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The Wireless Blog from Unwired Insight discusses the latest developments in wireless networks and services, including the new technologies and architectures of LTE-Advanced and 5G. For expert advice on 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G mobile systems and standards, including GSM, UMTS, LTE, LTE-Advanced and 5G-NR, please contact us.

2011 an important year for 4G LTE and femtocells

Photograph of Mark HeathMark Heath looks forward to 2011 and the continued progress of LTE and femtocells. He comments on the launch of 4G services by NTT DoCoMo and AT&T, and discusses SK Telecom’s deployment of femtocells, specifically to solve congestion issues.

As 2011 starts, I would like to wish all our readers a great New Year! This will be a very important year for two wireless technologies – 4G (LTE) and femtocells. After following these two technologies for many years, I look forward to seeing them being commercially deployed in significant volumes. Both have a critical role to play in delivering high-speed mobile broadband services on a ubiquitous basis.

It was very early days for 4G during 2010, although the pace did hot up towards the end of the year. TeliaSonera launched LTE services in Denmark in December 2010, making a total of four Nordic countries (Finland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark) served by TeliaSonera 4G services. Alastair Brydon previously discussed the launch of Verizon Wireless’s 4G LTE network in December 2010. December was a busy month for LTE launches, with NTT DoCoMo launching its LTE network in Japan, in the major cities of Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka, on Christmas Eve. NTT DoCoMo plans to offer 70% population coverage with its LTE network by March 2015.

We will see continued LTE momentum as we progress through 2011, as early movers extend their coverage and further operators launch LTE services, including AT&T in the USA. Confusingly, AT&T in the USA has termed HSPA+ as ‘4G’, and, by November 2010, 80% of its network had been upgraded to HSPA+. On 5 January 2011, at CES 2011, AT&T announced that it would accelerate its LTE network rollout plans. It will commence LTE roll-out in June 2011, and plans to cover 75 million people in the USA by December 2011.

In 2011, femtocells will see increased momentum worldwide, particularly as prices fall, which will make it easier for mobile network operators to offer free femtocells to their customers. For the vast majority of mobile network operators, the key driver for femtocell deployment currently is to improve indoor coverage. Given that many indoor coverage gaps exist for most operators, low-cost femtocells will provide a valuable indoor coverage enhancement tool, to complement WiFi and continued macrocell roll-out.

Beyond indoor coverage enhancement, the use of femtocells for 3G offloading will become much more important during 2011. Partly because mobile network operators are loathed to admit to any potential threats to the quality of service offered by their networks, many mobile network operators publicly downplay their need to offload traffic from their 3G networks. It is, therefore, refreshing to see that SK Telecom in South Korea has publicly announced plans to deploy femtocells that are specifically targeted at offloading traffic from 3G macrocells to solve congestion issues. In August 2010, SK Telecom announced that it would deploy data femtocells in 10,000 locations by the end of 2011. In December 2010, SK Telecom confirmed that data femtocells would be deployed in 1,000 locations by the end of 2010, and that it was on track with its 2011 target.

All in all, it is set to be an interesting year for new wireless technologies. By the end of 2011, we’ll have a much better view of the service and pricing models enabled by LTE and femtocells, and we’ll also have  much better grasp of their true capabilities. I hope that, as we move beyond recession, mobile network operators will become more ambitious in the extent to which they will invest in, and deploy, these technologies, so that quality of service for mobile broadband services can be significantly enhanced, sooner rather than later.

Dr Mark Heath co-founded Unwired Insight in 2001, to provide analysis and market intelligence for the mobile telecommunications industry. Previously he contributed to the standardisation of GSM, UMTS and DECT and held senior roles for a mobile network operator and equipment manufacturer. Mark has written over 40 industry reports and has advised investors, network operators, equipment vendors, lawyers and government bodies.

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