Vendors Vie for LTE Limelight
Nokia Networks 's announcement that it has achieved the first standards-compliant LTE call handover adds to the rush of recent vendor news and reveals fierce competition for Long Term Evolution (LTE) bragging rights among equipment suppliers.
NSN's announcement follows last week's news from Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) and Samsung Corp. that the two vendors had completed interoperability testing with Samsung's first LTE USB dongle on an Ericsson LTE network in Stockholm. On the same day as Ericsson's news, Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. announced that it too had completed interoperability testing in Europe with an LTE device. (See Ericsson, Samsung Make LTE Connection.)
And earlier last week, Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) had talked up the momentum it had with LTE trials worldwide. In an interview with Unstrung, AlcaLu's president of 4G/LTE wireless networks Ken Wirth said the vendor was preparing for 14 LTE trials in the next six months and 22 trials in 2010. (See AlcaLu Looking to Strike LTE Gold .)
It would be understandable if NSN was feeling a bit left out over the weekend.
NSN then kicked off the week with the news that it had completed a call that roamed between two LTE base stations using a test device and standards-compliant software. (See NSN Makes LTE Handover.)
Since NSN's news trailed the announcements from its rivals, it has the appearance of a press release that was issued just to remain in the proto-4G mobile broadband news flow. But that is not exactly the case.
The importance of NSN's news lies in the fact that the test used software that complies with the March 2009 baseline of the 3GPP's LTE standard. This gives an indication of the commercial readiness of standards-based LTE equipment from NSN.
NSN's head of radio access Marc Rouanne told Unstrung that some of the standards-based software will be "used by customers this year and the beginning of next year."
NSN says the 3G Flexi base stations that it ships now are "LTE-capable." The same 3G hardware can be used for LTE base stations once it's upgraded with new standards-based software and the right radio frequency (RF) module, so the strategy goes. But NSN's Rouanne would not reveal how many "LTE-capable" base stations had actually shipped. The company says only that it has shipped the hardware to more than 100 customers.
And while NSN's announcement relates to a trial in the vendor's R&D facility in Ulm, Germany, with a test LTE terminal, Rouanne says that NSN has also conducted tests with commercial handset suppliers as well. But the vendor has not yet named names for those tests, like Ericsson has done with Samsung.
"What they have announced, we have done it before," said Rouanne. "I don't comment on whether it's first... but we're testing with several user equipment vendors."
Not missing Nortel's LTE assets
NSN had big plans for beefing up its Flexi base station with some of Nortel's LTE algorithms and adding to its LTE R&D team, but lost out to Ericsson, which paid $1.13 billion for those R&D assets along with the Canadian vendors' CDMA business. The Finnish-German vendor says it's gotten by in LTE development just fine without those assets. (See NSN Reveals Plans for Nortel's LTE, Ericsson Delivers Knockout Blow to NSN, Nortel Auction: NSN Bid $1B+, Nortel Wireless Winner: It's Ericsson!, and Ericsson: Why We Want Nortel's Wireless.)
NSN has beefed up its R&D resources beyond what it was hoping to acquire from Nortel, according to Rouanne.
"We already increased our capacity by more than what we would have got with Nortel," he said. "We compensated for that already."
More LTE "firsts"
And just to round out the LTE news flow, Huawei announced today that it has tested an LTE self-organizing network (SON) with T-Mobile Austria , claiming that it was the industry's first such test. The test focused on automatic neighbor relations (ANR), which is a function that detects nearby cell sites and makes the required adjustments to suit the network topology. (See T-Mobile Tests Huawei's LTE SON, T-Mobile Reveals LTE Trial With Huawei, and Operators Push for LTE Automation.)
— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Unstrung