While it first appeared as a live commercial network technology at the tail end of 2009, it really wasn’t until 2011 that LTE could really be called a mainstream technology. It really hit the ground in 2012 but as it stands it is only really widely deployed in North America, South Korea and Japan. In 2013 however, we expect it to truly become mainstream proposition in many countries around the world, particularly in Europe.
Here then are our Top 5 predictions for LTE in 2013.
1. LTE handsets:
With more LTE networks will inevitably come more LTE handsets. It’s fairly sound logic, but the analyst figures are there to back that up. According to Boston’s Strategy Analytics global sales of LTE smartphones will triple to 275 million handsets in 2013, up from 90 million sold in 2012. It might just be numbers but in many ways it’s quite exciting. With LTE networks and LTE handsets in people’s hands the rise of cloud services can really start to accelerate and encourage innovation as companies begin to compete for dominance in this rising space.
2. Emergence of LTE in Africa:
One of most interesting areas for LTE in 2013 will be the emergence of the standard in Africa. That’s not to say it will hit the mainstream – anything but, but the technology will start to impact the continent. Vodacom is currently the only live service has launched in South Africa, with 70 active base stations at launch, while MTN is readying a limited launch service in Durban, Pretoria and Johannesburg, while Cell C has been making plans to. There are concerns such as high CAPEX costs, a lack of devices and a lack of spectrum to contend with. Nevertheless Informa Telecoms & Media is predicting 350,000 LTE subscriptions in Africa by the end of 2012. These issues and more, will be address at the LTE Africa conference, taking place on the 16th-17th July 2013 in Cape Town, South Africa.
3. TD-LTE: Big in China
China was well known for furrowing its own path for 3G, using the TD-SCDMA standard so it would not have to be beholden to western technology standards. It’s sticking with TD for 4G, but crucially it looks as though this Time Division thing is going to be pretty popular worldwide. Sprint in the US is using it, as it P1 is Malaysia and of course as the world’s largest operator in terms of subscribers, anything the China Mobile uses it going to have a huge impact of economies of scale. With well over a 100 TD-LTE at the moment 2013 could be a breakthrough year for TD-LTE.
4. VoLTE: Only fools rush in
Using Circuit switched Fallback for voice calls when you have an LTE network is horrible from a technical purist viewpoint, but with no negative customer feedback operators are not going to hurry to introduce new technology. Just ask Verizon Wireless and EE, who have already announced that they are pushing out their timelines for the commercial deployment of VoLTE. SK Telecom and Metro PCS may have deployed but we don’t see many joining them in 2013. To quote Mark Newman, Chief Research Officer at Informa Telecoms & Media, “A business case that looks to be based solely on spectrum efficiency will struggle to gain enough executive support to justify a rushed investment plan”.
5. LTE Small-Cell Backhaul:
Some comment from wireless infrastructure vendor Ruckus Wireless summed this up well with the following comment:
The launch of commercial 4G services from EE in October saw the UK join the LTE race. In order to achieve the network capacity required by increasing mobile data traffic, it will be necessary to augment these LTE macrocell build-outs with an underlay of small cells. This represents a new, and very significant, backhaul challenge because the mounting locations for these small cells (typically street lamps and traffic signals) are not a natural fit for fibre or microwave backhaul solutions. The optimum solution to this challenge is to use Wi-Fi in the 5GHz band to backhaul this traffic to a place where Ethernet is available. We will see lots of activity here as small cells are integrated in Wi-Fi APs, so that one unit can provide both small cells access and Wi-Fi backhaul.