No doubt about it, mobile operators around the world are moving fast towards an LTE-only world. They are aggressively deploying LTE at a rate nearly twice that of 3G, ensuring that LTE everywhere, a vision that has been enthusiastically predicted in the wireless industry, will soon be a reality.
Verizon Wireless is leading the way and recently announced that its US LTE rollout is virtually complete, now covering 500 markets, 298 million people, achieving parity with its 3G coverage footprint. Other leading operators, including other US operators and international leaders SK Telecom, LG U+, KT Corporation, and Softbank, have similarly achieved LTE coverage approaching 100 percent of their respective populations. Considering that the first LTE networks didn’t launch until 2009, this is truly astonishing.
When LTE is everywhere, there is no need for 2G/3G fallback and, in fact, there are disadvantages to maintaining these legacy networks, especially for non-handset, data-centric devices. This gives rise to a strong LTE-only market where numerous LTE-only devices of all types are destined to deploy. Because LTE is much more spectrally-efficient than 3G and LTE networks are less expensive to operate, mobile operators are highly motivated to move as many devices as possible as quickly as possible to their 4G networks with the end goal of shuttering their less-efficient 2G and 3G networks and putting that spectrum to use for LTE. To encourage this, operators are adopting highly attractive data-share and toll-free pricing plans, pushing devices onto their LTE networks.
Verizon Wireless is already talking openly about LTE-only phones coming in 2014, but beyond phones, there is a huge potential market for other types of LTE-only devices. Strategy Analytics estimates that 1 billion non-handset devices will deploy over the next five years, and that two-thirds of these, or about 650 million devices, will be LTE-only. LTE will power consumer electronics and M2M devices and a vast array of other types of devices comprising the Internet of Things (IoT).
The benefits to LTE device manufacturers of this transition are numerous. LTE-only chips are significantly lower in cost than multimode chips and the ensuing lower device costs can generate higher demand and higher profits. LTE-only chips are also smaller, and less power-hungry, making devices simpler and allowing them to get through regulatory and operator approvals and get to market faster than their multi-mode counterparts. For those manufacturers of non-traditional devices, including many devices for the IoT, LTE-only modules, which combine baseband, an RF front-end, and key interfaces, offer a low cost, all-in-one, drop-in connectivity solution that allows quick development and quick time to market, even for those manufacturers without wireless expertise.
LTE is the world’s first truly global wireless standard and without looking too far into the future, we can see a world with LTE inside nearly every device that requires a wireless connection. An LTE-only world is inevitable.