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.