Global LTE Fragmentation Is A Big Problem For Apple

Global LTE Fragmentation Is A Big Problem For Apple

LTE frequency bands are largely region-specific

Apple has faced some challenges already when it comes to LTE on the new iPad and it looks like there will be more challenges to come as nearly 60% of mobile carriers worldwide expect to launch LTE service over the next 18 months.

To date, the new iPad only works with LTE systems in North America, a fact that has forced Apple to change the name of LTE iPads. While a new study confirms that LTE will become a global standard for high-speed mobile broadband, it also notes that various regions and countries are focusing on deploying LTE with varying bands of radio spectrum. That could mean devices will need to be designed for specific markets and that international data roaming using LTE will be problematic and potentially impossible.

The news comes from telecom research and networking service Informa, which surveyed more than 500 companies operating in the mobile space (carriers and related companies) about their plans for LTE as a fourth-generation mobile standard.

About one third of carriers (33.7%) plan to launch LTE service by the end of this year and about one quarter (24.9%) plan to launch LTE next year. That would lead to 58.6% of carriers offering LTE by the end of 2013. An even greater number of carriers (70.5%) feel now is the time to begin rolling out 4G systems using LTE or other technologies.

The top goals and motivations for launching LTE are what you’d expect:

  • To create new revenue streams – 34.7%
  • To increase capacity to offer mobile broadband services – 23.3%
  • To build brand value through technology leadership – 31.3%

The success of LTE in the global market is good news, but it isn’t without challenges. As Informa’s Paul Lambert points out, LTE deployments in different global regions are using different bands of radio spectrum that aren’t interoperable.

While the outlook for LTE network-roll-outs is extremely positive, the industry as a whole needs to resolve key challenges that are barriers to uptake: these include fragmentation arising from the proliferation of spectrum bands used for LTE worldwide, the provision of voice over LTE, the availability of smartphones, and LTE roaming.

To date there are four primary global regions using different bands of spectrum.

  • North America – 700MHz and 2,100MHz
  • Western Europe, the Middle East, and Africa – 800MHz and 2,600MHz
  • Eastern Europe – 800MHz, 1,800MHz, 2,300MHz, and 2,600MHz
  • Asia-Pacific – 1,800MHz and 2,100MHz

Although there is some overlap between regions and between countries or areas within each region, the LTE market is fragmented and that creates major problems for standardizing devices for a global market. Virtually all countries regulate which portions of the radio spectrum may be used for specific purposes and large portions of spectrum that could be aggregated for LTE globally are already in use for other devices or services.

The situation may force Apple to develop region-specific iPads and iPhones – something the company has largely avoided in pursuit of making a single device that can be used anywhere and deliver the same experience regardless of region. That won’t address data roaming, however. Truly solving the situation will take political will and industry agreement – and it’s something Apple won’t be able to do single-handedly.

  • Sean Smith

    Does anybody who has experience in this field know why it appears to be impossible to design a chipset and antenna that can work with all frequencies?

  • Tallest_Skil

    No, it’s not.

    The chips that will support all worldwide bands will be out before the 6th iPhone is released.
    Then the 4th iPad will include them.
    Big deal.
  • orangecl4now

    @seansmith – it’s not impossible. the chip would require too much power because you’d have the chip searching for those frequencies that are not available in the region. And the chip would be large so that means your phone would have to be bigger to accommodate the size and power requirements (a bigger battery)

  • Steffen Jobbs

    Why does everything seem like a big problem for Apple?  What is it that Apple can’t solve with the amount of money it has.  If Apple has to work with Qualcomm to specially develop multi-band chips, why would it be such a huge task to fulfill.  Are we talking hundreds of millions of dollars which would be insignificant to Apple.  I believe that if demand calls for a universal LTE band chip, Apple can get it engineered for its products.  It’s not impossible to do, right?

  • Kendall Tawes

    @orangecl4now Actually you wouldn’t need to search for unused frequencies as every iPhone and Cellular iPad has built in GPS. The radio would be told to only search for bands available in the area you are located. Simple fix that requires no new hardware other than modified LTE chip that would be small enough to fit by the time Apple would need to implement them.

About the author

Ryan FaasRyan Faas is a technology journalist and consultant living in upstate New York who has written extensively about Apple, business and enterprise IT, and the mobile industry. In addition to writing for Cult of Mac, he is a contributor to Computerworld, InformIT, and Peachpit Press. In a previous existence he was a healthcare IT director as well as a systems and network administrator. Follow Ryan on Twitter and Google +

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