Blog Post

Japan’s newest mobile network makes U.S. LTE seem sluggish

Japanese operator eAccess isn’t deploying any old LTE network. It’s going for broke, pushing the upper limits of the technology to launch a network that could theoretically support downlink speeds of 300 Mbps, according to TeleGeography. That makes Verizon’s(s vz)(s vod) LTE network, which can breach 25 Mbps on a good day, seem pokey.

Theoretical speeds are just that, theoretical. Just as T-Mobile’s 21 Mbps and 42 Mbps HSPA+ systems could never actually deliver those peak speeds in real world environments, eAccess customers won’t be downloading the human genome onto their smartphones. TeleGeography reported that subscribers to the carrier’s eMobile service can expect more realistic speeds of 75 Mbps with a 25 Mbps uplink tossed in for good measure. Considering that’s faster than most residential broadband connections, I doubt customers will complain.

In order to achieve that performance, eAccess had to max out the technical capabilities of today’s LTE standard (for the less acronym averse, that’s 3GPP Release 8), a luxury that many global operators don’t share. eAccess is building its network over 40 MHz of spectrum, while Verizon’s and AT&T’s(s T) rollouts use 20 MHz or less.

EAccess also has to cram four LTE antennas into its devices, while we only use two antennas stateside. It’s highly unlikely eAccess will be able to incorporate this technology into smartphones. Double antennas mean double the power consumption, but they also create a problem for spatial design. Those antennas will need room to stretch, otherwise the network won’t find them. That probably means the full capabilities of the network will only be available to larger devices such as laptops or tablets. Or if eAccess sticks to its wireline roots, it may use it as residential broadband service. A smartphone with a 75 Mbps connections is overkill anyway.

When can we expect networks like this in the U.S.? Well, the operators are working on incorporating technologies from the next wireless standard, LTE-Advanced, into their current networks. LTE-Advanced promises speeds as high as 1 Gbps for stationary devices, but operators don’t have the spectrum to implement the full capabilities of the standard at once. We’ll likely see more conservative LTE-Advanced deployments that may well give eAccess’ super-LTE network a challenge in a dead heat.

12 Responses to “Japan’s newest mobile network makes U.S. LTE seem sluggish”

  1. John Patrick Kerr

    Sort of like having an 800Hp Corvette instead of a 500Hp one. Good for bragging rights but with the exception of FTP ransfers or Mobile connection to PCs via hotspot who cares?

    • Kevin Fitchard

      Hi John,

      I think that’s a point that needs to be made more often as operators tout who has the faster network. But I should say that this isn’t just a marketing trick. The cellular network is shared capacity so eAccess gets 75 Mbps of total capacity per cell, instead of just 25 or 30. When it comes to maintaining a fast connection on a congested network, that’s a big advantage.

  2. J L Gatewood

    eAccess, or E-mobile as we know them here in Japan is primarily an wireless data access company. They started out strictly selling usb data sticks and “mi-fi” 3G hotspot routers in 2007. Unlike the other big 3 carriers in Japan, Emobile has no nationwide stores, and only 7 stores around Tokyo and Osaka. They depend on electronics retailers to resell their service.
    In 2008 they started selling smartphones thanks to a tie up with NTT Docomo that let them use some of their switching equipment and spectrum. (Emobile uses 1700mhz Band IX UMTS along with 2100 swapped from NTT. There was a rule by the Ministry of Communications here that said 1700Mhz would be data only; that’s since been rescinded.)
    They sell Android smartphones now and make a point to let you know that tethering is OK as well as the phone’s totally SIM unlocked out the box; they want to be a “dumb pipe”. They still primarily sell wireless hotspot devices and partner with retailers to offer discounts to gadgets if you get their services at the same time you buy. For example, a wi-fi only iPad will be get Â¥50,000 taken off if you sign a 2 year agreement, making it around Â¥3000 yen or so–US$36.
    For this reason, many here use them. They also have a large hotspot network as well, and with most price plans, you get that thrown in as well. I know a lot of people who only use them and have no wired internet in their home. Makes moving around a lot easier; it takes 2-3 weeks to get a wired DSL or fiber line into the home here.
    I’m glad to see them setting their sights high on LTE; I may be switching back to them soon if they have some good pricing on it as well.

  3. I think smart phones need as much bandwidth as they can get. I remember when they used to say that 56k was fast enough for everything you need to do on the net.

    • Kevin Fitchard

      Hi Luscious,

      Good post, though I should point out that AT&T did eliminate punitive overage charges on smartphones (it charges $10 a GB after the initial 2 gigs) and Sprint is the operator that charges a $10 premium for 4G (though it gives you unlimited data). We’ve had this discussion before in these comments, and while I definitely agree with your point about consumers wanting unlimited data plans, I think they’re a thing of the past. In my opinion, I’d rather the operator meter data. I suspect I use far less capacity than you, but so I don’t want to pay the same rate as you. Now the question of whether pricing per MB is too high is another one entirely…

      Thanks for commenting.

  4. MichaelBrianBentley

    You’d think that cell providers would be more interested in competing than co-existing, but I don’t see a lot of one-upsmanship between Verizon and AT&T. The point of cell systems is that you add towers with short range transceivers to increase the capacity of the network in higher traffic areas. The bandwidth requirements only matter when mediocre service is adequate.

    • William Diaz ✔

      Verizon and AT&T have an agreement. They are the monopoly carrier for landline and duopoly for wireless in many areas. Their goal isnt to “one-up” each other anymore, it is to stay on top and put the smaller companies at a major disadvantage with denying roaming agreements, embezzling spectrum from smaller companies for their own LTE networks (and then reselling smaller companies access), and driving out any competition from any other CDMA or GSM carrier. Because both Verizon and Sprint are so big, neither will go up against each other. To do so would end more poorly than the AT&T-Mobile merger fail… It will also create a monopoly across the nation, that will be broken up, or taken control of by the government, who will then convert it to their own network for their own enjoyment. Doesnt matter to me.