It took me a while to find the LTE demo at the LG booth at the Consumer Electronic Show in Vegas last week, as it was wedged between a very impressive new generation of AMOLED and 3D TV displays. LG showcased two different capabilities of their Long Term Evolution technology: a LTE/CDMA handover using their own Vd13 Modem, and an LTE-only live demo using LG's LD100U device and running bandwidth-hungry multimedia applications such as high definition video streaming, live VoIP calls, an FTP File upload, and download transfers simultaneously.
Although the demo looked much like the one unveiled at CTIA last year, LG has an impressive LTE track record: an LTE demo at Mobile World Congress 2008; the announcement of the world's first LTE chipset and modem prototype in November 2008; the first LTE-enabled mobile device Live Air Demo at Mobile World Congress 2009; the first FCC LTE Device certification built around LG's LTE chipset in June 2009; the first dual-mode LTE/eHRPD in-call handover in August 2009; and a 100 Mbps maximum throughput Live Demo at CES 2010.
3GPP Release8 June 2009 compliance, multiple band support (2.1 GHz Band1 or 700 MHz Band13), various system bandwidth, from 5 MHz to 20 MHz and max throughput with up to 100 Mbps downlink and 50 Mbps uplink, are among the main features supported by the dual-mode LTE/CDMA Vd13 device and LTE-only LD100U device.
In Las Vegas, LG executives recognized that the two devices recently unveiled are intended more to demonstrate their LTE development leadership and, likely, will not be launched as commercial devices. Although they didn't outline their exact plan, they disclosed that their own LTE modem will eventually be integrated into a netbook or notebook, meaning that a more integrated chipset solution will hit the market soon.
Known for its 2G and 3G handset line, LG relied on mature merchant chipset solutions such as Qualcomm, ST-Ericsson or Infineon chips, not LG technology. We can elaborate different scenarios to explain their new positioning as an LTE market driver. Gaining ground in all cellular technologies and capturing more than 10 percent of the total handset market as year-end 2009, leading them to third position worldwide, LG has decided to invest significantly into chipset development in order to become technology independent.
On top of the LTE modem, they will now introduce phones based on their own 2G/3G/4G intellectual properties to save cost and stay ahead. We could also speculate that LG wants to broaden their essential patents portfolio, driving 3GPP groups and initiatives to better compete with their current chip suppliers. In this case, once the LTE market matures and reaches a critical mass, LG will switch to third party players just as they have in the past. One more scenario has to be considered: following Nokia's early strategy, LG could license its LTE modem IP to partners that will manufacture the chipset solution and sell it back to them.
It's difficult to predict LG's long-term strategy in terms of chipset development at this point. The company has the scale to succeed, scale that small WiMAX players who recently announced parallel WiMAX/LTE roadmaps lack. In the new research report released by Maravedis in partnership with Reveal Wireless, entitled "WiMAX Wave2 Subscriber Station Chipset Vendors Competitive Analysis," we have identified the WiMAX chipset companies who have shifted to LTE by offering a flexible programmable base-band solution.
The LTE base-band chipset market is already crowded: incumbent manufacturers who ship in large volume (Qualcomm, ST-Ericsson, and Nokia), new entrants who traditionally relied on merchant solutions (LG and Samsung Electronics), and newcomers who leverage their OFDM expertise, WiMAX chipset background, and WiMAX ecosystem experience (Altair, Comsys, Sandbridge, Sequans and Wavesat) are committed to playing a significant role in the LTE baseband landscape. With Mediatek, Infineon, Marvell, and likely giant Intel poised to enter the market eventually, the field will soon be comparable to the aisles of CES 2010... very packed.
Pascal Deriot is the senior analyst, WiMAX and LTE equipment at Maravedis, a leading analyst firm focusing on disruptive technologies including smart networks using WiMAX, IEEE, and 3GPP/LTE.