But how much spectrum is required in order to deploy LTE profitably? According to T-Mobile International's Joachim Horn, at least 21 MHz is required to deliver 170 Mbps downlink using MIMO antennas. The company is planning to deploy in the 2.6 GHz band spectrum, which is likely to be auctioned in many European countries in 2010, starting in the UK. T-Mobile International also envisions deploying LTE in all its available frequency bands for GSM and UMTS, but this is not likely to occur until 2015.
The question that still remains for many is: Why are some operators deciding to immediately invest and deploy LTE, while others have adopted a "wait and see" approach?
One explanation is that operators' spectrum assets determine the technology and timing of deployments. In Europe for example, many operators strongly committed to LTE will have to wait for spectrum allocation to take place, especially in the 2.6 GHz band. Operators such as Telecom Italia and Vodafone UK are preparing the terrain for deploying LTE, but until these auctions occur it is difficult to anticipate the timing.
Another explanation is the distinction between CDMA and UMTS service providers: CDMA operators--with no significant migration path remaining on their 3G networks --are proceeding directly to 4G, while UMTS providers have plenty of upgrades left for their HSPA networks. AT&T for example, is in no rush to deploy LTE, as it has been adding thousands of new cell site backhaul connections to support the higher mobile broadband speeds enabled by HSPA 7.2 Mbps. For AT&T, LTE will add more network capacity and higher bandwidth speeds to satisfy the increasing demand for data services. However the operator plans to continue deploying HSPA, increase bandwidth to 14.4 Mbps this year, then move to HSPA+ and finally deploy LTE sometime in 2012.
According to Motorola General Manager Fred Wright, CDMA carriers are motivated to adopt LTE because "they want to hop on the bandwagon of a global standard that will provide multiple supply sources for infrastructure, lots of device alternatives and multiple chip supply sources. All those things are good from the operators' perspective because, with more volume and more scale, they get better pricing and more alternatives. As good as CDMA/DO-A is, there is no next step on its roadmap."
The nature of various 3G networks are a big determining factor when it comes to the timing of operators' LTE network deployments. This means that for some operators the upgrade path to LTE will be more gradual than for others. Of course, operators having deployed their 3G networks last year using technology that is "LTE-ready"--such as Cox Communications, Telus and Bell Mobility--have a much greater advantage, as they all they require is a simple network upgrade.
Cintia Garza is team lead and market analyst, CALA, for Maravedis. 4GCounts is a unique web-based service that tracks 4G operator deployments and provides detailed information on the worldwide 4G ecosystem. 4GCounts currently profiles over 200 operators across 92 countries. Maravedis is a leading analyst firm focusing on disruptive technologies including smart networks using WiMAX, IEEE and 3GPP/LTE. Maravedis works with system and service providers, vendors, regulators, and institutional investors. For more information visit maravedis-bwa.com.