Pocketnow-U: The LTE Standard and The Challenges Included

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Earlier we saw yet another carrier shift from WiMAX for the more popular LTE standard, but just how wide spread is this adoption? In 2009 we saw the first public implementation of LTE in Norway and Sweden, 4 years after the commercial introduction of WiMAX. Fast forward 3 years and we have heard statements from nearly every major carrier worldwide concerning their plans to adopt LTE. In the US the “Big 4” have each spoke of their 4G LTE rollout plans, with most already well into their path of fire. Even Yota, the Russian telecommunications provider, who built the worlds largest WiMAX network moved to LTE in 2010. It is clear that carriers around the world have chosen their 4G standard and are working to put it to good use.

800px 3GPP Long Term Evolution Country Map

World map depicting the current (red) and planned (blue) adoption of LTE

We see this adoption of LTE spanning the globe, but what exactly is LTE? LTE is designed to be a scalable standard radio and tower based wireless technology, but instead uses two different optimal systems for uplink and downlink, SC-FDMA and OFDMA compared to CDMA. LTE is strictly a packet-switched network, meaning all data is blocked into digital packets, which are transmitted independently. As a result of this different transmission configuration, LTE is not capable of handling voice calls or text messages the same way we expect on circuit-switched networks, like GSM (used by AT&T and T-Mobile) or CDMA (used by Verizon and Sprint). For those desiring to delve into the EPC network setup and eNodeB station configurations of LTE, hit up the source links below. For everyone else I’ll simply say that LTE is easily expandable and a more data-centric infrastructure than what we currently see in GSM and CDMA.

Next to this global embrace of LTE and seemingly universal abandonment of WiMAX, one is left to wonder about the cause. Why would companies, like Sprint and Yota, who have already invested vast resources into functional WiMAX networks be so eager to jump ship to LTE? They are both packet-switched networks, offer blistering theoretical transfer speeds, relatively low latency, and at can be found in many major cities. Once again with competing technologies we arrive at the classic Betamax v. VHS conflict, (Blu-Ray v. HD-DVD) where every few weeks we hear about new theoretical measures that oust the others’ charts. We can debate until the sun goes down about the technological differences, but all the while it is likely that consumers would be happy either way. In Yota’s case it simply boiled down to the phone manufacturers; when both Nokia and Samsung chose LTE as their 4G of choice, Yota followed suit desiring to, “give our clients the best solutions.” Carriers across the globe slowly shifted their focus to LTE, be it for ease of setup, the solidified standard, overall cost, or fear of incompatible handsets and by 2010 most of the world carrier map had pledged LTE support.

htc max 4g cell phone

HTC Max4G – the first 4G WiMAX Smartphone

While LTE support is at an all-time high and has been in the works for many years, we always expect to see some type of growing pain in the transition. Currently these pains are seen by consumers through poor battery life, price gouging data plans, and overall higher phone prices. Theoretically, LTE devices should last as long as their HSPA+ counterparts, however currently without the proper network or chipset optimizations combined with suboptimal handover algorithms, we see significantly more drain in LTE than there should be. Over time however, when these issues get ironed out, we will see better battery life and lower manufacturing costs on LTE devices all around as network operators and manufactures phase out old systems and optimize their setups for LTE. In the meantime, device OEMs are mitigating this lack of optimal LTE conditions by injecting the largest batteries possible – a route that I wish we embarked on long ago. In terms of data plans however, network operators realized that the majority of customers use less than 1GB of data and that they can instate tiered data plans without souring their majority. Sadly this is a severe inconvenience for the amount of data that LTE would invite any mortal to consume, and that we doubt will go away.

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The Droid RAZR MAXX has nothing on this 10,000mAh HTC Blue Angel

Our current implementation of LTE isn’t exactly the best, but it presently works well. Over time the LTE operations will be optimized and as the coverage increases, prices will slowly go back down. With current networks still pushing their overloads as an excuse, tiered data is here to stay. Perhaps once we see the full switchover and every phone packing an LTE radio, the carriers will loosen the reigns and allow unlimited (or just more than a few gigs) once again at a reasonable price.

Sources:

3GPP Specification Series

ExtremeTech – What is LTE?

WiMax.com

Tested – LTE VS WIMAX

XDA – 10,000 mAh Blue Angel

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About The Author
MorganGillespie