Vendors demo fast mobile broadband of the future

LTE rolling thunder arrives in New Zealand

A “rolling thunder” campaign by telco equipment vendors to generate media and public interest around the next generation of mobile broadband, Long Term Evolution (LTE) — or, as it’s now known, Systems Architecture Evolution (SAE) — has reached New Zealand.

Swedish telco giant Ericsson was first out of the gate with a presentation held by Kursten Leins, the company’s Melbourne-based strategic marketing manager. Leins highlighted the comparatively fast headline speeds of LTE/SAE, up to 160Mbit/s with four MIMO antennas and OFDMA modulation. Combined with a ten-fold reduction in latency compared to today’s HSDPA 3G, Leins believes LTE/SAE will work as a superior complement to fixed-line broadband rather than a replacement for it.

Ericsson doesn’t, however, see customer demand for higher mobile broadband speeds as the main driver for LTE/SAE. While the currently quoted headline bit-rates for LTE/SAE are high, Jeff Travers, managing director of Ericsson New Zealand, says users will typically see around 10-20Mbit/s. What’s more, Travers points out, even video on handheld devices does not need the high speeds LTE/SAE offers, thanks to the small screen size.

Instead, providers will benefit the most from going to LTE/SAE according to Leins and Travers. A key feature of LTE/SAE is the full IP-based network that, coupled with more compact base station equipment, promises lower deployment and maintenance costs for providers compared to existing 2G/3G systems.

The Swedish telco equipment vendor hopes that its LTE/SAE technology will be selected by Telecom once the latter’s exclusive deal with Alcatel-Lucent ends in 18 months. Presently, Ericsson isn’t active in the mobile space in New Zealand, but it built Telstra’s 850MHz UMTS/WCDMA network in Australia.

Ericsson competitor NokiaSiemens went a step further and brought an actual LTE/SAE set-up to Vodafone’s Auckland office for a demonstration of the new broadband technology.

Detlev Otto, NokiaSiemens’ head of technology for Vodafone customer care, showed off the two-terminal system with one base-station hitting 35Mbit/s using 10MHz of spectrum, and twice that with 20MHz.

Otto says the speeds customers could typically expect from LTE/SAE, depends on many factors such as distance from base station and how many customers are in a cell. But he adds that the highest class of user should get around 25Mbit/s downloads.

Vodafone’s focus on LTE/SAE is aimed more towards general broadband usage. The demonstration, led by Vodafone general manager of products and services Kursten Shalfoon, showed off retail-oriented applications such as gaming and high-definition video conferencing.

Like Ericsson, NokiaSiemens is at pains to demonstrate that LTE/SAE means savings for providers as well. Otto showed a next generation LTE/SAE base station that is the size of two PC tower cases joined together. He says this can be deployed directly onto poles without any outer casing or air-conditioning for cooling, thanks to advances in integration and power management.

Whereas Ericsson sees LTE/SAE coming into play as early as the second half of next year, Vodafone believes 2010 is the earliest date for the new broadband technology.

Chinese vendor Huawei, which is increasingly active in the region, says pre-commercial and small scale launches of LTE/SAE in Australia and New Zealand will start in 2010, with mass deployment two years later. It intends to release its first commercial solution in the first half of next year.

Huawei predicts the data cards will be the first LTE/SAE devices available for customers, but also believes LTE/UMTS dual-mode handheld devices with high-resolution screens will come on-stream from 2010 onwards.

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