The mobile broadband industry is becoming a victim of its own success as an unprecedented number of bytes flow across the airwaves. Yet efforts to free up additional spectrum are going nowhere fast, putting carriers between an extremely slow-moving government and enterprise and consumer customers who want their apps and data--now.
LTE, by making more efficient use of spectrum and offering impressive features to increase capacity, promises to help operators meet demand. By itself, though, it won't be enough, so enterprise IT teams need to shore up two areas: First, choose your mobile carriers carefully. Among respondents to our latest InformationWeek Mobile Device Management and Security Survey, Verizon (68%) and AT&T (58%) are the top choices, but neither offers an unlimited data plan for new customers. Whichever carrier your organization selects must have a strategy to blend technology such as LTE and eventually LTE-Advanced with efforts to obtain more spectrum. It must also have a plan to increase its number of cell sites, including incorporating small cells such as femtocells and picocells. And it must have the capability to off-load data onto Wi-Fi, a process we discuss in more depth in our recent report on 3G/4G and Wi-Fi convergence.
Second, keep bandwidth limitations in mind when considering your organization's mobility initiatives. For example, 68% of respondents to our MDM survey say they use or plan to deploy virtual desktop technologies on tablets. Fifty-nine percent say they have enabled or will enable access to cloud services via mobile devices.
All that requires a lot of bandwidth.
Fortunately, LTE can help address not only capacity concerns, but also quality of service, voice over IP, and fragmented radio bands.
How? First, it's blazing fast--much faster than any previous wide area wireless technology. Following the "underpromise and overdeliver" business plan--and anticipating slowdowns as their networks become saturated--operators quote more modest rates; Verizon, for example, promises an average of 5 Mbps to 12 Mbps on the downlink and 2 Mbps to 5 Mbps on the uplink. But the reality is often much better. Signals Research Group measured an average downlink speed of 23.6 Mbps and uplink speed of 15.2 Mbps on AT&T's network in Houston. Metrico Wireless reported an average downlink speed of 13 Mbps on AT&T's LTE network and 10 Mbps on Verizon's LTE network.
In the future, speeds will go even higher. That's because current networks use either 5-MHz or 10-MHz radio channels. However, LTE supports 20-MHz radio channels. Operators would love to deploy in such a wide radio channel because it not only boosts performance, it also doubles capacity for the same amount of network infrastructure. The problem is, they just don't have enough spectrum.