LTE: Revolution or Evolution for Business Users?

G. Barton

G. Barton

Summary Bullets:

  • LTE bandwidth will make tablets and smartphones even more powerful tools.
  • Reliability remains fundamental for all mobile solutions.

2012 will see the launch of Long Term Evolution (LTE) services in the UK.  It is tempting to see this as the beginning of a revolution in delivering mobile services.  Trials of LTE have already occurred in the UK, with BT and Everything Everywhere partnering to run trials in Cornwall whilst O2 has run its own trials in London.  The promised increase in bandwidth from around 14 Mbps up to around 50 Mbps, and even above 100 Mbps in the longer term, certainly seems to offer a lot of potential.  However, the question must be asked: what extra advantages does this bandwidth offer business users?  Even for consumer users watching YouTube video clips, 14 Mbps is usually more than sufficient bandwidth.  In theory, LTE supports a maximum speed of up to 150 Mbps on current technology.  However, when deployed in the real world, BT has predicted that 30 Mbps will be the maximum likely speed (and then only during low-usage periods), whilst Everything Everywhere has suggested that speeds will be between 2 Mbps and 40 Mbps.

LTE will offer real benefits to users in particular circumstances.  One of the most obvious benefits is for users located in so called ‘not spots,’ i.e., areas of the country where high-speed broadband is not available.  A large factor for the quick adoption of mobile broadband in regions such as the Nordic countries is its ability to provide high-speed Internet access to places where fibre is uneconomical and/or impractical.  For business users, there will also be advantages in using LTE for temporary sites, and as a higher-speed backup option than 3G mobile broadband.

However, there are limitations.  As noted above, the actual speed received can vary significantly: an issue which operators openly acknowledge, but has consequences for application/service performance.  Access speeds will also depend on availability of a 4G signal.  Exact plans for rolling out LTE in the UK have not yet been detailed, although UK operators are already rolling out 4G capabilities across their respective networks.  Signal stability can also be an issue, and providers looking to support hosted/cloud-based services over mobile broadband connections need to ensure that temporary drops in connectivity do not cause significant disruptions to the service (e.g., loss of data).

LTE, and its delivery of more bandwidth, is a necessary advance.  More importantly, LTE networks will increase frequency spectrum usage efficiency by an estimated 230% by 2013 (according to Ofcom), rising to a potential efficiency increase of 450% by 2020 as newer technologies such as LTE-Advanced begin to emerge.  When LTE is embedded into smartphones and tablet devices, the technology increases the power of these devices to support more advanced mobility solutions.  Industries such as the healthcare and retail verticals are prime targets for tablet and smartphone-driven propositions.  First and foremost, however, LTE providers need to focus on delivering the core basics of mobility solutions: reliability and security.  Automatic mobile network-to-WiFi handover is also an issue that can be thrown into this mix, and it will be a topic of discussion during 2012.

About Gary Barton
As an analyst on the Current Analysis Business Network and IT Services team, Gary covers Business Telecoms Services for the UK and Ireland, with a particular interest in SME and public sector services. Gary’s responsibilities include updating and maintaining Current Analysis’s competitor assessments for the major telecoms companies operating in the UK and on a Pan-European basis.

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