Manufacturers claim success in initial LTE tests

Initial laboratory and field tests of a next-generation wireless technology called Long Term Evolution — or LTE — has been successful, says a consortium of telecom manufacturers and network operators.

The news came in a press release that had no details but claimed the initial results “confirmed that the technology will deliver high levels of data throughput both for stationary and mobile devices.”

“The details are so nitty gritty,” said Maniam Palanivelu, senior manager for marketing a number of broadband technologies at Nortel Networks, one of LTE’s backers. “There was a lot of debate on whether it should be put into a press release. But it was felt it was too technical and the message would get lost.”

However, he stressed that unlike earlier computer simulations of LTE, the most recent round of tests were “based on real prototypes” of transmitting and receiving hardware. LTE, often hyped as a so-called 4G technology, is backed by a number of manufacturers including Ericsson, Alcatel-Lucent, Nokia and LG Electronics, as well as carriers such as T-Mobile, Vodafone, Telecom Italia, China Mobile and NTT DoCoMo.

Palanivelu said a number of carriers believe LTE will leapfrog over WiMax to become the mobile broadband technology of choice for delivering data and video to handsets as early as 2010.

Among LTE’s goals is to achieve download speeds of two to five times the spectral efficiency (bits per second per hertz) of today’s wireless networks, he said. Standards for the technology will be set by the Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP)

“It’s great that they’re on track,” Iain Grant, managing director of the SeaBoard Group, a telecom consultancy, said of the LTE tests, but he cautioned that the value of the news of the early test depends on the conditions under which they were conducted.

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On the other hand he believes telecom manufacturers looking to sell LTE hardware, not Canadian carriers, are the ones who care about this release. Neither Bell Canada nor Telus have wireless customers increase spending on data, despite the fact that over the past three months the carriers have radically lowered their rates. As a result, Grant argues, they aren’t anxious to spend on upgrading their networks. However, he acknowledged that if data rates continue to fall, that will change over the next year.

Palanivelu said the tests of what he called LTE’s physical layer were done over the past several months by several manufacturers independently and then examined by the group backing the technology called the LTE/SAE Trial Initiative.

The tests, which were conducted in labs and in the field, used prototype single and multi-antenna radio systems. The group is about to agree on a common set of parameters for the next set of milestones to be met, which will include the medium access control (MAC) layer, which deals with how packets are transported over the air; the ability to simultaneously receive and transmit data; radio resource management and how the technology works in a mobile environment.

Another set of five milestones will have to be met in the second half of next year.

Satisfaction with this preliminary step doesn’t mean LTE’s success is assured, Palanivelu acknowledged. “This is the beginning of the journey,” he said. “There’s a lot of work to be done.” WiMAX, he agreed, has an 18-month lead. But, he argued, carriers are more concerned now with maximizing their current spectrum than upgrading their networks for it. By the time LTE is ready for market, he said, carriers will be ready to spend on that technology.

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