Musings on TeliaSonera’s LTE Rollout (Part 2)

As I wrote in part 1 of this blog entry, last week I was in Stockholm for LTE Forum 2010 and had the privilege to hear TeliaSonera discuss their commercial LTE rollout (the world’s first!). The following is a continuation of my thoughts.

  • Spectrum: The Scandinavian network is being operated at 2.6GHz, so what kind of indoor coverage issues lay ahead? 3G was widely deployed at 2.1GHz and indoor coverage turned out to be a major issue, prompting operators like Vodafone and AT&T to offer Sure Signal & Microcell femtocells respectively in order to address indoor coverage gaps. The cardinal rule for RF signals is that the higher the frequency, the greater the attenuation, and it will be interesting to see how many bars users get indoors in the 2.6GHz band and how soon LTE Femtocells will be needed to address the coverage gap. Not all European LTE networks are expected to be rolled out in 2.6GHz, however; during the spectrum auctions taking place in Germany the bids are being placed on 800MHz, 1.8GHz, 2.0GHz and 2.6GHz spectrum. In fact, six blocks of 10MHz are up for sale in the 800MHz band and as of the ninth day of the auction the EUR1Billion mark was broken with highest bid now at EUR1.2Billion. In total the German auction is expected to close in the range of EUR6Billion – EUR8Billion. So down the road we will see LTE in operations in Europe in the 800MHz band as well – thanks to the digital dividend!
  • Performance: LTE promises 100Mbps+ peak data rates but a recent independent study shows that TeliaSonera’s network delivers peak data rates of only 50Mbps in Stockholm – half. And the average download speeds were reported to be just 16Mbps – a great boost from 3G but still far less from what the technology promised. Why? Well, LTE delivers its highest data rates under ideal radio conditions that enable an eNodeB (base station) to employ the highest order of modulation known as 64QAM. But, in practical terms in the 2.6GHz band, ideal radio conditions might be hard to find. And yet this again brings back the topic of LTE Femtocells – the only option operators have to bring the base station closer to the subscriber’s device and create ideal RF conditions thereby enabling higher order modulations and delivering the highest data rates. It will also be interesting to see how performance degrades as these networks are loaded further as consumer adoption increases; cell edge rates, cell densities, etc., will be all worth keeping an eye on.

So it is great news for the industry as the first LTE network goes commercial in the Scandinavian neighborhood, and TeliaSonera deserves our congratulations for winning the race hands down. But there are many more issues that operators and the industry will have to tackle as LTE adoption unfolds. From complex technical issues of coverage and support for voice to complex business issues of keeping the networks profitable, LTE will keep us all busy for a long time to come!

And, we are already talking about LTE-Advanced! So much for the pace of innovation…

What do YOU have to say about the world’s first commercial LTE rollout and what we can expect going forward? I’d welcome your comments below.

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