LTE is the best thing since sliced bread. I doubt you’ll find anyone to argue that point. Latency on an LTE network is generally low, while speeds on an LTE network are typically fast. Pretty much the only problem with LTE is its “newness”, which translates into the service not being available as widely as many of us would like.
When I abandoned Windows Mobile for Android, I picked up the T-Mobile G1 — the very first commercially available Android-powered smartphone. I was about a year late joining the Android party. Why? T-Mobile wouldn’t sell it to me! I know, that sounds crazy, but T-Mobile felt that their customers really needed a 3G network to be able to get the full utility from its new phone. That network simply wasn’t available in my neck of the woods.
Several months after the initial release, T-Mobile reversed course and began offering the G1 to anyone who wanted it (and was willing to sign up for the new “Android” plan). That’s when I snatched one up, even though I was still on EDGE. Since then T-Mobile has really built out. It went from EDGE to 3G, then HSPA, HSPA+, and now LTE — or something like that.
I’m Joe the Android Guy™, so that means I’m lucky enough to be on the cutting edge of devices. In T-Mobile’s case, that means that I’ve been among a relative few who get to use its super-fast network. As such, I’ve had great speeds and I generally stay on LTE all day long.
My day job started transitioning people from Windows Phones (which were stuck on HSPA+ in our case) to the iPhone 5S (which takes advantage of LTE). Now, at my day job, I’m often kicked off LTE and relegated back to HSPA+. That’s okay, since where I am, T-Mobile’s HSPA+ is almost as fast as its LTE service. After doing a little digging, the reason dozens of us are being kicked off LTE is because the tower that services us has run out of LTE spectrum.
Spectrum is a funny thing. It’s allocated to carriers in blocks. Each block has a specific width, and can only accommodate a certain amount of active connections. In my case, that allocation has been met, and the rest of us literally cannot connect until someone leaves the coverage area of that particular tower. Since T-Mobile’s HSPA/HSPA+ network operates on a different frequency than LTE, we simply fall back to that network, and we’re good to go — albeit a little slower.
Frequencies have different advantages and disadvantages from others in the electromagnetic spectrum. Some can travel further than others, whereas others can better penetrate buildings — just to name a few. In my case, different frequencies means more carrying capacity, so I still have respectable data speeds, even though the LTE chunk may have been used up.
That’s why carriers need to continue to build out their HSPA/HSPA+ networks, even though they’re busy rolling out LTE. Yes, LTE is great, but HSPA+ is a pretty close second. If a carrier upgrades a tower to offer LTE, that carrier should also upgrade its other equipment, either to also offer HSPA, or to upgrade from HSPA to HSPA+. Doing so increases the speeds for not only those using LTE, but for those who have HSPA-compatible phones, too.
An argument could be made that carriers should simply upgrade their HSPA offerings to LTE, that way they would have LTE on two (or more) frequencies. On the surface that sounds great, however, there are still a lot of HSPA phones out there that don’t support LTE. Until all of those phones are gone, HSPA will still need to be offered. Since that’s just the way things have to be, it makes sense for carriers to continue building out their HSPA networks even while they’re expanding LTE.