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LTE Jumps Ahead in the Race to 4G

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The awkwardly named Long-Term Evolution (LTE) technology is pulling ahead in the race for the 4G wireless networks. If carrier plans are any indication, Ultra Mobile Broadband, the upgrade technology for CDMA networks, is quickly becoming a non-factor. Even WiMAX, which was at one point seen as offering significant cost and time advantages, has started to lose out to LTE.

Since so many industry insiders have started talking about the inevitability of LTE over everything else, I have started to keep tabs on different carriers and their 4G plans. Here are some notables that have made their LTE plans public.

This is not a complete list so much as a directional indicator. (If you have any carriers you want to see on this list, please send me an email.) China and India, the big gorillas on Planet Mobile, have yet to decide their 3G/4G destiny and so remain an X-factor. (More on India down below.)

As more carriers opt for LTE, the equipment makers can start planning for scale and thus bring down the cap-ex costs for these carriers. Lower pricing can have a domino effect, so we could see smaller carriers start to opt for LTE as well. Companies on the equipment side are already making LTE plans.

At the CTIA show in Las Vegas, which wrapped up last week, there were a couple of significant announcements:

  • Chinese equipment maker Huawei Technologies said it will have its 700 MHz products ready for launch in the first quarter of 2009, around the time the carriers can start claiming the wireless spectrum they bought. These offerings include UMTS, CDMA and LTE devices.
  • Ericsson, which is now a dominant wireless infrastructure equipment provider, announced its 700 MHz plans with its new M700 mobile platform, an LTE-capable platform with peak data rates of up to 100Mbps in the downlink and up to 50Mbps in the uplink.

Again, this is not a complete list. (If you want us to include you in future 700 MHz/LTE posts, please drop us a link or short informational blurb via our contact form.)

Our favorite wireless data analyst, Chetan Sharma, did the rounds at CTIA and his conclusion about LTE concurred with our reporting. “Without a doubt the operator community is rallying behind LTE, and there might be an opportunity to finally converge to a single standard,” he says.

Sharma points out that single standards, while nice and dandy, will soon become a thing of the past thanks to “advances in silicon” that now make it possible “to integrate multiple radios” on single chip. Of course, the potential of software-defined radios are finally beginning to be realized as well; Huawei, for example, will be using SDRs in its 700 MHz gear.

So what about WiMAX? Well in the U.S., things aren’t looking so good. Sprint’s Xohm Network has hit some snags and Clearwire is riding rough seas. A rescue in the form of a new, megabillion-dollar funding for a new WiMAX operator might emerge, but we’ll have to wait and see.

As Sharma notes, “WiMAX has forced acceleration of the LTE standardization process but is starting to lose its time (and cost) advantage.” From what I have been able to learn, WiMAX is the technology of choice in the emerging telecom economies. In India for instance, Tata and Reliance, two giant telecom operators, are spending a ton of cash on WiMAX, as is the incumbent Indian incumbent, BSNL.

Charlie Martin, CTO of wireless for Huawei, in an interview with Fierce Broadband Wireless, said, “We view WiMAX as different from CDMA and LTE in terms of the fact that WiMAX is a good alternative for emerging markets and alternative operators.” If there is one company that knows emerging markets, it is Huawei, so I give Martin’s comments a lot of credence.

Note: I am starting to keep close tabs on all mobile web/wireless broadband developments and will be keeping you posted in coming weeks and months. I am looking to come up with a matrix of winners and losers – from chipmakers to device makers to carriers — from all these new wireless evolutions. If you want to help me with that, drop me a note with your thoughts and suggestions. Or send me your email address so I can add you to an ever-changing collaboration using Google Docs.

Interested in web infrastructure? Want to learn more about Green Data Centers? Check out our upcoming conference, Structure 08.

24 Responses to “LTE Jumps Ahead in the Race to 4G”

  1. Way too early to call a winner in the 4G sweepstakes (although UMB does look like toast). If it was all about global support then GSM should have stamped out CDMA back in 2002 but it didn’t. If it was just about speeds and feeds then why is the iPhone so popular? Devices and services sell the network, not vice versa. Until we see services, gadgets and pricing for early 4G we don’t have a clue what will eventually emerge, although I guess that WiMax and LTE will co-exist.


    Dan Jones

  2. Tony Palik

    To add to John Thacker’s comments, I think the effort required from existing GSM operators to get to LTE has been understated as well. If one is a GSM operator (TDMA-based), also with UMTS (CDMA-based) then “migrates” to LTE (OFDMA-based) are the tower headframes going to collapse under the weight of all the different antennas ? I guess the industry is hoping that with so many operators going through the same pain it will be somehow less difficult.

  3. Om,
    I would also look to NTT DoCoMo for leadership in this arena (no surprise right). At the CTIA show last week, they too showed off a glimpse of LTE (and beyond). They also announced in a press release on March 26 of this year that achieved speeds of 250Mbps for the downlink. The press release can be found here: Also, they are defining LTE as “Super 3G”, and have an even more advanced road map for what they term as 4G. Their press release includes a very nice PDF roadmap that you might find interesting.

  4. John Thacker

    To emphasize what Jahangir Raina said, the reason that Verizon, Sprint, KDDI, Korea Telecom, and all the other IS-95/CDMA operators went with CDMA2000 for 3G is that, while UMTS and CDMA2000 are relatively similar in having CDMA air interfaces and bandwidth, CDMA2000 was a very painless upgrade path for the IS-95 operators, with both towers and phones easily backwards compatible since IS-95 was already CDMA. By contrast, while GSM has a lot of nice features like SIM cards (which are put into the standard unlike IS-95), the original GSM TDMA air interface is highly incompatible with all 3G technologies, including UMTS. That’s why the 3G transition was much more painful for GSM operators. IS-95 came out after GSM was developed; the various issues with CDMA air interfaces like multipath interface were thought to be insurmountable from a practical perspective until Qualcomm solved them. That’s why they have those patents, and why they get money even from GSM (for UMTS.)

    The difference is that all the 4G solutions are OFDMA, not CDMA like the 3G solutions. Transitioning to 4G is going to produce compatibility headaches for the operators no matter what they choose. This time, without the CDMA2000 operators having the option of a very painless upgrade, there’s a much greater chance that they’ll go with the more dominant standard.

  5. tc1uscg

    What people keep forgetting, LTE (and as Sprint has pointed out and media keeps ignoring) is, cell towers have mostly T1 lines running to them. You need to put the bandwidth 4G requires on something and current T1 lines can’t handle it. Sprints “logistical” problems? Backhaul. Not the one at the CO’s, but the ones from the POP’s to the tower. People keep going off about LTE and how it’s so golden as compaired to Wimax. Don’t forget, in the lab, LTE looks great. But put it out in the REAL WORLD and it will run into the SAME issues wimax is having. It’s going to be no faster then the copper it rides to the pop. It’s going to cost AT&T and VZW big bucks to overcome this, unless they rush to set up microwave links. Again, costly.

  6. Nick L

    Not knowing LTE too much, I’m just wondering with 100 Mbps download, what kind of backhaul would be needed from the basestations to the core network? Would this drive new demands for “fix” broadband e.g., fiber, etc?

  7. Migrating legacy networks has never been easy for operators. No matter how much you tweak things, there will always be certain inflexible legacy elements that will limit the potential of a network. Most of the time it makes sense to build a new house rather than renovate an old one. Look at the wireline guys. They have not been able to bridge the narrowband and broadband at all. All such projects have failed. So what we are left with is two parallel networks. Same will happen with the cellular guys implementing LTE. They will end up with seperate wireless data network (which will ultimately consume apps) and narrowband gsm voice network.

  8. On its 700 mhz conference call last week, the Verizon folks reiterated taht China Mobile is a participant in its LTE testing process (along with Vodafone of course). So I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Chinese market tip toward LTE in due course. India may be a different story, of course.

  9. Om,

    Nice article. LTE got ahead the moment Vodafone threw its weight behind it and also suggested that Verizon was going to take it up. Besides, the backing for LTE from most European companies coupled with Qualcomm’s aggressive development activities is also a good sign that this standard will win the 4G race. Remember that UMB is almost Qualcomm’s proprietary technology. Qualcomm also purchased the mobile WiMAX division of TeleCIS last year. The fact that the company has moved full steam with LTE tells a lot.

    I maintain a blog covering mobile wireless value chain. I am currently covering various chipset vendors to build a matrix in collaboration with Sramana Mitra. I have covered Qualcomm, Broadcom, InterDigital and TI so far and have moved on to Marvell now. I have also talked about the various 4G technologies and how it affects the strategies of these companies. You can read my insights from

    Hope my site helps your research. I look forward to your matrix and analysis.

    Vijay Nagarajan

  10. If Verizon and Vodafone move to LTE in the future, does this mean that you could roam the world with a single phone? Like a present day GSM phone?