2008 Year in Review: Vodafone head sees LTE as an umbrella standard

By openly stating at the Mobile World Congress that LTE should encompass WiMAX, the former CEO of Vodafone, Arun Sarin, voiced the opinion of many on how to defuse a potentially costly and damaging battle between these two burgeoning wireless standards.

Sarin praised the progress made by both technologies during 2007, albeit that WiMAX was technically ahead with networks and end-user devices near to commercial deployment. However, Sarin urged the LTE camp should reposition itself to accommodate WiMAX. "The issue for me is simply resources in our industry: We only have a finite number of R&D engineers and if we split them into two camps, then we would be diluting what we can do in the future. The LTE standard is an accommodating standard and there is a TDD section that I think WiMAX could fit into."

Whilst Sarin's remarks caused many to review their strategy at the time, few public statements of support came from either the vendor or operator community. We had to wait in Europe until Q4 of this year before the CTO of T-Mobile, Joachim Horn, broke ranks by stating that the company would not deploy HSPA+ to further boost its mobile broadband throughput but would instead skip this technical evolution and invest in LTE. This public declaration followed statements from operators outside Europe, namely China Mobile, DoCoMo and Verizon Wireless, that they also intended to aggressively push forward with LTE.

In an attempt to gain the attention of these four major operators, Ericsson--which had just announced Q3 operating profits down 40 per cent, stated there would be commercial deployments of LTE starting in late 2009. According to John Cunliffe, Ericsson UK's CTO, trials of LTE would begin by the end of this year with commercial services, handsets and base stations surfacing during the latter part of next year. The company has already conducted drive testing of LTE in Sweden which produced peak download speeds of 154Mbps, a mean of 78Mbps and a minimum of 16Mbps--albeit that these figures bear little relationship to "real-world" throughput.

Horn was rather more cautious regarding deployment timescales, maintaining that LTE test networks would not be seen until mid- to late-2010.

Significance: LTE holds significant promise for mobile operators if they are allocated adequate spectrum and deployment costs are kept low. This latter issue may be the trigger to drive network RAN sharing between operators, something that has largely stalled over the last two years. It also has the ability to consolidate existing wireless technologies under a single umbrella standard and provide a technology framework that could last several decades.

Related articles:
T-Mobile CTO: I'll invest in LTE, not HSPA+
LTE ready for late 2009, says Ericsson
Vodafone CEO: WiMAX has a home in LTE