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LTE: Dreaming of Wireless Broadband

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After a quick demonstration of Ericsson’s LTE base station, which boasted a throughput of 150 Mbps on download and 30 Mbps for uploads, I experienced one of those moments of technology utopia. I could see a world without wires, a life with fewer cables running into the house and no phone jacks on the wall.

Although the LTE standard is capable of the above speeds, in the real world it will likely resemble 20 Mbps down and 5 Mbps up, said Keith Shank, the man who showed off Ericsson’s LTE base station to me. But that’s still crazy fast, especially since LTE would be deployed on a much wider basis than speedy services such as FiOS (which tops out at 50 Mbps up and 20 Mbps down in some services areas).

With speeds like that, two big shifts could occur in telecommunications. The first shift is already happening as the major players launch unlimited voice plans. Suddenly it becomes moot to have a wireline telephone, and the geographic boundaries that framed a consumer’s telco provider choices are gone. If I can use my cell phone economically for voice, I can cut the cord to my landline or the digital phone I have from my cable provider.

You can rightly argue that unless you have great coverage indoors, then cutting the twisted pair may not make sense, but considering the simplicity of femtocells, T-Mobile’s UMA efforts and even voice over Wi-Fi, the landline might finally be ready to give up the ghost. I confess that I still have two, but am cutting off one outright and once I can port my old number, switching to a service like Toktumi for the second phone.

So I’ve eliminated one line going into my home. But what about broadband? With visions of personalized television dancing in my head, along with music services, gaming and voice, I find it hard to let go of the idea of a fat pipe coming into my home. Streaming HD movies while someone else talks on the phone or transfers files requires a lot of bandwidth. It looks like LTE could do that.

There’s a few discordant notes in this wireless utopia, starting with the carriers. As with their control of mobile networks, ranging from Verizon disabling Bluetooth to today’s efforts to channel people through their own portals, it’s hard to believe they would let themselves become a munificent provider of the cloud. Nope, they’d want to be the gateway to that cloud.

That gateway might be a server that a consumer accesses to get to subscription content or perhaps even the consumer’s own content stored in the cloud, but it would be controlled by the carrier. Another burst of reality in this dream is the time frame. While folks at Ericsson believe LTE is about four years away, it will take time to reach the masses, from both an availability perspective and a cost perspective.

LTE isn’t the only option out there for wireless broadband in the home or office. WiMax is a slower contender, with actual deployments existing and planned. There’s also the existing 3G network, which some people use to provide all of their broadband needs today. But as I sit here with my cable connection, lusting after FiOS, I have to admit that LTE looked pretty sweet.

39 Responses to “LTE: Dreaming of Wireless Broadband”

  1. It all sounds good but we hear these things all the time and get excited. It will happen though, but will take a long time before we all have access. Broadband in my area is still pretty poor and technically I live in a city!

  2. As new technology gets closer to launch, rumours always start to spread. Sometimes these are true and in this case, I share your comments. The future of broadband isn’t that far away but as ever, it will take a while to break out of the city hubs and spread to those of us that breathe fresh air. Nice post.

  3. Sprint blows! WiMax could have been great but Sprint blew it with constant delays. And their wilress service sucks as well. Millions of Sprint customers are leaving every quarter.

  4. We’re certainly in the infant stages of wireless communications, even though we have come very far in the last few years. And you are spot-on with saying that carriers like Verizon will not want to allow unfettered use of its resources, but rather force people to use their proprietary ways to connect.
    But telephones used to be leased by the telephone companies and it was illegal to have a private phone in your home. Now VOIP allows people to travel the world with the same phone number.
    This same progression will hold true with wireless access. It may start out being very limited by the companies that provide it, but once the market begins to mature, they won’t be able to stay in business unless they cater to the consumer.

    It’s amazing to look back and reflect on how far we’ve come since the early days of dial up:

  5. As a ClearWire subscriber, I can say that Wireless Broadband is getting there, but is still a long way off. There simply aren’t enough towers dedicated to Wireless Broadband purposes and so the “promised” speeds they offer are inconsistent at best.

  6. Stacey Higginbotham

    Shai, I have faith that the cable and telco guys will figure out a way to tweak their TOS or pricing to address widespread femotcell use. Jesse, the LTE network should be fast and robust enough that one wouldn’t need a femtocell to boost access, but as Rick pointed out, demos can be made to work really well.

  7. Jesse Kopelman

    Femtocells only work if you have an existing broadband line in your home for backhaul. It would be pretty strange to pay a DSL provider and only use their service as backhaul for your LTE connection . . .