Mobile Sands

April 5, 2009

LTE in spotlight at subdued CTIA

Filed under: 3G, LTE, Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — AJ @ 3:52 am

CTIA 2009 was subdued but well attended.  Still, people and companies that had to be at the show to network were there.  LTE continued its march towards becoming the undisputed 4G technology, with most major infrastructure vendors either demonstrating their LTE products or presenting their story, with many claiming (optimistically, I think) that they will have a “commercial solution” by the end of 2009.

Several large vendors demonstrate LTE

  • Motorola was not only demonstrating LTE speed but also mobility. It had set up two LTE base stations (700 MHz, FDD) close to the convention center. A van equipped with an LTE modem and capturing HD video and piping it to the booth, while passengers in the van could see the van. Motorola also had an LTE TDD base station in the booth and were using it for additional video demos.
  • ZTE was demonstrating LTE data speeds and were showing a prototype LTE base station (digital functions running on microTCA chassis, connected to a remote radio head).
  • LG was demonstrating its handset baseband implementation using infrastructure from Nortel and Alcatel-Lucent.  LG was showing 40 Mbps download rates with Nortel’s LTE gear, and using the ALU gear for a VoIP calls.
  • Qualcomm was demonstrating LTE handset baseband with third-party infrastructure (I believe, Nokia Siemens Networks) and talking about three multi-mode LTE chips (MDM9200, MSM 8960, MDM 9800 ) that will sample in mid-2009. 
  • I did not see LTE demos in Huawei, ALU, Ericsson and NSN booths, but that does not mean they did not have demos for select customers and analysts.  All of them did have presentations in which they talked about their “end-to-end LTE solutions” covering eNBs, EPC, and OA&M.  And I am sure, many of you have already read about how Nokia compared WiMAX to Betamax.

Smaller vendors thinking about building LTE base stations as well

I had written off LTE RAN equipment as a play for big infrastructure vendors.  However, during conversations at the show, I was surprised to hear that several smaller companies are thinking about building LTE base stations as well. Airwalk is one. And I heard about few WiMAX companies who want to build LTE base stations as well.  Practically all of them are thinking about pico/micro base stations that implement standards-based interfaces to the core. 

From CDMA2000 to LTE

CDG had organized a workshop to convince CDMA2000 operators that they can deploy LTE directly, without having to switching to UMTS now.  I made it to the workshop for the last 30 minutes and heard part of ALU’s presentation in which the ALU speaker argued that it would be best to leave voice on CDMA 1xRTT for several years and use LTE just for data…

Blackberry App Store, Next-gen Backhaul and more

Of course, there was lot happening at CTIA besides LTE.  RIM’s CEO Mike Lazaridis formally launched Blackberry’s App Store at CTIA.  Initial reviews were mixed.  See CNET and Sensobi.  Backhaul was on the minds of the few operators I spoke to, and there were several Ethernet and wireless/microwave  backhaul solutions on display, as a well as a half-day workshop on next-generation backhaul open to all attendees.  Verizon reiterated its aggressive LTE plans, talked about the need to reduce the number of handset platforms, and announced that it had teamed up with Vodafone, Softbank and China Mobile to create a “single platform” for developing applications.  If you are interested, CTIA has posted all the keynotes on its website.

Please feel free to comment, or add any other information about the show!

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February 26, 2009

Verizon’s LTE Rollout – Lessons from CDMA

Filed under: 3G, LTE — Tags: , , , , , , , — AJ @ 5:58 am

There is lot of speculation in the press, among analysts and in the blogosphere about the timing of Verizon’s LTE deployment. This is unfortunate considering that Dick Lynch has actually provided very clear guidance.  In his interview with Sue Marek of FierceWireless he said, “…when we launch we will do what we did with 1xEV-DO and 1XRTT…” 

Verizon, under Dick Lynch, has been remarkably consistent in its process for deploying new air interface technologies. If one digs through years of Verizon press archives, one will find that Verizon’s EV-DO rollout followed the same process as its 1xRTT rollout.  At both those occasions and now, Dick Lynch was at the helm and we should not expect anything different for LTE.

As in EV-DO, Verizon has initially selected two vendors for LTE.  For EVDO, these two vendors were Lucent and Nortel. For LTE, it is Alcatel-Lucent and Ericsson. This does not mean that Verizon will not have a third vendor.  In EV-DO, the third vendor was Motorola, and as Dick said in his FierceWireless interview, “The rest of the vendors will have another opportunity in the future. We will go out again in mid-2010 and look for vendors for the next wave of the coverage”.

As in EV-DO, each LTE vendor has been assigned one city that each is expected to get on the air in 2009. For EV-DO, Nortel had San Diego while Lucent had Washington DC.   Once the two cities are on the air, each vendor will be expected to work out all the kinks in its products, a process well known in the industry as “First Office Application (FOA)”. A FOA can take anywhere from 3-9 months, depending upon the complexity of the system and the quality of the vendor’s product.

Once FOA is complete for LTE systems, either by the end of 2009 or in early 2010, Verizon is saying that it will start building out a sizeable national footprint.  In the EV-DO case, Verizon announced its decision to start building a national footprint in January 2004. Within 9 months, Verizon had launched EV-DO service in 14 metropolitan areas and by Aug 2005,  it covered 52 metropolitan areas.  All these services were launched using EV-DO data cards.  If Verizon’s LTE vendors can wrap up their FOA by Q1’2010, expect Verizon to at launch LTE data cards in dozen or so markets by Q3 or Q4 of 2010.

The other key player whose actions determine the pace at which Verizon can roll out LTE services is QUALCOMM. Verizon cannot launch an LTE handset (smartphone) unless this handset supports both 1xRTT and EV-DO. It needs 1xRTT to support all the legacy voice features (tough to replicate on IMS) and needs EV-DO for data service wherever there are LTE coverage holes. QUALCOMM is the only company that can build a dual-technology LTE/CDMA chip, and it is doing just so. On Feb 16th, Qualcomm introduced its MSM 8960 3G/LTE chipset, and said that this chip will sample in mid-2010. Since handset vendors need at least 12 months from the date Qualcomm samples its chipsets, to build a commercial device, one should expect the first dual-mode CDMA/LTE handset to reach the market in Q3’2011.

To summarize:

  • Verizon is likely to light up two cities with LTE in 2009 and have meaningful national footprint in 2010. They have a playbook for large scale wireless rollouts and they seem to be following it.
  • There will be no LTE handsets/smartphones in 2010,  just data cards. Therefore, Verizon will continue to add capacity to their CDMA network at least till the end of 2010.
  • Expect CDMA/LTE handsets to reach the market in Q3’2011. 

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