LTE is needed next year claims a study as reported in fiercewireless

My view is: I think LTE is needed next year onwards but not for the reasons listed in the report

I give my thoughts below why I believe that is the case.


Firstly, let us clarify something:

1) We all know that ‘LTE deployed’ has a more complex meaning (devices available etc).

2) Secondly, Operators will run multiple radio networks (HSDPA, 3G and LTE) simultaneously. Some will run HSDPA+, some will run LTE in hotspots or even rural areas.

3) LTE handsets will be delayed. As will chipsets from optimistic projections

4) Consumers buying phones may not notice much difference between LTE vs. non LTE devices

5) Operators will raise the spectre of spectrum scarcity for political and commercial reasons.

6) Backhaul complicates matters i.e. it is not possible to say if the scarcity is due to backhaul issues or due to the radio network itself.

7) Over and above all this, vendors will claim LTE is needed because they want to sell to Operators.

Against this background, let us consider some more aspects:

a) Operators have been complaining about Smartphone traffic .. recently.

b) Data consumption from smartphones is increasing. The Nokia N95 user consumes 10 times data than the average user, the iPhone user 30 times and the HSDPA (laptop) user consumes 100 times data from the average user

c) As at March 2009, facebook doubled its size from the last 8 months

d) In an era of fixed rate pricing and net neutrality, Operators will have to embrace services where the network truly offers a unique advantage to the Web. Machine to Machine computing and secure transactions offer a way to do this

e) Operators have to distinguish themselves. In spite of opinions, Operators are innovative and in some cases like Verizon in the USA are pushing for innovative services

Would we buy mobile broadband from a network that cannot handle smarphones?

When I see Operators complain about Smartphone traffic, I have to ask the question:

Would we buy mobile broadband from a network that cannot handle smarphones? I.e. If an Operator cannot handle the iPhone, their mobile broadband will be even more poor?

If a specific Operator complains about Smartphone traffic, it will be an alarm bell in the minds of customers and will cause them to churn from those networks to ones who can handle data.

Apparently, it turns out, that’s not the case ..

There are two components to the traffic load: One is the raw data (this comes from laptops, direct consumption etc) and the second is signalling resource. Signalling traffic is caused by a lot of ‘bursty’ traffic from social networks, updates, lookups etc. Raw data offloading can be done by various means like WiFi, femtocells etc.

However, signalling is the real issue. And as we see from the rise of social networks and the Mobile Web, signalling traffic will only increase.


Martin Sauter explains the issues arising from signalling in a blog Continuous Packet Connectivity (CPC) Is Not Sexy – Part 1

Release 7 introduces Continuous Packet Connectivity and the section below is simplified from Martin’s blog

With HSPA (HSDPA and HSUPA), mobile devices now have a multi megabit data bearer to both send and receive their data. As devices do not send data all the time, the device is managed through various states. During Short Periods of Inactivity (< around="" 10s):="" the="" network="" keeps="" the="" high="" speed="" channels="" in="" both="" uplink="" and="" downlink="" direction="" in="" place="" so="" the="" mobile="" can="" resume="" transferring="" data="" without="" delay.="" keeping="" the="" high="" speed="" channels="" in="" place="" means="" that="" the="" mobile="" has="" to="" keep="" transmitting="" radio="" layer="" control="" information="" to="" the="" network="" which="" has="" a="" negative="" impact="" on="" battery="" life="" and="" also="" decreases="" the="" bandwidth="" for="" other="" devices="" in="" the="" cell.="" 10="" seconds="" is="" certainly="" a="" compromise="" which="" is="" not="" always="" ideal="" since="" during="" a="" web="" browsing="" session,="" for="" example,="" it="" takes="" the="" user="" longer="" in="" many="" cases="" than="" this="" time="" to="" click="" on="" a="" new="">

Continuous Packet Connectivity aims at reducing the shortcomings described above by introducing enhancements to keep a device on the high speed channels (i.e. in active state) as long as possible while no data transfer is ongoing by reducing the negative effects of this, i.e. reducing power consumption and reducing the bandwidth requirements for radio layer signaling during that time.

Tweaks are possible but may not be enough ..

My contention is: tweaks are possible (ex CPC enhancements) but may not be enough considering the sheer volume of growth in social networking applications which leads to bursty traffic and to signalling problems.

LTE is needed to overcome the signalling issue and the projections on the social use of mobile data make LTE imperative. LTE is not mandatory but the trends in data growth are very high and that provides an impetus for network upgrades

Richer applications are possible

Besides the reason mentioned above (which is defensive), the more offensive(revenue earning) reason is to exploit new applications. These involve innovative use of the network but will also lead to bursty machine to machine traffic which will need LTE

Mobile health is very interesting. Lots of Operator focus as you can from a forthcoming conference on mobile health in London . Secure cloud computing – for example initiatives from Verizon and Smart Grids

Investments in these applications will help Operators to distinguish themselves and avail revenue from services which cannot be fulfilled by the Web.

To conclude:

So, to conclude LTE will be needed next year ..

The mistake lies in extrapolating the past into the future i.e. thinking that LTE phones may be most important drivers ..

The trends for bursty traffic driven by the social use of mobile data are exponential. This is the main defensive driver. Some tweaks are possible but will not be enough. The biggest opportunities for LTE may be in non consumer areas like Smart Grids, Mobile health and Cloud computing.

In an era of fixed rate pricing and net neutrality, smart Operators will embrace services where the network truly offers a unique advantage in comparison to the Web. Machine to Machine computing and secure transactions offer a way to do this


I clarified some of my thinking from a series of discussions I have been having at forumoxford and many thanks to Todd Spraggins, Vladimir Dimitroff, Dean Bubley, Martin Sauter , Zigurd Mednieks and Chetan Sharma for their insights and feedback