Will LTE rescue mobile operators? : Page 3 of 3
By Edwin Yapp May 7, 2013
Questions about spectrum, devices
Whether an operator chooses FD- or TD-LTE, two issues – frequency spectrum management and device ecosystem – will continue to challenge its adoption.
Ovum’s Schoolar noted that spectrum fragmentation remains a real and serious issue in relation to the development of the LTE market, as there are currently 28 bands for FD-LTE FDD and 12 for TD-LTE TDD approved for use globally.
Spectrum fragmentation, he said, makes it difficult for a device maker to design a single handset that will work on multiple operators’ networks. This in turn will have a negative impact on device manufacturing scale, which can drive up prices and prevent network roaming from happening.
“Without common handsets among operators, LTE network roaming will be difficult to achieve,” he said. “The need to support network roamers could force operators to maintain their 2G and 3G networks longer than they had originally planned, which can drive up an operator’s overall cost of network operations and even slow their investments in LTE."
Tucker Grinnan, regional head of Asian telecoms and media research for banking giant HSBC, noted that while there has been real momentum for TD-LTE in the last year or so, China Mobile is the key to lighting the TD-LTE fire.
“[TD-LTE] has lots of support from operators, vendors and regulators, but [more than that], we need a large scale commercial deployment with mass market handsets to really get things going,” he said in his keynote at the TD-LTE Conference.
Grinnan added that the timing of the availability of mass-market handsets remains the single biggest question.
He added that based on handset vendor comments at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, all the major players except Apple should have some TD-LTE devices available this year.
“However, if the experience with TD-SCDMA [is anything to go by], we could see a lengthy delay between initial availability and the launch of low-cost models that can sell without huge handset subsidies,” he said.
[TD-SCDMA is a proprietary standard used by China for its wireless broadband network].
Meanwhile, to cushion the effects of the lack of TD-LTE handsets, Ovum's Schoolar suggested the use of 1800MHz for those with FD-LTE networks -- they could re-farm this spectrum and move subscribers to 4G without having to bear the cost of purchasing new spectrum.
“1800MHz has been widely deployed for 2G networks, and if re-farmed for LTE could at least provide one common band for operators and device vendors to support,” he explained. “This would alleviate some of the issues around LTE spectrum fragmentation.”
Examples of operators who have taken this step are Britain’s Everything Everywhere and Malaysia’s Maxis Communications.
Schoolar said the iPhone 5 was far from the first device to support LTE1800 as a July 2012 report by the GSA (GSM Suppliers Association) identified 98 LTE1800 devices, almost twice the number of LTE1800 devices the organisation identified six months earlier.
“While there are still plenty of challenges with LTE1800, such as getting regulators to allow LTE at that band, the value of LTE1800 appears fairly clear. It can help operators save money and gives them a nearly universal spectrum band,” he said.