March 25, 2013, 1:45 PM — More subscribers, networks with better coverage and devices that can be used in more countries are converging to make LTE roaming a more viable proposition, with some operators already offering such services on a limited scale and more on the way.
"We were at Mobile World Congress last month and members of our executive team and our global roaming team were there actively seeking roaming partners, so that we can offer our customers 4G LTE when they are traveling and also offer customers of other providers overseas the option to roam on our network," said Tom Pica, executive director of corporate communications at Verizon Wireless.
The first fruits of those deliberations will come in early 2014, when Verizon will start offering its subscribers "LTE roaming in several countries, including Canada," according to Pica, who is convinced the operator's subscribers want that service.
Across the Atlantic, TeliaSonera became the first to offer LTE roaming in Europe last month, allowing its users in Denmark to access LTE when visiting Sweden. The next step will be to add more countries where it has its own networks, but roaming deals with other operators are also being worked on.
"I wouldn't be surprised if we are ready to roam with an external operator this year," said Tommy Ljunggren, vice president of System Development at TeliaSonera's Mobility Services.
Both Telstra, which is based in Australia, and TeliaSonera are charging the same for LTE and 3G roaming. The Australian operator announced a deal with its subsidiary CSL in Hong Kong earlier this year, and is working on similar agreements with operators in other countries, it said.
The spectrum bands supported by smartphones, tablets and USB modems determine the countries in which users can roam, assuming agreements between operators are in place. Smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy S4 and Sony Xperia Z are leading the way by implementing up to six LTE bands.
The most commonly used frequencies today are 1800MHz and 2600MHz, which provide coverage in about 80 percent of the countries where commercial LTE services are available, according to Alan Hadden, president at industry organization GSA (Global mobile Suppliers Association). That includes Europe, parts of Africa, Asia and South America.
Those two bands will be supported by the European LTE version of the Galaxy S4, which can also access LTE networks on the 800MHz, 850MHz, 900MHz and 2100MHz bands, Vodafone, Orange and TeliaSonera confirmed. The Xperia Z has the same band configuration, according to Sony Mobile's website. The addition of those four bands provides better coverage in mainly Europe and Asia, including Japan and South Korea. The 800MHz band will play an important role in Europe, because of the good coverage characteristics it offers, Ljunggren said.