If you’ve never used a smartphone or tablet connected to an LTE network, you’re really missing out. I’ve tested phones that get 35Mbps download speeds and half-that up at my home and at the office — and I’m not particularly close to what anyone would call a “metropolitan area”. Ironically, speeds like that are faster than my hardwired cable Internet connection that powers my home! Even “slow” LTE connections blow my HSPA+ speeds out of the water!
All that speed comes at a cost: diminished battery life. Luckily, LTE doesn’t have to be active all the time, just like other wireless data technologies, and it doesn’t eat up much more battery than HSPA while it’s idle (though your mileage may vary). Where that’s all about to change centers around VoLTE, but I’ll get to that in a moment.
LTE is currently used primarily for data connections. Fast ones. It’s a relatively new technology which means new hardware and other considerations are needed at each cell tower that’s LTE-enabled to take advantage of the extra speed. For carriers like Verizon Wireless, this is ideal! They can upgrade their current towers with LTE, and still use CDMA for voice. Verizon is arguably positioned very well in comparison to their competition because they can invest in a single new technology while surviving on their old voice technology. AT&T is also rolling out LTE, but they’re also building out HSPA+. Their attention (and money) are spread over two competing technologies, and deployment has been somewhat slower than many would have liked.
Why is Verizon relying on CDMA for voice?
Some are theorizing that Verizon wireless is trying to get as much use out of its CDMA network so it can invest in full-scale LTE and VoLTE roll-outs. Furthermore, once Verizon hits a certain point, they could switch their entire network to VoLTE.
Two issues hamper this plan: all CDMA devices on their network would need to be replaced, and LTE currently uses too much power. That last concern may be about to change.
Simply put, LTE networks aren’t quite ready for carrying voice calls today. When they are, the VoLTE standard will likely be the one Verizon (and most others) will adopt. Voice over LTE has some significant advantages than traditional VoIP, most of which deal with off-loading features to the carrier-side so handsets aren’t bogged down with noise-cancellation, etc.
Next Generation LTE Chips
We didn’t see too many new phones at CES 2013, but we did get a glimpse at some of the new chips that we’ll start to see in our devices later this year. These chips contain more than just central processing cores, they also contain graphics cores and radios as well. Some of these new radios, according to a report from ST-Ericsson, could increase battery life by reducing power consumption by 50% or more.
These new chips could take advantage of VoLTE’s ability to improve call quality, reduce signaling overhead, and improve performance in weak coverage areas. All of these mean better battery life for LTE devices.
Switching to LTE and VoLTE isn’t going to happen over-night. First we need some devices with the new chips to hit the market, then we need carriers to support VoLTE and the advanced LTE features. Verizon plans on rolling these out in 2013, with “widespread” availability through 2014. We won’t see the true energy savings until both the devices and towers are equipped to take full advantage of what LTE can do. In the meantime we’re left to wonder: will it be enough?
Regardless of how that question is answered, we aren’t going to see LTE go away. We’re going to all have to make due with whatever battery considerations are necessary to power LTE-enabled smartphones and tablets.
Source: ST-Ericsson (PDF)