Alastair Brydon discusses recent 4G network launches and the imminent 4G launch by Verizon Wireless in the USA.
As we approach the end of 2010, the momentum of 4G network deployment is increasing rapidly, with the arrival of a number of major LTE networks. TeliaSonera led the way with LTE technology when it launched LTE services in Sweden and Norway at the end of 2009. A number of smaller operators in Uzbekistan, Poland and the USA followed them during 2010. In the first week of December 2010, TeliaSonera announced the launch of an LTE network in Finland and reported that it provided LTE coverage in 14 cities in Sweden.
Now the pace is accelerating. 5th December 2010 marks the launch of the biggest LTE network to date, as Verizon Wireless switches on its 4G service in the USA. From launch, the service will be available in 38 metropolitan areas and 60 airports across the country. Verizon Wireless claims that this will provide coverage to 110 million people (roughly a third of the US population). While the breadth and depth of this coverage remains to be seen, there is no denying that this is a very significant deployment of 4G technology. Verizon Wireless plans to achieve national 4G coverage, to the same level as its current 3G network, by the end of 2013.
According to Tony Melone of Verizon Wireless, the service will offer average downlink LTE speeds of 5-12Mbit/s and half the latency of 3G in a real loaded network. As discussed recently by Mark Heath in his post, LTE is good, but not that good, these figures may not be earth shattering given that Verizon is using 2x10MHz of spectrum. This is really equivalent to 2.5-6Mbit/s in 2x5MHz (used by HSPA). Nevertheless, Verizon’s LTE network will still deliver substantial benefits in throughput, capacity, spectral efficiency and cost per MB compared with basic 3G or HSPA.
The Verizon Wireless 4G service will be aimed initially at business users, with 4G tariffs offering 5GB or 10GB per month, priced at USD50 and USD80 per month, respectively. These are USD10 per month cheaper than the equivalent 3G tariffs.
Other major LTE network launches are expected in the next two years. NTT DoCoMo in Japan plans to switch on its LTE network before the end of 2010. 4G launches planned for the following 12 months include China Mobile, O2 and Vodafone in Germany and AT&T in the USA. In total, there are likely to be close to 50 live LTE networks around the world by the end of 2011.
Amid the current flurry of LTE launches, there are number of notable absentees, including leading operators in major European markets such as France, Italy, Spain and the UK. Reasons for this include political and technical difficulties in releasing spectrum for 4G services. Unfortunately, these are the countries with the most pressing need for LTE in Europe. The large number of customers in these markets, coupled with the advanced state of their mobile services (for example, Italy has the user base with the highest proportion of smartphones in Europe, at close to 35% by the end of 2010), puts the greatest pressure on their existing 3G networks.
There is a real danger that these countries will be left behind in the deployment of 4G, leading to a more restricted range of services, inferior quality of service and higher prices than elsewhere. The governments, regulators and network operators in these countries need to work together to avoid losing ground on the rest of the world.