Where on earth are these LTE devices? In the US?

I was looking at the availability of LTE modems and handsets recently. Considering Seattle is one of Verizon’s launch markets and they have been testing LTE since early 2009, I am quite optimistic that Pacific Northwest will have a great wireless broadband alternative in addition to T-Mobile’s HSPA+, ATT HSPA and Clearwire’s WiMax service well before Thanksgiving and the start of the shopping season. (I don’t include EV-DO in this list anymore since at least its peak throughput experience is clearly inferior to alternatives I mentioned.)

Unfortunately, there are not many devices in the market. As a matter of fact there is only one type of LTE device (Samsung Craft) as of today available only in Dallas-Ft. Worth and Las Vegas.  So far MetroPCS is the only company that officially launched LTE service in those two cities. They plan to launch service in LA, San Francisco, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Atlanta and across Florida fairly soon. MetroPCS claims that Samsung Craft is “the most affordable 4G phone on Earth”. Considering it is $299 after an instant rebate, I am not sure where that leaves us about what to expect for upcoming LTE phone prices.

Unlike MetroPCS, Verizon is planning to go more conservative and launch LTE with modems only. So far the only device that was identified to be ready for Verizon’s service launch is LG VL600. Since VL600 isn’t publicly available and its specs aren’t shared widely, I have decided to search the FCC website (https://fjallfoss.fcc.gov/oetcf/eas/reports/GenericSearch.cfm). Here is what I found out.

There are three FCC approved LTE devices as of Oct. 1st, 2010. They are listed in the following table.

 

  • Samsung Craft operates at Cellular, PCS and AWS bands using IS-95, 1xRTT,  and EV-DO. It uses PCS and AWS bands for LTE operations. In addition it has WLAN and Bluetooth interfaces.
  • LG VL600 USB operates at Cellular and PCS bands using IS-95, 1xRTT, and EV-DO. It uses lower 700 and upper 700 MHz bands for LTE operations.
  • LG AD600 USB operates at Cellular and PCS bands using GSM, EDGE, WCDMA/HSPA. It uses lower 700 MHz band and AWS for LTE operations.

While searching for user equipment, I had a chance to look at FCC-approved infrastructure gear as well. I found the following:

Only 4 e-nodeB manufacturer choices is certainly concerning considering LTE is expected to be a widely deployed network technology in the USA in 2011. Vendors produced two lines of products; one for the AWS band and another for the 700 MHz band. It is noteworthy that no vendor has an LTE e-nodeB at the PCS band yet. I am not sure about Samsung and Motorola’s customer commitments as of now. However, ALU and Ericsson seem to be pretty secure in covering the leading three operators with their product portfolio.

In addition to these four e-nodeB providers, there are a number of other infrastructure vendors with FCC approvals under their belts. Here are some of those:

  • ADC has a Remote Access Unit for lower 700 MHz A and B bands.
  • Cellular Specialties Inc. (Manchester, NH based firm) has two repeaters for in-door distribution; one for upper 700 MHz C band and another for lower 700 MHz A and B bands.
  • Mobile Access (Vienna, VA based firm) is another indoor wireless distribution firm. They have a similar line-up of devices as Cellular Specialties.

It is quite interesting to see the activity in developing LTE in-door coverage solutions. Even though 700 MHz was touted to be the king for building penetration to ensure solid in-door coverage, these three vendors still see the opportunity in enhancing in-door coverage, especially by providing concentrated capacity in a building as opposed to relying on macro coverage. Furthermore, considering LTE is initially an add-on for data-only and the user must continue to use GSM/WCDMA or CDMA for voice, it is understandable for the urgency in developing in-building solutions.

During the next decade, LTE will be widely deployed across the world. LTE-Advanced, similar to HSPA+ upgrade path for original WCDMA will increase the adoption of LTE. Even though the longer term outlook is rosy, in the short term, i.e., in 2011, unless multiple LTE products start coming to the marketplace, LTE’s impact will be limited. Especially with the wind behind the HSPA+ camp and its 2-3 years advantage over LTE in technology maturity, HSPA+ will continue to steal the show in 2011. Having said that, I am desperately seeking an LG VL600 to compare against T-Mobile HSPA+ Rocket. If you happen to have tested one, please drop a note.

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