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Carrier WiFi

3G LTE: How Far? How Fast?

There's a running joke when discussing the impact of next-generation LTE technology on the wireless market that the clue is the name Long-Term Evolution (LTE).

No doubt, there's an element of truth in that quip. Today's state-of-the-art commercial 3G networks already deliver great service and will provide a platform for innovation and growth in mobile applications and services for at least the next five years. It's far from hyperbole to say that the widespread availability of 3G High-Speed Packet Access (HSPA) and Evolution-Data Optimized (EV-DO) marks the dawn of mobile broadband.

However, 3G technology could become a victim of its own success. With more users and massive traffic growth, the medium- to longer-term requirement for wireless technology that enables lower cost per bit is clearer than ever, according to Evolved HSPA & the Roadmap to LTE, the latest research report from Unstrung Insider.

The 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) LTE standards are being developed to provide 3G operators with an upgrade path to all-IP mobile broadband networks. The target baseline performance in a 2x20 MHz channel, using a terminal with two receive antennas and one transmit antenna, is a peak modem rate of 100 Mbit/s (equivalent to 5 bit/s per Hz) on the downlink and 50 Mbit/s (equivalent to 2.5 bit/s per Hz) on the uplink. Longer-term targets using 64-QAM modulation and 4x4 MIMO are for more than 300 Mbit/s peak on the downlink and 80 Mbit/s on the uplink.

LTE shares many of the same core technologies and principles found in the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE) 's mobile WiMax and the 3rd Generation Partnership Project 2 (3GPP2) 's Ultra Mobile Broadband standards. But with greater support from the world's leading operators and system vendors, it has emerged as the leading candidate technology for next-generation wireless systems. (See Verizon, Vodafone Head for LTE and DoCoMo Tests 'Super 3G'.)

The carrier position on LTE is being mediated, in part, through the Next Generation Mobile Networks (NGMN) initiative set up in 2006 by China Mobile Communications Corp. , KPN Mobile , NTT DoCoMo Inc. (NYSE: DCM), Salt SA , Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S), T-Mobile International AG , and Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD). More recent members include Alltel Corp. (NYSE: AT), AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), SK Telecom (Nasdaq: SKM), Telecom Italia (TIM) , Telefónica Móviles SA , Telenor Group (Nasdaq: TELN), and Telus Mobility . (See Carriers Form 4G Pressure Group.)

Although focused on all "Beyond-3G" technologies, and not restricted to LTE, operator requirements outlined by the NGMN have been used to inform the work of the LTE/SAE Trial Initiative, a project announced in May 2007 by a group of vendors and operators seeking to collaborate on LTE development.

Founding members of the LTE/SAE Trial Initiative on the operator side are Vodafone, T-Mobile, and Orange. On the vendor side, founders Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU), Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC), Nortel Networks Ltd. , and Nokia Networks were joined by Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. in October 2007. The joint activities are scheduled to run for up to two years from the start date (until May 2009) and will include radio performance tests, early interoperability tests, and customer field trials.

Widely recognized as the operator leading the world to LTE is Japan's NTT DoCoMo. Sources in the test and measurement industry say it's buying as much LTE test gear as any of the major vendors. The carrier itself says it is developing its own chipset and co-developing the base station and handset technology with Fujitsu Ltd. (Tokyo: 6702; London: FUJ; OTC: FJTSY) and NEC Corp. (Tokyo: 6701), respectively.

In London earlier this month, Toshio Miki, associate senior vice president at NTT DoCoMo, explained the operator's view of LTE (which it calls "Super 3G") and how it fits with the ultimate migration to 4G: "We'll start Super 3G services around 2010," he said. "4G will come soon after."

And just to put the joke to rest, even though the "LTE" tag has stuck, the official name is now "Evolved Packet System." Does that make it sound less far away?

— Gabriel Brown, Chief Analyst, Unstrung Insider


The report, Evolved HSPA & the Roadmap to LTE, is available as part of an annual subscription (12 monthly issues) to Unstrung Insider, priced at $1,595. Individual reports are available for $900. To subscribe, please visit: www.unstrung.com/insider.

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