LTE may be the star of Apple’s new iPad, as well as the Apple of every operator’s eye looking for spectral efficiency, but it’s coming up short in the interoperability and roaming department.
Bill Dudley, group director of operator services products at Sybase 365, says that after attending Mobile World Congress (MWC) and talking to a number of executives from a variety of carriers, he’s concerned that the industry is still failing to grasp the true lack of standards around global LTE deployments.
Dudley says that while there are currently anywhere from 5 to 6 frequencies – 700 MHz, 1200 MHz, 1800 MHz, 2100 MHz, 2600 MHz – upon which LTE is being deployed around the globe, he hopes that such fragmentation doesn’t inhibit deployments in any given country.
“Certainly there are some problems when you go outside your own network with roaming, but that’s something Sybase 365 is attempting to address with our service,” Dudley says, noting that his company at MWC launched a new routing hub that allows roaming flexibility to global LTE subscribers.
While here in the United States, most LTE deployments are happening in the 700 MHz bands. Dudley cites research by Teleanalytics that forecast almost 50 percent of LTE deployments by 2015 will be in the 2600 MHz band, potentially easing the number of frequencies that a modem would have to support.
“I think we’re going to see further settlement in the 800, 1800 and 2600 MHz bands for most of the world and it kind of remains to be seen what the U.S. will do,” Dudley says, adding that the other standardization will be around the AWS frequencies, including the 1700 and 2100 bands.
Dudley admits that given the known unresolved frequency fragmentation around LTE, he was surprised by Apple’s decision to offer the technology in the new iPad. He says that while Apple has announced availability of an LTE model for other countries, this first run, given its inclusion of what are mainly North American LTE frequencies, is for those markets only.
“Unfortunately, they also announced Australia, France, Germany, Japan, Singapore, Switzerland and China, and they’re saying this is a 4G device. Well, it isn’t in those countries, at least not yet,” he says.
The break from Apple’s usual strategy here is that it will have to release multiple SKUs for different LTE model iPads released in countries that haven’t deployed their networks on the currently included 700 MHz or 2100 MHz bands. “I think there’s still some questions that need to asked by the industry, because you’re making such a big deal about this being a 4G or LTE device but that’s only for the North American market. These other markets are great opportunities for Apple and I’d hate to see them alienated because of this.”
But Dudley goes on to suggest that radios should eventually emerge that support five or six frequencies for global roaming on LTE networks. On the tablet front, however, he says it might not even be that big of a deal, at least not yet. “In reality, a lot of people buy Wi-Fi-only tablets. They don’t spend the extra money to buy a cellular supported device,” he says.
Dudley’s feeling is that the new iPad is Apple’s way of getting its feet wet and experimenting with the technology before it brings LTE to market in the next iPhone, which he says is almost a foregone conclusion after the iPad announcement.