As some may know, next year the LTE North America will be moving to a new home in Dallas. Judging from the size of the crowd at the opening keynote of the LTE north America conference that’s going to be a necessary. It was standing-room only by the time Informa’s principal analyst Mike Roberts opening proceedings and things were busy throughout the day. There was a record 800+ delegates at the show, with 60 unique carriers in attendance from across the US representing some 40 per cent of the US carrier market, from small local rural players such as the Texas-based ZIPnet US, to regional’s such as MetroPCS, and of course, AT&T and Verizon.
Mike Roberts got things going by giving a snapshot of LTE’s growth, with just a few subscriptions in 2010, reaching 5 million in 2011 and currently standing at 40 million worldwide, making it the fastest growing telecoms technology ever. Roberts had praise for vendors who he said had learned from the mistakes made over 3G. In particular the networks had shown they were good at delivering speed, but that there was room for improvement when it comes to pricing, with a need to show more sophistication.
The first of two keynotes were delivered by John Saw, CTO of Clearwire, who detailed how the network operator had 16,000 cell sites to support 11million users, most of which are for Sprint. Saw explained that Clearwire was very pleased with its use of TDD technology and that the eco-system had received a huge boost when China Mobile, the largest operator in the world, recently announced that it would, like Clearwire, use Band 41 as its preferred band.
[N.B. Representatives of John Saw would like me to add that Band-41 for TDD-LTE will be used by almost all the Chinese wireless industry].
Saw also said that video was pretty much the biggest game in town as far as killer apps for 4G was concerned, with its taking up 60 per cent of Clearwire’s capacity, up from 50 per cent the year before. In fact, mobile video was where it felt it could differentiate itself – by providing a better mobile video experience than other networks. Video is very bandwidth intensive and that can only be made possible if you’ve got plenty of spectrum to play with – as Clearwire does.
That could be why Saw was so excited about carrier aggregation, which is essentially LTE Advanced by another name. Hooking up carriers bands together will give it 40 or even 60MHz of bandwidth providing speeds for what even Saw wasn’t sure what for. But as he said, “I’m sure someone will release an app that will use all of it.”
Tom Sawanbori, vp of Network planning at Verizon was next up and he was equally bullish about how the company had done for LTE – which is fair enough as it is flying the flag for LTE worldwide. That’s because it started earliest in the US, rolling out LTE to 100m population coverage in 2010. Sawanbori revealed that 35 per cent of its total usage was LTE already. It plans to complete its LTE rollout by the end of 2013 by which time it will have covered 245m population. It’s working hard on VoLTE and RCS services Sawanbori said, but he wouldn’t be drawn on timescales for its introduction.
Sawanbori took a moment away from technology to mention that Verizon had done well during the hurricane Sandy disaster by having an effective backup strategy so that its network did not go down to any major degree.
Verizon is also a partner with many rural carriers as part of its LTE Rural America programme. While the program has brought LTE to many rural areas, during a track on the issues later in the say, some smaller carriers expressed frustration that there was not enough access to spectrum. However, it’s not just access to spectrum but usable spectrum that’s the issue. It seems that all 700Mhz is not the same, and if the band plan doesn’t match that of the national networks there’s no possibility of roaming, which can seriously dent a small carrier’s 4G plans. And with no economy of scale to help get supporting devices on the table, duff spectrum can arguably be as bad as no spectrum.
We also heard an interesting presentation from Marc Scala, Executive Director of Simplynew describing an innovative use of second screen functions and audience participation of an exclusive Verizon tablet app for the X-Factor, that displayed video during the add breaks and enabling Verizon customers to send messages to the that would then be integrated into the show. This is a taster of the sort of innovative services that LTE can bring.
There were also interesting discussion around mobile video in a panel session where Marc Zionts, vp of strategic mobile service providers for Allot Communications suggested that data plans need to become more innovative – so instead of just a 2GB data cap, you say, get 2GB as standard but 5GB if you don’t use video at peak hours – a way of avoiding the stop start nature of suing data plans at the beginning of the month till they run out, and then starting the process all over again, the next month.
These were just taster of the many tracks and discussions that were going on all over the conference, and Day Two should promise to be just as informative.