Mobile data usage is skyrocketing and mobile network operators are feeling the capacity squeeze.
With the advent of new content and services on the Web, a more advanced network is becoming increasingly necessary. LTE (Long Term Evolution) currently reigns as the preferred future mobile broadband technology with its promise of speed, higher capacity and great cost efficiency.
Rune Rækken, Head Technical Supplier Management and LTE, shares Telenor Group’s view on LTE, discussing where we’re at today and what will be possible tomorrow.
Q: What is LTE?
Rune: LTE is a broadband technology that makes new services possible and makes room for more users on the network.
Q: Is LTE really 4G?
Rune: This technology is often referred to as 4G, but strictly speaking it is actually 3.9G, as it doesn’t meet the International Telecommunication Union’s requirements for fourth generation mobile technology. It is the next generation, mainstream mobile broadband technology, and it has higher capabilities than current mainstream technologies such as HSDPA (High-Speed Downlink Packet Access). LTE takes the user to the next level in terms of performance and user experience.
Q: Why do you refer to LTE as mainstream?
Rune: There were some competing technologies, mobile WiMAX (Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access) for example, which has technical similarities to LTE and it could have grabbed a good market position. But mobile carriers are banking on LTE because of the seamlessness in which a user can move between GSM, 3G/HSDPA and LTE networks. This is a big advantage.
Q: Why is mobility between the networks so important if LTE is the future?
Rune: Because the first LTE deployments will likely be small, hotspot islands of coverage, and when you are outside of these areas, you will lose LTE coverage. That’s why it’s good to have another technology to fall back on. But we’re not there yet.
Currently when surfing the Web over LTE on your laptop, you require separate dongles (small, electronic devices that connects to the PC’s USB port) for a 3G and LTE network connections, as there are currently no dongles on the market with both built-in. The next dongles to hit the market will have GSM, HSDPA and LTE built-in, but you will still need to switch manually between networks. Someday, when LTE is better established, the user will no longer need to take any action to move between technologies.
Q: Telenor competitors are already marketing LTE and offering it to their customers. What is Telenor waiting for?
Rune: There are a couple of reasons why we’re waiting. For example, in Norway, we are in the process of modernizing our mobile network – swapping out the old equipment and replacing with new equipment. This equipment will be able to handle GSM, HSDPA and LTE, giving us much more flexibility since LTE will be an integrated part of our network rather than an add-on to the existing network.
Secondly, we are waiting for more terminals or devices that are LTE-capable. Once we have larger volumes of LTE-ready devices and a network with good coverage, we will be ready to provide our customers with a better user experience.
Q: Do TeliaSonera (Sweden) and NetCom (Norway) have a head start when it comes to launching LTE in their markets?
Rune: TeliaSonera and Netcom have been very vocal about the launch of LTE. At Telenor, we believe that LTE is not mature enough to deliver a good customer experience yet. The coverage areas are very limited and Samsung is currently the only vendor with a terminal (dongle) that supports LTE on the market. I believe that the current customer uptake of LTE on TeliaSonera and NetCom’s networks proves our theory. We are in no way behind, but rather we are testing, refining and improving our networks until we can provide our customers with a seamless, fast and affordable LTE experience.
Q: There’s been a lot of focus on LTE in Norway. Are there any plans for LTE rollout outside of Norway?
Rune: Definitely! Telenor Sweden just announced LTE rollout within 18 months. We are currently testing LTE in Hungary, where we have partnered with the Chinese vendor ZTE, and DiGi in Malaysia is about to start testing its LTE network. Telenor Corporate Development also has an internal test network for ongoing trials, which have lasted for more than a year. As for the other regions where Telenor operates, we are now evaluating different vendors, checking their capabilities, prices, etc.
Q: Will there be a noticeable difference when I’m online over the LTE network versus 3G?
Rune: Yes. Since radio is a shared resource, the active users must share the total capacity from each base station. Imagine this shared capacity to be a pie, for instance. With LTE that pie is much bigger, meaning that each user will now get a bigger piece. In our internal tests, we see users typically getting 10x the speed obtained over current HSDPA implementations.
Q: Will LTE really be 10x faster for everyone?
Rune: Not always. You can never deploy a radio network in which you get the same capacity and data rates all over. Some people are accessing the network from inside buildings and some are outside. If you have an outdoor base station that is covering the indoor users, the radio signals will need to penetrate the building, which results in a lower capacity for those indoor users. Users close to the base station will get much higher data rates than those who are far away.
Q: Why do you think that mobile operators are all on board with LTE?
Rune: Mobile network operators today are facing some big challenges. Most operators charge their mobile broadband subscribers flat rates that enable unlimited usage. They are now facing the problem of increased network demand – everybody is using more. All operators require a technology that can provide the required capacity in a cost effective way, meaning a better user experience at a lower price. That is the promise of LTE.
Q: Will LTE replace the other networks, such as 3G?
Rune: LTE is not a replacement of other networks, it’s an addition. Essentially LTE is a bearer or carrier of services, and it has larger bandwidth and higher capacity. Our goal is to make sure that all these networks work together. Today GSM and HSDPA work together; if you go out of one coverage zone you can still be covered by the other. LTE is just another technology that can be used to make the mobile broadband become even broader.
Q: Will the users notice when moving between 3G and LTE?
Rune: The user may notice a change in network speed when transitioning from one network to another, but the goal is to make it seamless. The user shouldn’t have to care whether he is running LTE or 3G, the point should be that he has the best connection available at that particular location.
Q: Can you give us a status report on Telenor and LTE?
Rune: LTE is currently a work in progress. We will continue to conduct large technical trials until we have the best possible product, including mature multi-mode terminals in volumes, for launch in the market. That’s the Telenor way.
We have been involved in the standardization of LTE since 2005, and we believe that this is the way going forward. With LTE the network is simpler, the architecture is flatter and the costs per bit will be lower. Whether you call it 3.9G or 4G, everyone can agree that this is the next generation network.