LTE N.A. 2011: LTE in North America fraught with challenges, opportunities

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After decades of “holy wars” surrounding cellular technologies, common ground seems to have been made around the LTE standard. Virtually all carriers around the world have said they plan on moving towards the standard at some point in the network evolution path regardless of which technology they are coming from.

Unlike past technology generations, the North American market is a significant driver of the LTE standard with broad-based deployments currently underway, and many more scheduled to begin in the coming months. Verizon Wireless, AT&T Mobility and Canada’s Rogers Wireless have already begun extensive network deployments reaching across the country, while regional player MetroPCS Communications has deployed services across most of its markets. Others, like Sprint Nextel, Leap Wireless, LightSquared, Clearwire, Telus Mobility, Bell Canada and some regional players have also announced plans to begin deploying services in the near term.

That is not to say that LTE will have the market all to itself over the next several years. Plenty of operators are moving forward with enhancements to their current HSPA-based 3G networks in order to garner more life out of those networks, especially in international markets where “4G” spectrum has yet to be made available.

This spectrum issue is also a concern for the North American market, but more so in the fact that so many different bands are likely to be used in support of the technology. Currently, Verizon Wireless and AT&T Mobility are rolling out their LTE networks using 700 MHz spectrum. MetroPCS has been using a mix of 1.7/2.1 GHz and 1.9 GHz spectrum bands depending on markets. Rogers Wireless in Canada is also using its 1.7/2.1 GHz spectrum, though has said it would also use 700 MHz spectrum once it becomes available.

As for those that have yet to launch services, Sprint Nextel has said its initial LTE rollout would use 1.9 GHz spectrum, though it was looking at possible adding capacity in the 800 MHz band in the future. Leap Wireless will use a mix of its 1.7/2.1 GHz and 1.9 GHz spectrum assets, while LightSquared is looking to use spectrum in the 1.6 GHz band. Clearwire has said it will use portions of its vast 2.5 GHz spectrum portfolio to support its LTE plans, while Telus Mobility and Bell Canada will initially use 1.7/2.1 GHz frequencies before adding 700 MHz spectrum.

It should be noted that Clearwire’s LTE plans also will bring about the use of TDD spectrum bands as opposed to the more common FDD bands to be used by most operators. The TDD bands group uplink and downlink activities in the similar batch of spectrum as opposed to having separate uplink and downlink channels for FDD.

Helping to support all of these deployment plans are the various bandwidth channels built into the LTE standard ranging from as small as 1.4 megahertz up to plans for 20 megahertz and beyond.

Overall, the North American LTE market is set to encompass spectrum bands from 700 MHz all the way up to 2.5 GHz, with several distinct bands in between. This spells both a challenge and opportunity for infrastructure and device makers charged with preparing equipment that can handle the spectrum.

For equipment vendors, the challenge will be in providing equipment that is compatible with the various bands while at the same time having a small enough footprint so that carriers can install the equipment at current cell sites. There will also be the challenge of insuring that the equipment will be somewhat upgradeable to the various “release” versions of LTE set to roll out in the coming years. Currently, LTE deployments rely on the Release 8 of the technology, though Release 9 is expected to begin rolling out in commercial equipment in the near term.

A bigger update is expected with Release 10, which will usher in the LTE-Advanced standard and promises of higher speeds and capacity.

For device makers, the challenge will also come in trying to provide support to all the various spectrum bands in hopes of supplying devices that can roam across different networks. Each spectrum band requires a different antenna to be crammed inside of the device, which in addition to LTE, will also have to support legacy network and spectrum requirements. Current LTE devices are already showing the challenges this entails with many devices having to include support for several wireless standards (LTE, CDMA2000 1x, HSPA, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth) as well as the various spectrum bands they operate in.

LTE North America Awards

With that as a background, this year’s LTE North America event is sure to be a lively affair. Beyond the schedule of speakers and panels at the event, which is schedule for Nov. 8-9 in Dallas, organizers have also lined up a number of awards that are set to be presented during the event.

This year awards will be presented across nine categories during a ceremony Nov. 8. Categories and finalists include:

–Best Contribution to R&D for LTE: Huawei, InterDigital and ZTE.

–Contributions to LTE Standards (individual): Deb Barclay, Alcatel-Lucent; and Xiang Chen, Huawei.

–Contribution to LTE Development (individual): Aeneas Dodd-Noble, Cisco; and Joe Hogan, Openet.

–Significant Progress for a Commercial Launch of LTE by a Carrier: AT&T Mobility, MetroPCS Communications and Rogers Wireless.

–Significant Progress for a Commercial Launch of LTE by a Vendor: Alcatel-Lucent (Motive LTE device management); Ericsscon; Gemalto (OTA Advanced for LTE and LTE UICCs); and Novatel Wireless (MiFi 4510L 4G LTE Mobile Hotspot, Expedite E362 embedded module and Ovation MC551 and MC679 USB modems).

–Best Network/Device Testing Product for LTE: Anritsu (ME7834 Mobile Device Test Platform and BTS Master and Cell Master); JDSU (Signaling Analyzer Real Time 7.1); Newfield Wireless (TrueCall); Techmahindra (Simulation With In-circuit Functional Test Tool for End-to-End Testing); and Tektronix (LTE Monitoring Solution).

–Best Enabling Technology for LTE: Alcatel-Lucent (Consumer LTE communication solution); Aricent (LTE eNodeB Software Framework); Motorola Solutions (Motorola LTE Prioritization Service); Nokia Siemens Networks (Liquid Radio); Powerwave (LTE Picocell); Reverb Networks (PerformaBeams Antenna-Based Self-Optimization Network Software Solution); Seven Networks (Open Channel); and ZTE (ZXSDR BS8920).

–Best Chipset/Processor Product: GCT Semiconductor (GDM7240); Mindspeed Technologies (Transcede 40xx System-on Chip); and PMC-Sierra (WinPath3 Network Processor).

–Best LTE Core Network Product: Alcatel-Lucent (9471 WMM (MME)); Bytemobile (T3100 Adaptive Traffic Manager); Huawei (USN9810); Mavenir Systems (mOne Convergence Platform); Nokia Siemens Networks (Open Core System); Tekelec (Diameter Signaling Router); Tellabs (SmartCore 9180 Platform); Traffix Systems (Signaling Delivery Controller).

About Author

Dan Meyer

Editor-in-Chief, Telecom Software, Policy, Wireless Carriers
dmeyer@rcrwireless.com
Dan Meyer started at RCR Wireless News in 1999 covering wireless carriers and wireless technologies. As editor-in-chief, Dan oversees editorial direction, reports on news from the wireless industry, including telecom software, policy and wireless carriers, and provides opinion stories on topics of concern to the market such as his popular Friday column “Worst of the Week.”