There's no doubt that LTE (3GPP Release-8) is gaining traction among many wireless network operators. Two market research firms increased their LTE forecasts this week, while U.S. Cellular announced its LTE roll out plans. This December, Telia Sonera will turn on LTE data service in Finland, while NTT DoComo will make its LTE data service available in Japan. Finally, we report on a new Base Station System on a Chip (SoC) that could significantly reduce the cost and upgrades for LTE infrastructure equipment.
LTE Market Forecasts
On November 11th, market research firm Infonetics Research released excerpts from 2 LTE reports: LTE Deployment Strategies: Global Service Provider Survey and LTE Infrastructure and Subscribers.
Highlights: LTE Infrastructure and Subscribers
Infonetics increased its forecast for the worldwide LTE infrastructure market, expecting it to grow roughly 10-fold from 2010 to 2014, to $11.5 billion. The market is fueled by macrocell eNodeB deployments and the rapidly growing number of operators committing to LTE. Infonetics increased its LTE subscriber forecast as well, now anticipating close to 165 million worldwide by 2014
Highlights: LTE Deployments Strategies Survey
By the end of 2010, a dozen LTE networks are expected to go live, and there are currently over 100 commitments by service providers around the world to deploy LTE networks. 72% of operators Infonetics surveyed about their LTE deployment plans say they will follow the W-CDMA-to-HSPA+-to-LTE deployment path. 94% of operators surveyed will deploy IMS (voice over LTE, or VoLTE), and 39% expect to launch a voice service over LTE one year from network launch.
"As we anticipated back in 2008, today HSPA+ has become the clear bridge between 3G (e.g., W-CDMA and CDMA2000) and LTE. Current networks won’t disappear anytime soon and early LTE networks will only carry data while voice services will fall back to good old circuit switched networks before LTE deployments start to ramp up in 2012. We’re still at a very early stage for LTE with HSPA/HSPA+ rollouts, which are poised to enjoy a long tail," notes Stéphane Téral, principal analyst for mobile and FMC infrastructure at Infonetics Research.
Meanwhile, ABI Research's latest report – Wireless Infrastructure Market Data – predicts that both LTE and mobile WiMAX will become viable wireless broadband access technologies, with WiMAX also being a leading backhaul technology.
Jake Saunders, ABI Research vice president, indicated that the LTE market is full of possibilities, in spite of a slight slippage in LTE deployments, with mobile operators planning to launch commercial services before the end of 2010. He estimated that operators would be actively deploying LTE in 2011. According to ABI, LTE base stations could reach 600,000 units by 2015 (see note below on TI's just announce Base Station Soc). But it will be expensive for operators to upgrade to LTE. Saunders said mobile operators could well be writing out checks for $1 billion in 2011.
LTE Carrier Roundup
MetroPCS was the first domestic carrier,to launch a commercial LTE network. Metro PCS is best noted for its low cost, flat-rate pricing plans for cellular voice and SMS. At this week’s LTE North America 2010 conference, Metro's CTO Malcolm Lorang touted the operational efficiencies inherent in LTE (3GPP Release-8 standard). Lorang explained that LTE's OFDMA spectrum utilization and cost savings were particularly important. As a result, MetroPCS was able to reuse many of its current cell sites and other facilities when rolling out LTE. The company decided to go with an all-IP backhaul solution several years ago that Lorang said was originally done as a way to cut out costs in the long term.
MetroPCS has so far launched LTE services in Las Vegas, Dallas, Detroit, Los Angeles and Philadelphia, and is delivering service using channels as small as 1.4 megahertz.
US Cellular is the latest US mobile operator to reveal LTE plans. At a conference in New York this week, the company's CFO said they are planning one test market next year with a full fledged rollout in 2012. This announcement follows MetroPCS, AT&T and VZW which have all disclosed LTE plans for this year and next. In fact, VZW plans to have LTE operational in 38 US cities and 100 airports by the end of this year (even though there's only 6 weeks left in 2010).
There are many LTE deployments occurring overseas too. TeliaSonera has had LTE running in Sweden for a full year. They recently picked Nokia Siemens Networks and Ericsson for the rollout of its LTE network in Finland starting in December. Marek Hintze, chief of TeliaSonera's mobile operations in Finland, told a news conference, "What's slowing us down is the availability of modemsl" He said that many companies had unveiled LTE modem plans, but so far only Samsung Electronics was supplying them. Hintze said that in addition to its LTE buildout, TeliaSonera would increase investments into its Finnish 3G network in 2011. "It is clear that the total investments next year will be higher," Hintze said. In 2010 the group is set to spend around 200 million euros ($275 million) in Finland.
Also this week, NTT DoCoMo – Japan's largest cellular carrier – announced it will start offering LTE data service under the "Xi" brand name (read "Crossy") on December 24th. Like all other LTE carriers, voice will be transmitted on the existing cellular network (GSM, CDMA) for the immediate future.
DoCoMo will offer download speeds as fast as 37.5Mbps and uploads at up to 12.5Mbps in general use, but these are increased to 75Mbps downloads and 37.5Mbps uploads inside buildings that are fitted with LTE antennas and equipment. During a demonstration of the service in central Tokyo on Monday, a PC equipped with an LTE modem was measured streaming data at around 56Mbps.
The new LTE data service will cover Tokyo, parts of Osaka, Nagoya and a handful of other areas near these cities. NTT DoCoMo built the launch network at a cost of ¥35 billion ($430 million) and plans to spend an additional ¥270 billion over the following two years to roll out service to other parts of Japan. Most users will pay only slightly more for LTE than they already do for 3G data.
A "4G" Base Station on a Chip?
TI has announced the industry's first wireless base station System-on-Chip (SoC) with "4G class performance." Built as a wireless data engine from its inception, the TMS320TCI6616 SoC is based on TI's new TMS320C66x digital signal processor (DSP) generation using TI's new KeyStone multicore architecture, and delivers more than double the performance of any 3G/4G SoC in the market. The TCI6616 also boasts the industry's first multicore DSP that processes both fixed- and floating-point math, an innovative capability that simplifies wireless base station software design.
Implemented as configurable coprocessors, TI PHYs enable Software Defined Radio (SDR) which allows operators to migrate to emerging standards without needing external components. Autonomous packet processing in the TCI6616 manages packets from both core and radio networks, offloading packet processing and freeing cycles for algorithms that enhance spectral efficiency. The autonomous operation of the packet coprocessors simplifies design and reduces costs for developers. Together, these configurable coprocessors, which target all major wireless standards, yield the performance equivalent of over 250 DSPs.
Viodi View Managing Editor,Ken Pyle, asks: With this chip, would it be possible for a base station manufacturer to use a firmware upgrade and not have to change out RF modules? Or, would this only deal with data protocol and there still might have to be swapping for a WiMAX-to-LTE migration?"
While we don't know the answer to that question, we do see a huge change in telecom equipment design- from dedicated hardware to multi-core processors and DSP co-processors with RF front ends. While this will potentially simplify equipment design, it will very likely result in fewer hardware design engineers employed by equipment companies and the need for a much smaler number of firmware engineers.
Another important implication is that components like this one will result in lower cost network equipment (e.g. base stations), hence driving down CAPEX and OPEX for telcos. That may make it easier for telcos to justify network upgrades in light of meager revenue growth.