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With 38 frequency flavors, LTE won’t unify 4G

Next-generation LTE mobile broadband networks won’t unify global communications anytime soon, if ever. A new Wireless Intelligence (WI) report published Friday estimates more than 200 LTE networks will have launched around the world by 2015. That’s great news until you realize your LTE device won’t work on them all: 38 different frequencies are expected on these networks.

A quick look at the WI chart may give folks some ease because the majority of the LTE networks are using 700 MHz spectrum. But there are two problems. First, the 67 percent of LTE networks using 700 MHz is for this year. A look at the inner ring shows 700 MHz is still the preferred frequency for networks running in 2015, but only for 16 percent of the operators.

The second issue is that even within a range of like spectrum, carriers can use slightly different frequencies, effectively removing the ability to move a device from one network to another. This type of fragmentation is already evident in the U.S. LTE networks currently in deployment. AT&T(s t) and Verizon(s vz)(s vod) are both using 700 MHz blocks, but with a slight variance: Verizon’s network will use 746-787MHz, while AT&T’s is opting for 704-746MHz.

Clearing the same spectrum in every country around the world is obviously a Herculean effort, especially since regions have been using certain frequencies for years. Perhaps it isn’t even possible to do so at this point. But it’s a disappointment, as the mobile web is empowering users to think global instead of just local.

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