Spectrum issues could slow LTE rollouts, warn experts

The pace of LTE rollouts could be slowed down by lack of spectrum availability and high speeds offered by HSPA+, according to industry experts.
Ronny Haraldsvik, marketing VP for SpiderCloud Wireless, said that operators planning on LTE will stay with HSPA+ for a long time.
“They’ll have a lot of devices available and they’ll be looking for ways to drive network efficiencies and get as much capacity out of existing networks as possible, whether it’s via indoor systems or something else,” he said. “It’s about capex and opex and leveraging what they have.”
Haraldsvik added that while that wouldn’t stop cellcos from launching LTE services completely, many will be much more likely to deploy it in pockets of coverage where it makes sense rather than push for large-scale rollouts.
“It’s going to be at least ten years before you see full LTE-only coverage in any market,” he told CommunicAsia Show Daily.
Commenting on the debate over whether HSPA cellcos should leapfrog to LTE or put it off by evolving to HSPA+, Dirk Wolter, Alcatel-Lucent CTO for North & Southeast Asia, said it would depend mainly on how much spectrum a given cellco has on hand.
“If you assume they use one carrier for HSPA, the upcoming mobile data traffic growth may be so high that no matter how they evolve to HSPA+ – by implementing 64QAM or MIMO – they may not have enough capacity regardless,” he said at the CommunicAsia Summit Thursday. “In that case they will look at LTE for additional spectrum, to include a TDD option.”
Which raises an even bigger issue for LTE: spectrum fragmentation.
“2.6GHz is the main band for LTE but it raises serious problems with coverage, especially indoors, and it’s not available in all markets,” said Ovum analyst Nathan Burley. “So everyone is looking at digital dividend bands and refarming of 900 MHz and 1800 MHz bands, as well as TDD bands. You’re not going to be able to support all of those in one device, so that will have serious implications for the devices and the LTE ecosystem.”
A related issue is the amount of LTE spectrum cellcos can get, which could limit LTE’s speed advantage over HSPA+, Burley added.
“If you don’t have a 20-MHz channel for LTE, the peak speeds aren’t going to be a big advantage over HSPA+. And there are not a lot of 20-MHz carriers available,” he said.