Clearwire's LTE push highlights growing momentum

More operator launches will result in lower prices and more competition on network equipment

By , IDG News Service |  Networking

LTE (Long Term Evolution) has picked up steam in the last few weeks, with operators moving forward and auctions taking place, helping the technology become a global standard.

On Wednesday, U.S. operator Clearwire formalized its plans for an LTE network, which it will build if it can get the financing sorted out. AT&T is also getting ready to launch its LTE network in the U.S., and recently said its first LTE USB modem is "coming soon."

LTE is also picking up momentum in other parts of the world. In Europe, LTE Networks have been launched in Norway, Sweden, Poland, Austria, Finland, Germany, Denmark, Estonia and Lithuania. In addition, more European countries are organizing auctions that will allow operators to buy the spectrum needed to launch LTE services. Spain recently announced the results of its second LTE auction, and in Italy and France auctions for networks based on the technology are also under way.

Increasing operator interest in building LTE networks is good news, according to Alan Hadden, president at industry organization GSA (Global mobile Suppliers Association), which closely tracks LTE's growth. "It will result in larger with larger scale and volumes. That means manufacturers can produce and deliver equipment more efficiently, which should lead to lower costs," he said.

A larger market also attracts more participants, including suppliers, increasing choice and competition, according to Hadden.

So far, operators have launched 24 commercial networks in 16 countries worldwide. A year ago that number was just three, and it is expected to grow to at least 71 by the end of the year, according to the GSA's forecasts.

Also, since March, the number of LTE-compatible devices has grown by 64 percent, and now totals 161. Verizon Wireless offers by far the largest portfolio of products. While many other operators just offer modem connectivity, Verizon also offers smartphones and a tablet.

Verizon's size helps. But the operator has also been very clear about what vendors can expect from its network, which has made it easier for them to design products. That is something other operators and regulators should try to emulate, according to Hadden.

Clearwire's LTE announcement doesn't just highlight LTE's momentum, but also the importance of spectrum, and having as much as possible of it. The amount of spectrum an operator has is the basis for the speed it will be able to offer subscribers. More spectrum equates to higher speeds.

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