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MWC 2010: The LTE G8

Michelle Donegan

Long Term Evolution (LTE) will be every bit as much in the limelight at Mobile World Congress this year as it was in 2009, despite the global recession, lack of LTE spectrum in Europe, the clouds of doubt gathering over LTE network and device availability, and not to mention the 3G network capacity crunch from the surge in mobile data traffic that is commanding the attention of many operators today.

The halls of the Fira de Barcelona will soon echo from the chest-thumping of LTE equipment suppliers as they talk up operator engagements and product differentiators, and -- more importantly -- boast about who has the best tapas and drinks on their stands. (See Vendors Vie for LTE Limelight.)

This year, the LTE suppliers to watch in Barcelona are an elite group of eight -- we'll call them the LTE G8 -- that have early stakes in the LTE game.

The LTE G8 is a veritable in-crowd of mobile broadband suppliers. The group includes the Big Four usual suspects in mobile infrastructure -- Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU), Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC), Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. , and Nokia Networks . (See LTE Base Station Strategies.)

The remaining four vendors in the G8 are the LTE challengers: Fujitsu Ltd. (Tokyo: 6702; London: FUJ; OTC: FJTSY), Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT), NEC Corp. (Tokyo: 6701), and ZTE Corp. (Shenzhen: 000063; Hong Kong: 0763). (See LTE Base Station Challengers.)

As the industry heads for Barcelona, here's a snapshot of how the LTE G8 stands in terms of trial and commercial gigs:

But what a difference a year makes. This time last year, the LTE buzz in Barcelona was all about which companies Verizon Wireless would bless with contracts. Verizon CTO Dick Lynch's announcement in February 2009 catapulted AlcaLu and Ericsson into instant LTE stardom, even though Nokia Siemens and Starent Networks Corp. (Nasdaq: STAR) picked up LTE business at the US operator too. (See MWC 2009: Verizon Picks LTE Vendors.)

In Verizon's joint LTE trial with Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD), the operators originally tested equipment from AlcaLu, Ericsson, Huawei, Nokia Siemens, Motorola, and Nortel Networks Ltd. . And in two of the LTE trial announcements last year, Telefónica SA (NYSE: TEF) and Singapore Telecommunications Ltd. (SingTel) (OTC: SGTJY) said they would test LTE gear from another set of six vendors: AlcaLu, Ericsson, Huawei, Nokia Siemens, NEC Corp. (Tokyo: 6701), and ZTE Corp. (Shenzhen: 000063; Hong Kong: 0763).

So, more than a year on from the Verizon/Vodafone trial, it seems NEC and ZTE have replaced Motorola and Nortel in the leading set of trial vendors. (See Telefónica Kicks Off LTE Trials and APAC Operators Commit to LTE.)

It would be a mistake, though, to pay any less attention to Motorola and Fujitsu Ltd. (Tokyo: 6702; London: FUJ; OTC: FJTSY), which have a hand in early LTE developments with operators.

Motorola is supplying LTE radio access gear to KDDI Corp. in Japan, which plans to roll out the proto-4G network in 2012. Moreover, Motorola is heavily involved with its key Chinese customer China Mobile for TD-LTE. (See KDDI Picks Challengers for LTE Deployment, Motorola Passes TD-LTE Test, and Motorola Preps TD-LTE Dongle.)

Meanwhile, Fujitsu is a key LTE supplier to NTT DoCoMo Inc. (NYSE: DCM), which aims to launch its LTE service in December this year. The vendor is looking to use this early experience in Japan as a springboard to compete in international markets. (See DoCoMo Shells Out on LTE and LTE Device Mock-Up at MWC.)

So, will there be another Verizon moment in Barcelona this year when a major operator announces vendor choices and LTE deployment plans? That looks unlikely at this point, but we like to be surprised.

Given that there are real-live LTE networks up and running in Oslo, Norway, and Stockholm thanks to Telia Company 's ahead-of-schedule launch at the end of last year, the LTE buzz this year will likely be less about contract wins and more about LTE network speeds and performance, device availability, network architecture choices, voice support, and the commercial readiness of the equipment.

See you there!

— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Unstrung

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