When the history of 4G LTE is written, 2013 will go down as the year when service provider and vendor efforts to advance the wireless communications standard paid off in the form of significant LTE subscriber growth. GSMA Intelligence, in its study, “Global LTE network forecasts and assumptions 2013-2017,” estimated that the past year concluded with 176 million global LTE connections – up more than six-fold over an 18-month period. GSMA further reports that LTE networks already cover more than 90% of the US population and 47% in Europe.
There remains a sizable, untapped market of consumers and enterprises that do not yet have access to LTE networks and LTE-enabled devices. While GSA, the Global mobile Suppliers Association, recently confirmed that 251 LTE networks are now launched, GSMA points out that Asia, with 10% LTE market coverage today, is expected to account for 47% of all LTE connections by 2017, and that the number of 4G-LTE connections across the world will eclipse one billion by that time as well – half the world’s population.
With LTE connections in the hundreds of millions, 2014 represents a pivotal year when mobile operators and others within the LTE ecosystem will need to ask themselves, “Ok, now that we have LTE subscribers, how can we deliver services, capabilities and a user experience compelling enough to not only attract new subscribers, but retain existing ones?”
Further advancing LTE in 2014 requires that mobile operators anticipate opportunities and challenges, and respond in rapid and nimble fashion. This article focuses on four LTE trends and predictions we expect to play out in 2014.
Fragmentation may precede cooperation
The ramp-up to 2G-enabled mobile device ubiquity was not without its fits and starts. Some threw their weight behind the Global System for Mobile communications (GSM) standard, while others opted for Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) – each able to passionately point out the benefits of their approach and the drawbacks of the alternative. The same process played itself out with 3G/3.5G, as operators evaluated the merits of Wideband Code Division Multiple Access (WCDMA) relative to High Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA).
As 2014 kicks off, there are tailwinds behind both TD-LTE (also referred to as LTE TDD) and FD-LTE (LTE FDD) in terms of which is best suited for delivering mobile data and other advanced communications services. China Mobile recently announced a decision to go with LTE TDD at a significant scale, requiring handset manufacturers and others interested in serving the massive China market to take notice. China Mobile planned to build approximately 200,000 TD-LTE base stations by the end of 2013.
Time-Division LTE is less mature than Frequency-Division LTE – which is used by major mobile operators such as EE in the United Kingdom – but it is clear that both standards need to be accounted for. The fact is that with 4G LTE standards, much like their predecessors, fragmentation may precede cooperation. Expect to see fragmentation fade. Already, device manufacturers recognize the need for dual-mode devices and/or seamless transitioning between the two networks.
Samsung recently stated publicly that: “While the majority of the global LTE market is based on FDD-LTE technology, TDD-LTE, the alternative LTE technology, is expected to see increased adoption in the US, China, Australia, Middle East, Northern and Eastern Europe, and Southwest Asia, and to gain a more pronounced position in the global LTE market. Seamless handover between FDD-LTE and TDD-LTE networks is a critical feature for end-user customers and mobile operators, especially in markets where the both technologies are deployed.”
Samsung also announced earlier this year that it would be developing dual-mode 4G TDD/FDD LTE phones for China, so that phones can operate on both FDD and TDD LTE networks. Beyond handset manufacturers, we expect to also see enabling technology for delivering unified communications across 4G LTE devices to similarly ensure these capabilities can be experienced across both standards.
LTE use cases will expand
The conversation around 4G LTE today focuses in broad terms around the needs of the enterprise end-user, the consumer, and in many cases the ‘prosumer’ who straddles both user profiles. In 2014, the diversity of LTE use cases will expand in a major way.
Already, we are seeing activity around LTE-Broadcast. In October of last year, Telstraannounced it was the first mobile carrier in the world to trial LTE-Broadcast live on a commercial network, opening new possibilities for how mobile broadcast video is delivered to end-users. In-vehicle LTE is also gaining speed, as it unlocks infotainment options that enhance the driver and passenger experience immeasurably in the same way that LTE-Broadcast changes how we access live broadcasts from any location. Car companies are already realizing the selling power of in-car technology, as numerous television commercials devote as much airtime to the technology bells & whistles of a connected car as they do to the car’s performance itself.
Non-traditional LTE applications are not restricted to the consumer market. Verizon has experienced success launching and enhancing vertical applications with 4G LTE-enabled devices. Verizon’s Field Force Manager and Fleet Control solutions enable companies to achieve greater returns when managing mobile workforces and fleets, and allows organizations with mobile fleets or field operations to address their unique challenges through LTE-enabled location management, cloud services and tablet based solutions.
Millennials will fuel shift to mobile UC, dual persona
By the year 2020, Millennials are expected to comprise approximately 45% of the entire U.S. workforce. This always-on, always-connected generation will bring its dynamic and diverse communications expectations to the office – which means that enterprises will need to plan for and manage the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) workforce.
With end-users demanding mobile unified communications to enable them to work efficiently, from anywhere, enterprises will be turning to mobile operators and even fixed line service providers to deliver mobile access to voice, video, instant message and presence, as well as conferencing and collaboration capabilities. Due to growing demand for mobile unified communications, coinciding with the build out of LTE networks, analyst firm Gartner predicts that by 2016, 75 percent of mobile UC solutions will be integrated into the enterprise telephony infrastructure.
Service providers are fully aware that LTE is a critical conduit for mobile UC delivery, and will increasingly architect mobility into UC solutions in order to monetize their LTE network investments. The wider global availability of LTE service in the near future will improve the value proposition for UC, but mobile operators need to stake their claim today by offering these services to the New Mobile Enterprise. At the same time, enterprises will increasingly view LTE-enabled mobile unified communications as the most effective way to support its BYOD workforce requirements.
As BYOD adoption continues to permeate the workforce, it will require “dual persona” support for advanced communications services on personal or enterprise-provided devices. Through dual persona, employers will be able to separate business and personal voice and UC services (including business and personal contacts, call logs and chat sessions), while maintaining a secure environment on the device for business applications with data that is fully controllable by the enterprise. At the same time, dual persona enables enterprises to meet user demands for a single device for all communication services, as employees will have more freedom to access their services from the device of their choice.
Enabling Migration From 2G/3G Networks Will Be Key
The GSMA study previously referenced forecasts that LTE networks will be available to half of the world’s population by 2017. However, mobile operators will still be looking for ways to deliver advanced and mobile communications services on 2G/3G networks, and as they migrate to 4G LTE.
As a result, we expect to see demand increase among mobile operators for unified communications services that are architected to be easily compatible with 2G, 3G or 4G/LTE networks – and any mobile device on these networks. Technology providers that, for example, can also transcode communications services and allow seamless movement between broadband network types, as well as between mobile devices and fixed-desk phones, will be best positioned to serve mobile operators in 2014.
Mobile operators able to access mobile UC services that are “future-proof” to work with their existing 2G/3G networks today, while enabling seamless migration to LTE networks going forward, can accelerate the monetization of their LTE investments in 2014 by delivering advanced applications and services only possible through LTE – including Voice over LTE (VoLTE), mobile video calling and conferencing, instant messaging and presence and web collaboration.