Carriers are creating a distinctive network architecture for their LTE deployments: first, large macrocells for uniform geographic coverage, and then under that umbrella, an array of variously-sized smaller cells to reuse spectrum and increase capacity in local areas. "The small cells will add finer grained capacity between the existing macrocells," says Phil Bull, OSS solutions manager for Amdocs, which sells software and services for carrier billing, CRM and operations support systems.
"If you have a well-planned network, with enough capacity, it will be able to sustain the rates that you've committed to [as a mobile carrier] for a given set of users in a given area," says Eran Eshed, co-founder of Altair Semiconductor, an Israel-based LTE chipmaker.
Users in some urban areas might find that changing, as popular LTE smartphones and tablets connect in ever greater numbers. Cellular, like Wi-Fi, is a shared medium: the capacity of a given radio is shared among the users connecting to it. "Where you have [LTE] coverage today, you have plenty of capacity," says Phil Marshall, chief research officer for Tolago Research, a research firm focusing on the mobile broadband market. "But in urban areas, you'll see performance go down [over time]. At the rate at which usage is growing, it's not long before you hit the capacity limit."
LTE vendors and carriers agree that LTE users quickly double their data usage compared to 3G. Much of the increase is in video: with its much reduced latency. LTE consistently yields a more seamless and fluid video experience for users. "At this stage in the market, users will notice a significant performance enhancement," Marshall says. "You'll see a lift [in traffic] as people can do more and do it faster."