LTE is a subject that crops up regularly in our news coverage, for obvious reasons: it's the next development in mobile broadband networks that is set to bring about a raft of changes for both users and operators. Those of you in the United States can smugly bask in the knowledge that LTE is already part of your lives, but for those of us in Old Europe, it's still very much early days.
For operators, LTE gives them a whole new lease of life in terms of marketing opportunities. LTE is enabling them to launch new tariff structures and "premium" prices, sell services based on speed and not just volume, and really get a grip on inclusive value-added services such as content, security and storage services.
For consumers, LTE really is "mobile broadband" on a smartphone, tablet or laptop. 3G/HSPA+ is pretty good in terms of speed, of course, especially with dual-carrier technology, but theoretical peak speeds of 100 Mbps--and more when carrier aggregation is deployed as part of LTE Advanced deployments--are more impressive still, and could encourage subscribers to use their mobile devices more than before.
Indeed, EE published its first consumer study on LTE user behaviour this week, and found that LTE users are already using Wi-Fi hotspots and home broadband less than before because the LTE network is faster and more consistent.
Nevertheless, consumers are cautious beings, and they are not necessarily going to leap to LTE just because an operator tells them it's great. They've been through too much already, and this time they need more.
Indeed, recent comments by IHS analyst Peter Boyland suggest that subscribers may simply prefer to wait until their own operator launches LTE, rather than go to the effort of switching providers--unless an alternative offer is so tempting they feel they have no choice but to shift.
EE in the UK, for example, has almost 1 million LTE users (or it will have by the end of this year, it says), and it said two-thirds of these customers are former Orange/T-Mobile users who opted for a "4GEE" plan. That means that of the around 700,000 EE users by the end of July, about 230,000 came from rival operators. Not a huge number, then.
I have a confession to make: I am not an LTE user. I live in France, and LTE is available here but only on a limited basis. My provider, Orange, has not yet launched LTE in my town (nor has it connected my building to its fibre network, but that's another story), and so there is little point in me subscribing to the service, although the operator sells LTE under "4G/H+" to allow for the fact that you may end up on an HSPA+ network. As things stand I have an "OK" 3G connection that often reverts to EDGE (and I repeat, EDGE is not good if you want to check emails or surf unless you are very patient]. If Orange offered LTE, I would probably buy it, especially if the plan enabled me to connect several devices and share my data allowance among them.
But have another confession: I am a bit of an Apple fangirl. I have three Apple laptops, an iPhone, several discarded iPods, and an iMac. Call me crazy, but I like iOS and I'm used to it. I also like the look of the iPhone 5 and I would like to get it, but therein lies the problem: Bouygues Telecom is currently the only network operator in France that is likely to offer LTE on the 1800 MHz network supported by iPhone 5.
So when Bouygues Telecom finally launches its LTE services in October, could that be the compelling reason to get me to switch? I will certainly be checking their plans with some interest.
Essentially, consumer choice will be increasingly dictated by far more personal aspects such as these. Devices, a choice of services as well as speeds and data volumes will all play a part in persuading users to switch--as well as price, naturally.
Vodafone and O2 in the UK are betting on content to persuade users to opt for LTE. If I were in the UK (where I am a Vodafone user), Sky Sports and Spotify would not swing it for me, for example. The iPhone 5 might, however.--Anne