Although Long Term Evolution (LTE) is at least two years away from being widely available on a commercial basis, it was one of the hottest topics at last week’s CTIA Mobile Life convention. The reason is simple: three out of America’s four major wireless carriers have chosen LTE as their 4G mobile broadband technology. Verizon is expected to take the lead in launching commercial LTE services by rolling out the technology in between 25 to 30 markets in 2010, with carriers AT&T and T-Mobile expected to follow suit soon after.
Device and equipment manufacturer Motorola has been especially aggressive in promoting LTE adoption, as it has developed base stations that are specifically designed to help carriers upgrade to the 4G data standard from their current 3G GSM and CDMA technologies. Fred Wright, who serves as Motorola’s senior vice president for cellular and WiMAX networks, sat down with Network World senior writer Brad Reed at CTIA to discuss why LTE has so much potential as a wireless data standard and how its rise will change the market for mobile devices.
BR: A lot of vendors and carriers are devoting their resources to deploying LTE. How is Motorola differentiating itself in a competitive market?
FW: Each of our competitors has taken a different approach to developing LTE products. From our perspective, we have three different base stations that we’re offering. One is a remote radio head type of concept. Another serves as a migration path from CDMA customers to help them convert their system from CDMA 1X to LTE using the same hardware that they already own. Really all we do is we put different software into their preexisting hardware and it begins to function in LTE mode. They can upgrade their infrastructure and hardware without having to replace it all. We also have a simple path fir GSM-based technology that lets them upgrade without massive new infrastructure investments.
What really differentiates us is our ability to migrate GSM and CDMA stations to LTE, as well as offering standalone stations. We’re not trying to do one size fits all.
BR: As we’ve heard throughout this convention, the economy is bad. Are you adjusting your expectations for LTE customer demand based on the poor economic climate?
FW: The whole issue about LTE is not about today but about two, three, four years from now. Verizon is really the exception to the rule, of course. Their decision to deploy LTE earlier than anyone in the world sets them apart as an anomaly. For instance, Vodafone hasn’t made any big announcements on when they plan to deploy LTE and T-Mobile is not in any particular hurry. We have plenty of time for the global economy to recover and I don’t see that the current economic environment has any impact on the decision to deploy LTE at all.
BR: What are some of the technical issues, such as spectrum availability or potential interference, that could hinder LTE deployment?
FW: Not seen any big technical issues that could slow LTE deployment because the specifications for the technology were written very well. The biggest issue that I see is the development of a device ecosystem that meets customer requirements. To get a good selection and variety of devices, you’ve got to have chipsets available and you need them to show up in the market. They also need to be integrated into new devices that don’t exist today. In Verizon’s case, they’ve stated that their primary product at the outset will be USB dongles that will connect to laptops and give them wireless broadband upgrades from their current capabilities.
Further down the line, there are going to be a pure data multimedia services that you’ll see on smartphones, as well as other mobile Internet devices that will show up in the 2010, 2011 timeframe. It’s the same phenomenon that we saw with WiMAX: until the chipsets were ready to go, you weren’t going to see a lot of devices.
BR: How will LTE affect wireless devices themselves? Will we see a change to how wireless devices are built akin to how the rise of 3G services led to the development of smartphones?
FW: LTE is all about data and multimedia services. I expect that LTE devices will have four-inch display screens, for example, which won’t have any buttons or keypads on it. It will be a larger display screen than current smartphones. So what you’re going to see more of is slide-out keyboards. The screen might be four-by-five inches, but it will be all screen.
The reason for this is that LTE will be all about video. Ten years ago you never would have seen a video screen in an SUV and now it’s one of the hottest commodities on the market. The explosion in demand for video over fixed-line Internet networks is nothing compared to what the demand will be for video on wireless networks. This is one of the reasons why carriers have been so willing to invest in more bandwidth for their wireless services: the kinds of things I today use my laptop for, you’ll soon use your wireless device for them.