Editor’s Note: With 2013 now upon us, RCR Wireless News has gathered predictions from leading industry analysts and executives on what they expect to see in the new year.
In 2012, LTE finally went main stream. Sure, there had been plenty of talk around this popular “4G” network type before, but this past year was all about deployment, deployment, deployment. Expect the same for 2013, as more mobile operators solidify their plans. One flavor of LTE, FD-LTE, has gotten a lot of attention as Verizon Wireless makes huge strides in building out its LTE network based on the technology. Close behind on the buzz scale is another type of LTE called TD-LTE, which is the chosen path of China Mobile and other major operators globally. Different networks mean different devices. So what can we expect from forthcoming devices running TD-LTE? As it turns out, much of the innovation we’ll see will happen in the guts of the phone before we start to see big strides in form factor evolution.
The rise Of TD-LTE
There are inherent differences between TD-LTE and FD-LTE that will shape the mobile industry for many years to come.
–Reduced spectrum requirements: TD-LTE does not require paired spectrum like FD-LTE.
–Dynamic uplink/downlink capacity: TD-LTE provides the flexibility to change the uplink and downlink ratios dynamically based on need, resulting in increased downlink capacity.
–Lower deployment costs: TD-LTE requires less hardware expenditure than FD-LTE since there is no need for a diplexer to isolate the transmitter and receiver.
In 2013, we’ll see more expansion of TD-LTE networks as some of the top mobile network operators either continue or start to deploy TD-LTE. This includes operators such as China Mobile, Airtel, Softbank and Sprint Nextel/Clearwire. As these networks are built out, what can we expect to see in 2013 from TD-LTE device form factors, chipset manufacturers and OEMs?
Well, as it happens, the more things change, the more they stay the same. The next wave of TD-LTE devices will not look or feel much different from today’s FD-LTE devices that are sold in mass quantities. In fact, the differences will be virtually invisible to the average wireless consumer. Of course, that’s because the network air interface standard or the multiplexing technology used is usually not given a second thought by subscribers. Their primary concern tends to include network availability, speed, cost per megabyte and device selection. That said, TD-LTE is starting to develop some serious clout that is resulting in important behind the scenes changes that will impact device components.
Chipset manufacturers focus on TD-LTE
China Mobile, Airtel, Softbank and Sprint Nextel/Clearwire count over one billion existing mobile subscribers combined. This large subscriber base, along with network build out commitments, have chipset manufactures pushing focus to TD-LTE support. When discussing LTE of any flavor, Qualcomm immediately comes to top of mind. In December 2012, China Mobile was set to complete its next phase of TD-LTE trial device decisions and Qualcomm chips are projected to support a majority of these data cards, mobile hot spot devices and customer premises equipment.
There are several other chipset manufacturers that are working to create variety for the TD-LTE ecosystem outside of Qualcomm.
–Sequans Communications (Paris): Transitioned focus from WiMAX chips to LTE and supports both FDD and TDD duplexing methods in its Streamrich LTE product line.
–Marvell Technology Group (Santa Clara, Calif.): Supports LTE FDD and TDD Cat 4, HSPA+, TD-SCDMA and EDGE with its PXA1801 LTE world modem.
–Spreadtrum Communications (Shanghai): Supports TD-LTE, TD-SCDMA and quad-band EDGE/GPRS/GSM with its SC9610 product.
HiSilicon (Shenzhen, China): Supports LTE FDD and TDD Cat 4, 3G Dual Carrier with MIMO, TD-SCDMA, and EDGE with its Balong 710 product.
TD-LTE device form factors in 2013
As TD-LTE networks are still being built, extensive and rigorous Interoperability Testing (IOT) with all top infrastructure vendors in the focused bands, is fundamentally important. In order to expedite IOT testing and network build out, TD-LTE devices must come to market quickly.
In the first wave of devices, form factors that do not have a complex user interface are typically launched so network operators can conduct IOT testing and begin to load the network. In 2013, we can expect simple TD-LTE access devices such as data cards, mobile hot spot devices and CPEs that will support existing 3G technologies.
In the second wave, the sexier devices will follow, including smartphones and tablets. Ahead of the curve, ZTE announced its dual-mode Grand Era LTE smartphone in December 2012, supporting both LTE FDD and TDD on China Mobile. However, the drawback as an early adopter will be the need to reboot to switch networks, as was reported by Engadget China. The seamless transition between LTE FDD and TDD is a requirement that will be addressed in future devices.
TD-LTE devices and beyond
In summary, consumers will not see much difference in the look and feel of TD-LTE or dual mode devices. However, chipset manufacturers, OEMs and wireless network operators will be working harder to ensure the experience will one day become seamless.
The future does promise increased speeds once the industry brings in carrier aggregation – channel bonding. Chipset manufacturers and OEMs will then have to scramble through development, IOT, soft-launch and deployment all over again. Also, the future promises that wireless network operators will cooperate more in order to accelerate roaming and seamless customer experience, while aiming to drive down component complexity and cost.
Yes, TD-LTE network deployments are picking up steam. But it will take significant device testing to determine how phones and tablets built for these networks will continue to evolve. For now, it is safe to say that the stage is finally set.
Jefferson Wang leads the Wireless and Mobility efforts at IBB Consulting. An industry expert with over 12 years in wireless, Wang has helped clients innovate and execute through the entire new product development lifecycle from idea generation to launch. Wang’s focus is on devices, products and services that help wireless carriers, device manufacturers and content providers drive revenue. Wang holds a Bachelor Degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Maryland, College Park.