What T-Mobile has said so far
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What T-Mobile has said so far
T-Mobile plans to have 4G LTE service up and running in the vast majority of the top 50 markets in the U.S. by the end of 2013. It will launch LTE on Advanced Wireless Services (AWS) spectrum next year and move its High-Speed Packet Access-Plus (HSPA+) service, which is marketed as "4G," to 1900MHz.The operator is testing next-generation Release 10 -- aka LTE-Advanced -- equipment this summer, with an eye on launch next year. "The ability to launch with this next version of LTE technology is one advantage of launching next year," stated SVP of Technology Dave Mayo, in a blog post in June. (See T-Mobile Upgrades HSPA+, Trials LTE .)There's no solid word on how fast LTE-Advanced will be once deployed on the network. T-Mobile said in February that theoretical maximum downloads on its initial LTE launch would be 72Mbit/s. Data speeds can get lowered quite a bit, however, between the test lab and the network tower. (See T-Mobile Promises Multi-Megabit Peaks on LTE.)What is LTE-Advanced, anyway?LTE-Advanced is defined in the 3GPP release 10 of the LTE specification. The specification is focused on using several techniques to further increase the transmission speeds and spectral efficiency of the 4G standard.The 3GPP is gunning for maximum download rates of 3Gbit/s and uploads of 1.5Gbit/s. Clearly these speeds will be far less when translated into the real world, particularly as the 3GPP suggests the specification could use up to 100MHz of spectrum in bonded channels. This amount of bandwidth is a pipe dream for most carriers around the world. T-Mobile will have a maximum of 20MHz to play with, and less in some markets.Nonetheless, LTE-Advanced will offer a speed jump over current LTE and fast 3G networks by implementing some speedy upgrades at the radio access network (RAN) and handset. These include "carrier aggregation" techniques that bond together two or more separate radio channels to get faster data speeds, two-by-two smart antenna arrays (also known as 2x2 multiple input, multiple output (MIMO)) for faster uplink and downlink and relay nodes -- low power basestations that will provide improved coverage and capacity at the cell edge.The 3GPP has a useful primer on LTE-Advanced, if you want to get more technical.Where T-Mobile might go first with LTE
The operator hasn't officially said where it will launch LTE first. As part of its breakup terms from the proposed AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) merger, however, T-Mobile received AWS spectrum in 128 cellular markets, including 12 of the top 20 markets. The 12 are Los Angeles, Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, Washington, Boston, San Francisco, Phoenix, San Diego, Denver, Baltimore and Seattle. These cities appear to be the logical starting point for T-Mobile's faster 4G ambitions. (See T-Mobile Gets Spectrum in AT&T Breakup and Where Will T-Mobile Bring LTE First?)
Verizon Manages Its Own Data Destiny
The new arrangement asks consumers to use a single data plan to manage up to 10 devices and to buy service based on 11 different options, each representing a different amount of data usage each month. (See Verizon: One Data Bucket to Rule Them All, Pricing Out Verizon's Shared Data Move. AT&T Joins Verizon in the Shared Data Pool and Verizon Reserves Special Tiers for Big Spenders.)Behind the scenes, as it manages almost 100 million subscribers on its network, Verizon's Policy and Charging Rules Function (PCRF) must be tied to its billing systems and the data from all the devices on all the plans it manages must be compiled, managed and reconciled to avoid billing mistakes. The cost of making things easier for consumers is that you make things complicated somewhere along the way.In Verizon's case, it must make sure that, whether its one user with 10 devices or 10 people with one device each, it has the ability to watch each customer's behavior individually, even if it lumps their activity together in a shared bill. (See The SPIT Manifesto.)And what vendor is Verizon entrusting with this complex policy management? No one, actually. We asked, and a Verizon spokeswoman led us to believe the move to share data plans, and all the complexity it brings, is handled by Verizon.That was, to us, a revelation given the sheer number of policy management and Service Provider Information Technology (SPIT) vendors and options that have turned up in the past few years.What's next But shared data plans may be a first step in a much more evolved wireless customer experience.In its new Long Term Evolution (LTE) network, Verizon is working with Tekelec Inc. to provide its PCRF servers, which will help manage network resources and enable new LTE services. (See Operators Dress Up Data Caps .) We've noted before that Tekelec sees its technology as allowing big steps forward in how consumers pay for wireless data. (See Tekelec Touts Diameter Signaling Router Wins.)In May, Tekelec's Michael Heffner noted that there are at least a dozen ways that operators can vary data charges and restrictions to improve the customer experience. (See Creative, Confounding Wireless Bills .)Some examples include:working with over-the-top content providers to have them subsidize their app in exchange for not counting it against the data cap hosting data happy hours in which certain times of day don't count against the cap offering the option to turbocharge data speeds -- for a fee -- for video viewing exchanging data for ad viewing giving subscribers the option of guaranteed quality of service with an extra charge What's possible Verizon CTO Tony Melone has suggested that Verizon's LTE network will one day be contextually aware of its subscribers, using location and other factors to, for instance, provide free Internet access when you shop at partnering retail outlets. (See Context Is King and The Carrier Creep Factor.)But, obviously, we're in the early days of a grand experiment in using sophisticated networking technologies to simplify how consumers manage their devices. As Verizon's network evolves, so too will its data pricing options.
Apple Patent Win Puts Carriers in Driver’s Seat
Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL)'s courtroom victory over Samsung Corp. could also convince the wireless operators to play a more active role in fostering a third mobile operating system ecosystem. (See Jury: Apple Guilty, But Samsung Much Guiltier.)The U.S. operators have long wanted to see a strong third player emerge to lessen their dependence on only two OSs, Android and iOS. This is something executives from AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) and Verizon Wireless have stated in the past, even going as far as to defend Samsung in the patent wars. (See Verizon Defends Samsung Against Apple , Nokia's Third Ecosystem Starts With AT&T and CES 2012: It's Time for That Third Ecosystem, Microsoft.)A trial may not have been the route they had in mind, but the Apple-friendly verdict could cause them to get more vocal in accelerating development of that third ecosystem. Jefferson Wang, wireless practice lead at IBB Consulting, says that Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT)'s Windows OS, and to a lesser extent Research In Motion Ltd. (RIM) (Nasdaq: RIMM; Toronto: RIM)'s BlackBerry 10, will likely be the beneficiary of the verdict as they're both relatively safe from the threat of Apple litigation."[The verdict] gives some of the diversity and decision making back to the carriers and OEMs," Wang says.The operators have always given the handset makers and software providers requirements for handsets on their networks, but they couldn't force their hands on what to include on devices, Wang adds. Now, they'll likely be stricter about certain requirements and promote more diversity in their line up.Wang says the new mentality will be, "Don’t just bring your portfolio with rectangular staples and reduce the feature set; do something different." And that goes for all OSes.Of course, consumers in today's market want rectangular smartphones with big touch screens, so the line between differentiation and building the products that consumers will buy is a fine one. Indeed, that's what got Samsung tied up in litigation in the first place.What's more, Android is the most popular OS for a number of wireless operators, including Verizon and especially T-Mobile USA . That may not change based on this trial, but in next six to 12 months, Android handset makers may have to look at less eloquent ways of implementing certain technologies to skirt patent issues, Wang says. In the next 12 to 18 months, he says, they'll start looking at new form factors like dual-screens and wireless accessories to stay out of the courtroom.Nomura Securities analyst Richard Windsor points out that product delays and higher research and development expenses are likely to result for handset makers targeting the U.S., meaning that this process may take even longer than Wang suggests. In the meantime, it's a good window of opportunity for that third ecosystem to begin chipping away at Android's dominance. (See Microsoft Sets a Windows 8 Timeline and RIM Hopes BB10 Roadshow Will Wow Carriers .)"As Android and Apple tear each other apart, Microsoft has been waiting in the wings and is in a very good position to move in and entice users to switch from Android to Microsoft, as we have already seen that user loyalty is low," Windsor writes in a research note.While the verdict was delivered Friday, fallout from the trial is far from over. Samsung is working to overturn the verdict and, if that fails, will most likely appeal it. A preliminary hearing on injunctions on Samsung products based on the verdict is scheduled for Sept. 20.
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