By Tim Scannell
In a current television commercial promoting 4G wireless technology, actors use a variety of 4G-enabled devices to download all types of data at blinding speeds, seemingly keeping one step ahead of the activities surrounding them in the real world.
In the real world, however, 4G has a long way to go before meeting its marketing promise. While 4G subscriptions worldwide are expected to exceed 158 million by 2013, and revenues for LTE services will reach $150 billion, there are some roadblocks and hurdles ahead that may slow if not delay this progress.
Manufacturers are already shipping wireless handsets that support a variety of flavors of 4G LTE technology, and the infrastructure is already in place and working quite well, says Joseph Lawrence, VP of marketing for the CDMA Development Group, an industry trade organization that promotes the use of CDMA and other complimentary technologies.
Not everyone is on board with LTE, however, especially outside the U.S. where different approaches to 4G and 4G spectrums, as well as regulatory issues, may create global roaming problems. "Unless we create a harmonized spectrum for LTE, you're going to have a lot of different types of networks," notes Lawrence.
There are also some significant issues on the device side, especially concerning the apparent drain 4G and other high-speed wireless networks have on current handset designs. In fact, there were rumors swirling around that that Apple avoided 4G LTE technology in its popular iPhones because of these battery issues. The CDMA Group's Lawrence admits that having multiple radios in a device that constantly check multiple sectors for nearby 3G, 4G and Wi-Fi signals does create a drain on the battery.
"Some of the front-end modules being developed right now aren't optimized for battery consumption, so we have a lot of work to do in the RF link technology," he adds.
Factoring in a Smaller Form
The size of devices is also an issue, especially as some manufacturers introduce sleeker form factors that make it tougher to pack multiple communications architectures and antenna technologies into a slim smartphone. The development of larger devices, which seems to be the trend right now, may actually work in favor of advancements in 4G and placement of additional modules within a device, says Lawrence.
In fact, advancements in higher-speed wireless communications infrastructures, as well as increasing demands for broadband capacity, may very well be driving the design developments of next-generation smartphones.
Truth be told, the current fragmentation in the global 4G market, as well as the device issues noted earlier, may stunt the growth of 4G to the extent that it will account for only 6% of the total global activity by 2016. That's not a bad thing, however, since 3G and CDMA are expected to easily meet the needs of most users and be the workhorse of the industry for a very long time, says the CDMA Development Group's spokesman. Expectations for 4G have been set very high and a lot of money has been spent building roads that may ultimately go nowhere as the dust settles and carriers and users opt for reality over promises.
"We all want to be sure what the dynamics are and what the expectations should be," says Lawrence. "Spectrum is playing a much bigger role than before, and drives everything in terms of technology choices, what technologies you offer, and whether you are going to be competitive."
TechnologyGuide recently sat down with CDMA Development Group members to talk about 4G developments, the evolution of standards, global roaming, and other issues that are challenges to the development, deployment and successful application of higher-speed wireless networks. The meeting included representatives from Alcatel-Lucent, Nokia Siemens Networks, Huawei and Ericsson and was a part of TechnologyGuide's continuing Editors' Roundtable discussions that focus on a range of key technology topics. To see what they had to say, be sure to check out the clip above, and click here to see some of the other videos from our meeting.
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