LTE TDD: In Mobile, Size Matters

Is Long Term Evolution Time Division Duplex (LTE TDD) capable of meeting the seemingly endless surge in mobile broadband demand profitably and sustainably? With mobile broadband traffic rising off the charts – and in some markets, growing at more than 100 percent per year – the question is not easily answered. But with China and India slated to emerge as the next technological superpowers, the mobile industry would be well advised to take a concerted look at what operators in these countries are planning when it comes to 4G.

Most of recent the hype about LTE TDD is a direct result of the showcase demonstration network China Mobile Ltd. (NYSE: CHL) shared at the Shanghai World Expo. A slew of vendors have been quick to claim LTE TDD firsts at the Expo, in direct support of China Mobile's fierce efforts to accelerate LTE TDD development. The vendors' grand prizes will be contracts to deliver LTE TDD networks and devices that will feed copious volumes of mobile data to China Mobile's hundreds of millions of prospective subscribers. Not surprising that so many vendors are jumping on China Mobile's bandwagon.

And China Mobile is not alone. Perhaps the most extreme example of a vendor bent on driving LTE TDD toward maturity is Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM), sinking a billion-dollar investment into an unpaired frequency license (2.3 GHz) covering India's four biggest cities. Qualcomm has taken the future of LTE TDD in perhaps the world's most underserved broadband market into its own hands. "We want to give LTE TDD an opportunity to grow in India," says a spokesman for Qualcomm. More importantly, the company is aggressively seeding a market for its own chipsets that already support both TDD and FDD versions of LTE.

There is no doubt that LTE TDD has developed by leaps and bounds in just the past 12 months. A new research report from Heavy Reading 4G/LTE Insider, "LTE TDD Emerges as a Mobile Broadband Force," makes it clear that nearly every company with 4G mobile broadband technologies has LTE TDD on its roadmap, and many vendors are ready to ship now. Even former WiMax hardliners, such as Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) and Alvarion Technologies Ltd. (Nasdaq: ALVR), are realigning product strategies to match emerging LTE TDD markets. "LTE TDD is an integral part of all of our LTE solutions," says a spokesperson for Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC), with reference to the common 3GPP Release 8 standard. The standard is cleverly devised to align both varieties of LTE, with 90 percent overlap between the two.

Meanwhile, mobile WiMax is under pressure as the technology of choice for operators with unpaired bands. In theory, mobile WiMax should be light-years ahead of LTE TDD in maturity and devices; but in practice, the technology has suffered serious knocks over the past year, with some operators and vendors defecting to LTE TDD. Perhaps the worst news for WiMax proponents is that network migration to LTE TDD appears to be a real technical possibility, at least according to some vendors. "Our network platform allows migration from WiMax to LTE TDD when you need it," says Dr. Hung Song, global marketing VP of Samsung Telecommunications. China's ZTE Corp. (Shenzhen: 000063; Hong Kong: 0763) claims to support both WiMax and LTE TDD on the same physical network equipment today.

But perhaps what LTE TDD has going for it more than anything else is the promise of scale. In the mobile industry, history tells us unequivocally that size matters. Piggybacked on such popular 3GPP successes as WCDMA and HSPA – and linked closely to LTE proper – LTE TDD will likely be a global success, particularly if the big Asian markets develop as expected. Operators with unpaired bands and technology vendors all over the world will for the first time in mobile history be looking to China to lead the charge.

— Claus Hetting, contributing analyst, 4G/LTE Insider

This report,"LTE TDD Emerges as a Mobile Broadband Force," 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.

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