2010 Year in Review: The launch of LTE--Lessons for those that follow

Since TeliaSonera went live with a small-scale commercial LTE network in December 2009, the company has been inundated by requests from other operators to visit and better understand how TeliaSonera had managed to launch so early.

The company set rock-bottom pricing for this nascent service, with TeliaSonera admitted that the first customers would be helping the company to develop this pioneering service. "We'll have an open dialogue with early customers [about] how they experience our products and services," said Kenneth Karlberg, president and head of mobility services of TeliaSonera.

Early consumer feedback was poor, claiming that speeds were well below the promised 50Mbps. Further investigations by a qualified test house indicated that drive tests on the LTE network in Stockholm measured downlink speeds up to 47 Mbps and TCP latency as low as 20 ms were achievable.

However, these early users still complained of regular LTE disconnects and modem restarts--all down to LTE being a very new technology, explained TeliaSonera--but not helped by the modems' inability to support 3G at the time.

In March, the company upgraded its central Stockholm network to support download speeds of 100Mbps. Wisely, TeliaSonera marketed the improvement as offering download speeds of 'up to 80Mbps', dependent on the user's location.

By May, the company was able to collect some objective consumer feedback:

  • More than one quarter (26 per cent) said they spent more time working on a mobile basis than previously.
  • Nearly one quarter (23 per cent) said they were downloading larger files more frequently than they did in the past.
  • Nearly one in five (19 per cent) said they used 4G to watch TV or stream movies.
  • 16 per cent said they spent more time web browsing as a result of the 4G service.

The bad news: TeliaSonera was thought to have only attracted around 1,000 customers to sign up for the service--a very low number given that its LTE network is said to provide coverage to almost 400,000 residents in Stockholm and Oslo.

However, by June, the company came back with further upbeat user data--that lower latency, not data throughput, most impressed consumers. According to TeliaSonera's head of R&D, Johan Wickman, "They click and it happens, with very little delay. We have seen a big uptick in upstream video; upstream in particular seems to be a 4G killer app."

By July, TeliaSonera's head of industrial service, Hans Dahlberg, was praising LTE for other reasons, stating that "M2M represented an opportunity that was potentially larger than either the mobile or internet revolutions."

In September, the company decided to end its heavily discounted LTE tariff and instead charge a hefty premium of 599 Swedish kronor (US$87) per month for new subscribers. It also confirmed that it would investigate how it could use and charge for the QoS features supported by LTE.

Proof that it had a success on its hands, TeliaSonera announced in November that its LTE subscribers were downloading nearly 3x the amount of data consumed by 3G users. The company said that its average smartphone user consumed 375MB per month of data. The average broadband subscriber on its network, largely using 3G data cards, consumed 5GB per month. However, the surprise came with the average LTE consumer--essentially all dongle users, downloading between 14GB and 15GB per month.

What is missing from this review of TeliaSonera's LTE experience is the number of subscribers it is now supporting--albeit that some are obviously very heavy downloaders.