Thursday, January 19, 2012

Antennas are a key part of the LTE Transformation

One of the major themes of CES 2012 was the rollout of LTE handsets:

• Verizon announced three new devices the Motorola Droid 4, Droid Razr Maxx and LG Spectrum, a mini-tablet and a pair of mobile hotspots that run on the their network which covers 200 million POPs (Covered Population).

• AT&T announced 7 new devices and a tablet including the Nokia Lumia 900 and the HTC Titan II, the first Windows Mobile OS LTE devices, and a number of Samsung LTE devices with the Android operating system.

• Sprint announced it will have the Samsung Galaxy Nexus smartphone and the LG Viper running on their LTE network they plan to rollout later this year. Sprint and Clearwire’s move to LTE has effectively ended WiMAX as a major wireless technology.

LTE in 2012 will become a major wireless technology in the US. This driven by Verizon’s need for a faster, more cost effective broadband solution, and the need for the other player to match Verizon’s service and to use a technology that will be the worldwide standard. But the rest of the world is not moving as fast as the US. What is going to help make LTE grow as a technology that is adopted around the world?

Certainly, less expense handsets, and more carrier network rollouts in other regions of the world. The US carriers are doing their part to bring down the cost of LTE handsets by creating volume. However, most of these handsets only work in a limited frequency range and thus only work on the carrier’s network and in country. In fact a consumer needs to buy a new LTE phone if they move from Verizon to AT&T and vice versa due to the different frequency capabilities of the phone and the difference frequencies the network operators run LTE on.

A couple of antenna manufacturers, SkyCross and Ethertronics have developed antenna solutions that allow for multi frequency LTE device usage:

• At CES SkyCross announced its VersiTune-LTE tunable antenna module which supports up to 12 frequency bands and optimizes MIMO (Multi input multi output).

• In 2011 Ethertronics announced its EtherSmart LTE 1.0 product line which allows for tuning across 13+ frequency bands.

Not all frequency bands are going to be used in a single device and will be subject to carrier discretion in terms of what frequencies their networks run on, who their roaming partners are and what are relevant regional frequencies for LTE. But these capabilities open up the possibility for global roaming with LTE and provide:

• An incentive for operators to invest in LTE networks in their home country to gain roaming revenues.

• A solution for operators to work together to provide worldwide service packages like Verizon and Vodafone.

• A desire for business people and consumers to push for LTE services which run faster than existing networks.

• A desire of countries to upgrade their services so they are not seen as technologically behind.

Antennas are one step in the solution, the chip makers like Qualcomm need to provide multi frequency LTE capabilities on their chips sets but this is more of an evolution if the market incentives are in place to make this happen. The antenna solutions have started the ball rolling in what can be a true ubiquitous worldwide standard for wireless communication by the end of this decade. The implications of this will be profound on many levels.

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