LTE is expected to meet data growth demands over the next few years, if the major carriers are right in their projections. Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam even announced at CES that he wants Verizon to use LTE to wirelessly broadcast the 2014 SuperBowl. Doing so would be a true technology feat.
Verizon has already added LTE coverage in 473 cities, making it the biggest LTE carrier in the world. Indeed, there's great promise in the technology, partly because it uses spectrum more efficiently, which is why the other major carriers are racing to deploy it -- and spending billions of dollars to do so.
The smallest of the four major national carriers, T-Mobile USA, had hoped to make Las Vegas its first LTE city in time for CES, according to Neville Ray, the company's chief technology officer. Ray told Computerworld that the Vegas launch would happen in mid-January instead.
In addition to touting its plans in LTE, T-Mobile's scrappy new CEO, John Legere, announced a $70-per-month unlimited nationwide 4G data plan subject to no annual contract.
In doing so, Legere picked up on the theme advertised heavily by Sprint about the value of unlimited data. Set against all the bandwidth-hungry apps and devices displayed at CES, Sprint and T-Mobile hope to offer an alternative to what could become an expensive wireless future for Americans.
Some analysts praised the smaller carriers for providing alternatives to pricey wireless data plans, and backed U.S. regulators and the U.S. Congress for encouraging wireless competition.
The next five years will almost certainly be something of a massive shake-out period that determines how well LTE, Wi-Fi and other networks can keep pace with soaring wireless data demands.
"The bottom line to all of this is that there will never be enough wireless bandwidth available," said Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates. "No matter how much we get, the new technologies will find a way to fill it, and quickly."
Gold said it is imperative for regulators to free up as much new wireless bandwidth as possible. Even so, he stressed: "The race to keep up is probably already lost. "
The best hope for avoiding choke points is to develop technologies that are more efficient at managing the bandwidth we already have -- "a much harder problem," Gold said. "Better compression, time management, smaller cells including Wi-Fi, faster backhaul and more could help a lot.
"But that's not easily or inexpensively done."