Sunday, October 9, 2011

What LTE Means for Consumers

You may have seen or heard of LTE by now, but not quite sure what the term means. But look no further, because you’ve found the right place to find the answer to, “What is LTE?”. LTE is also known as “4G”, which is a faster medium for mobile connectivity through your smartphone. LTE is an acronym for Long Term Evolution network. LTE is the successor to what many smartphone owners know as “3G”. LTE is the technology that Verizon Wireless has adopted as its 4G network. Now while 4G has been officially defined according to the FCC’s specifications, the regulations to market 4G have been enforced very little, and as a result, wireless carriers such as AT&T use the term 4G as a marketing term for their HSPA+ network, which is faster than 3G, but cannot match the speeds that an LTE network could offer. LTE by definition, and theoretical maximum speeds, is within the FCC’s guidelines for 4G. Verizon has taken the time and effort to expand their LTE network to more than 50 cities in the past year, putting 4G on the map for many consumers. Meanwhile, AT&T tries to market their HSPA+ network as 4G, but is not meeting the FCC’s guidelines, and T-Mobile is doing the same marketing sin. Sprint is currently using a different technology, known as Wi-Max, to market as 4G, which is much closer to the FCC’s guidelines than AT&T or T-Mobile. However, Sprint has recently announced plans to completely switch to an LTE based 4G network by 2013. This means that Sprint users would be able to take advantage of really an amazing technology, which will provide them higher data speeds, than Wi-Max, or AT&T’s HSPA+. AT&T is already building out an LTE network as well, but is doing so much more slowly than Verizon, which seems to be launching LTE much more rapidly than AT&T, which has experimental LTE in only a few cities. The benefits of an LTE network may not exactly be clear to you at this point. LTE is a major upgrade over an existing 3G network that all carriers provide. 3G is very limited in bandwidth, compared to LTE, which will make any consumer’s experience much smoother and much faster. The most bandwidth intensive activities, such as streaming a movie off of Netflix on your phone and tablet, will become a notably smoother experience for consumers. The LTE network that Verizon is implementing and Sprint will soon be, will address some of the issues of a traditional 3G data network, such as spotty coverage, and low data speeds. So now that I’ve demonstrated some of the advantages of LTE over 3G or HSPA+, the question must be wondering in your mind. “Why isn’t LTE everywhere?” Unfortunately, the wireless carriers don’t find enough reason to launch their LTE networks at a faster pace. Although Verizon could be the one exception to this statement, since they have been doing a decent job of introducing LTE into new markets. Sprint can’t rush out of their contract with Wi-Max, and really they don’t see a need to, and AT&T is, for whatever reason, not motivated to rapidly launch LTE. I hope AT&T and Sprint are taking notes from Verizon’s 4G launch. There is one other problem with what the carriers are doing, with Sprint being an exception. AT&T and Verizon have introduced data caps on both their 3G and 4G networks. That translates into overage charges for consumers who pass the 2 gigabyte or 5 gigabyte data cap, depending on the carrier. Sprint still offers an unlimited data plan on 3G and 4G, but their CFO was quoted saying that Sprint will continue to offer unlimited data for as long as it’s financially feasible. My concern is that LTE will provide customers with high amounts of bandwidth, but they will not be able to take advantage of those high speeds because of the implemented data caps on Verizon and AT&T. But despite all the potential and current problems with the carriers' policies and LTE implementations, the switch to LTE will ultimately allow consumers to be connected anywhere, hassle free. And since every wireless carrier is actively bringing forward LTE to market, we can expect LTE to arrive in most major U.S cities by the end of 2012.

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