MWC Preview: LTE will shine, but dig deep for the whole picture

The weather forecast for Barcelona this week is sunny with a few clouds. Those lucky enough to attend the Mobile World Congress (MWC) trade show taking place in the city this week might be dazzled by this sunshine, together with the glittering array of technology and services on offer.

But those keen to better understand the progress being made with LTE should perhaps be more aware of the potential for a few grey clouds to spoil their hopes.

Without doubt, the developers of LTE will make the most of MWC to claim leadership positions in deployments and trials, and it's true that many operators have made large-scale commitments to deploy the technology. However, there remain many challenges to making LTE a viable ecosystem that is ready for mass-market adoption.

According to Thomas Wehmeier, a principal analyst with Informa Telecoms & Media, hurdles yet to be overcome include, but are not limited to: spectrum fragmentation, the battery life of LTE handsets and the long-running discussion over how best to deliver voice over LTE.

Wehmeier believes that the ongoing uncertainty over which spectrum to use for LTE is damaging for the entire value chain--a situation that has been aggravated by operators making firm commitments to launch LTE in more than ten different bands. And to make the matter worse, this number seems likely to increase.

Perhaps the various industry bodies that attend MWC will use the occasion to bring some much needed sense to this shambolic situation.

Feedback on the battery life of the first LTE handsets is equally dire. Perhaps we shouldn't have anticipated anything different given the very similar issues experienced with early 3G phones. However, we should expect a raft of LTE handset announcements at MWC, and it will be interesting to extract details from the various vendors on the power consumption of their shiny new handsets.

But Wehmeier suggests that those interested in this sector reflect upon Apple's reported viewpoint on these new handsets--bringing LTE handsets to market so early on requires making significant "compromises." And with high-speed data being such a key selling point for LTE, supporting the "always-on" connection brings with it an inherent and insatiable demand for power.

Balance these issues with the maturity of HSPA networks and the super-slim handsets supporting this technology that are now coming to market and you might start to question the need to rush into deploying LTE.

So, dig deep when you have the chance to interrogate the purveyors of this latest technology, and remember all that all that glisters is not gold.--Paul