Major U.S. wireless carriers are all committed to the Long Term Evolution standard, and it's time for enterprises to develop a migration plan.
OK, I'm stealing some airline's tagline there, but, really, we've arrived at a singularity in the history of wireless: LTE is about to become the only wide-area wireless technology that matters. It will take the planet by storm, and it will absolutely be in your pocket over the next few years. The major carriers are behind this technology and it's time for enterprises everywhere to have a migration to LTE in their plans.
Or is it? Maybe we've been asking the enterprise to get a little too deep into wireless technology, especially that provisioned by carriers. Shouldn't we at the far end of the value chain be more concerned with upper-layer protocols and applications? And, since those protocols are IP and those apps dependent upon no wireless technology in particular (as long as it's broadband, of course), should we even care what wide-area technology we're using?
Well, yes we should. Commonality in technologies means that device vendors, from chips to subscriber units, can invest in higher-volume manufacturing, with correspondingly lower costs that ultimately benefit us users to a very great degree. But ditto with services--a competitive market means greater service availability and capacity, lower prices, improved reliability, and innovation and differentiation in vendor-specific value-added elements. All of this stimulates basic demand, so it's ultimately win/win/win for device and equipment vendors, carriers, and users. And the use of different radio bands for LTE in different parts of the world, an artifact of diversity in global regulatory policy? No big deal today; world LTE adapters are fairly easy to build.
And, oh yes, I almost forgot, we're moving, as attendees at the recent Interop conference learned, and quite rapidly, to an era of personal liability, also known as Bring Your Own Device (BYOD). Just like workers in the trades, we'll bring our own tools to work and have our personal choice of consumer-based technology do double duty. And what will all those devices support? LTE. No need for a massive upgrade of enterprise handsets, with all of the attendant costs and trauma.
There's more. All of the major carriers in the U.S. are committed to LTE, likely even including Sprint, which has signaled its intentions to pursue LTE despite an investment in WiMax carrier Clearwire. But even if Sprint remained Clearwire-only, I see Clearwire migrating to LTE all by itself. And Clearwire won't be the only broadband-data carrier pursuing LTE; check out Lightsquared's effort to build a wholesale LTE network in the L band. Bottom line: we'll be drowning in LTE in just a few years--and, again, that's very, very good for the enterprise.
OK, there is some downside to LTE, as is always the case with any new technology. Current pricing is high, and it would be easy to exceed, and quite quickly, the fixed allocations of capacity currently offered at those high prices by the carriers; check out Verizon's pricing for an example. As has always been the case, carriers won't guarantee coverage or throughput; LTE is better radio, but still radio, after all. LTE, contrary to what some believe and also to some current vendor marketing, won't really be about throughput, anyway, but rather capacity, with more efficient use of the spectrum again a benefit for all of us.
Regardless, I'd still argue that it's in the best interests of the carriers to get customers up and running on LTE as soon as possible so as to gain ROI quickly, and that current pricing limiting demand (known in marketing parlance as "skimming") will be in place only until all elements of a carrier's value chain, most notably with respect to coverage and backhaul capacity, are in place. This won't take all that long.
So, no more arguments over the fine points of wireless WAN technology, no more religious wars for the sake of religion. We are indeed at the singularity that many of us have been looking forward to, literally, for decades. Look what Wi-Fi did for WLANs, and take it everywhere. Excited? You should be.
Craig Mathias is a Principal with Farpoint Group, a wireless and mobile advisory firm based in Ashland, Mass. Craig is an internationally recognized expert on wireless communications and mobile computing technologies. He is a well-known industry analyst and frequent speaker at industry conferences and trade shows.
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