless vendors and mobile operators, either. For example, LTE-A will eventually double or quadruple the number of antennas that each operator has on a cell site. Although operators probably won't begin deploying those architectures until 2016 or later, the trend is a revenue opportunity for site companies because the additional antennas can trigger additional lease fees.
With demos already showing speeds of 1 Gbit/s, LTE-A is an opportunity for telcos, cable operators and other companies looking to sell fiber backhaul services and hardware. But it's also a potential competitor to their wired broadband services for consumers and some businesses.
To get a sense of how, when and where LTE-A will affect the telecom market, it's worth looking at the technology's upgrade path. That analysis requires looking beyond the hype. For example, many vendors and operators note that upgrading an LTE base station to LTE-A involves adding channel cards and software. That's true, but there will be more to it than that. The higher the MIMO order, the more likely it is that the operator will have to spend a significant amount of money on antennas and adjunct base station hardware.
"A lot of people will try to sell the Kool-Aid of, 'It's only a software upgrade,'" says Manish Singh, CTO at RadiSys Corp. (Nasdaq: RSYS). "But when you really start looking at can you achieve the performance that LTE-A is promising without a hardware upgrade, [in] my view is the answer is you cannot. It will require a forklift or a partial forklift."
LTE-A will dominate the global mobile market -- no doubt about that. But it won't do so as quickly and inexpensively as some like to believe. Whether you're planning to sell it, enable it or compete against it, look beyond the hype.
— Tim Kridel, Contributing Analyst, 4G/LTE Insider
This report,"LTE-Advanced: The Hope Beyond the Hype," is available as part of an annual subscription (6 issues per year) to Heavy Reading 4G/LTE Insider, priced at $1,595. Individual reports are available for $900. To subscribe, please visit: www.heavyreading.com/4glte.