Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
- Robert Frost
South Korea’s largest mobile operator SK Telecom is launching LTE TDD this month on the country’s largest cellular network reports Light Reading.
SK Telecom is using Circuit Switched (CS) fallback techniques for voice service. SK Telecom has selected Samsung, LG-Ericsson and Nokia Siemens Networks as the key equipment suppliers for its 4G LTE network. SK Telecom, previously a CDMA operator, switched to GSM-based IMT-2000 a year or two ago and expects to add 0.3 million LTE subscribers from its domestic market in 2011. They expect LTE subs to reach 6 million by 2013 and 10 million by 2015.
Broadband wireless competitor LG Telecom, which offers its mobile services under the U+ brand, has a different approach to LTE. LG Telecom, a CDMA operator, is using enhanced High-Rate Packet Data (eHRPD) an enhancement of 1xEV-DO, to enable LTE to CDMA handover.
The 3G and 4G Wireless Blog explains that eHRPD is something of a stopgap between EV-DO and LTE. LG U+ and Samsung use eHRPD to support seamless service mobility between a LTE network and their CDMA network. Other infrastructure partners to build the new LTE network include LGEricsson which signed a commercial contract with LG U+ and Nokia Siemens Networks.
LG Telecom’s LTE approach supports seamless service mobility between a LTE network and a CDMA network. LG U+ plans to expand its LTE network nationwide by July 2012. Samsung and LG U+ will also cooperate to provide voice over LTE (VoLTE). LG Uplus, the nation’s third-largest mobile carrier, expects LTE service subscribers to surpass 3 million by the end of next year, and more than 10 million by 2014.
In a press conference, LG Uplus CEO Lee Sang-chul said it will surpass SK Telecom in LTE subscribers from 2014 and aims to have 10 million LTE customers in three years.
A new Pyramid Research report on South Korea’s LTE market looks at both the LG U+ and SK Telecom deployments and the Asian wireless market.
KT Corp, South Korea’s biggest fixed-line service operator and rival to SK Telecom, has a large commitment to Mobile WiMax (WiBro). South Korea developed WiBro, and much of that DNA is incorporated into Mobile WiMAX. KT’s WiBro/WiMAX network is deployed in 82 cities and on major express highways.
But KT plans an LTE pilot test in Seoul in 3Q 2011 for jointly exploring overseas markets. Whether KT will drop the other shoe and join the LTE party is still unknown. KT may need a compelling economic incentive before it jumps in.
SK Telecom aims to expand its LTE coverage to the Seoul Metropolitan Area in 2011 and provide nationwide coverage in 82 cities by 2013.
As of last year, about 14 million South Koreans were using smartphones or tablet PCs, making up about a third of the nation’s wireless market.
South Korea’s SK Telecom plans to launch the next generation, LTE Advanced in 2013. That would make it one of the first carriers to offer ITU-approved 4G service with 100 Mbps mobile speeds.
Malaysia’s Packet One Networks may be a model for how WiMAX operators might make the transition to TD-LTE, notes Lynnette Luna of Fierce Wireless. The operator plans to launch a pilot commercial TD-LTE network by year end and plans to transition its WiMAX network to a dual WiMAX/TD-LTE network in 2012.
Meanwhile, in Japan, NTT Docomo, the largest cellular carrier in Japan, launched LTE more than 6 months ago and is testing LTE-Advanced . Japan’s second-biggest mobile carrier, CDMA-based KDDI, with 33 million subscribers, plans to offer LTE service by December 2012, using Samsung gear.
KDDI affiliate UQ Communications currently provides Mobile WiMAX service in Japan. UQ is hoping to have 2 million WiMAX subscribers by end-2012. UQ WiMAX subscriber count reached one million on June 15, 2011. UQ has installed thousands of ZTE Pico basestations for coverage indoors and out, even in Tokyo subways.
Today UQ Communications and Samsung announced the world’s first WiMAX 2 field trial near Tokyo, demonstrating 100Mbps speeds. The new standard, 802.16m, will be fully backward compatible with 802.16. Also today, GCT Semiconductor announced a new WiMAX 2 (802.16m) single-chip solution, supporting a 4×4 (MIMO), 150 Mbps downlink and 50 Mbps uplink.
But if South Korea, the father of Mobile WiMax, is going with LTE, you have to wonder about the future of WiMAX 2. If WiMAX’s biggest supporters – Korea’s KT and Japan’s UQ – go with LTE, WiMAX may be officially toast. Still, if 80-90% of the infrastructure can be reanimated for LTE, it’s not a big loss.
It’s more a question of autonomy – most broadband wireless communications is now coming under the control of giant telecommunications firms with LTE. Consumers will be the losers when that happens. Governments and carriers will cooperate.
Perhaps CDMA-based Sprint will announce a similar vendor mix and approach to CDMA/LTE handoff, with vendor support from Samsung, LGEricsson and Nokia Siemens Networks. Meanwhile, any Sprint iPhone would likely have dual CDMA/WiMAX radios, like their other 4G smartphones that use Sequans chips. Sequans dual-mode chips can transition from WiMAX to LTE. Broadcom acquired Beceem which develops dual-band, LTE and WiMAX chips. Qualcomm’s next-generation Snapdragon supports LTE and both GSM and CDMA networks. That’s why Verizon uses it. World phone. Of course nobody but Verizon is using 700 MHz LTE (yet).
Why would Sprint go with LTE? Everyone else is doing it on 2.6. They don’t have a choice. TD-LTE in China and India will be huge. Apple, HTC and Samsung will be there. Sprint can put a Qualcomm, Broadcom or Sequans chip in their phones for dual-mode LTE and be done with it. Global roaming.
How about Google and Microsoft? Could they pull off a free-form revolution using White Spaces, Skype, and advertising? Don’t bet on it.
They’ll have to pay the piper – just like the rest of us.