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Time to Plan for Cellular’s Long-Term Evolution

By now you’ve heard of Long-Term Evolution (LTE), the new cellular technology that mobile operators are branding as “4G.” Wireless technologies come and go – WiMAX, anyone? – but LTE is something that AV technology managers should begin planning for now, if they aren’t already. The reasons why include:

· LTE has real-world uplink and downlink speeds of at least 5 Mbps and often in the tens of megabits, along with sub-40 millisecond latency. That performance makes it practical to extend bandwidth-intensive, delay-sensitive applications such as videoconferencing to employees in the field and on the road.

· For more than three years, vendors have been exploring LTE for AV applications such as interactive digital signage and video surveillance backhaul. During that time, operators such as Verizon Wireless have aggressively built out LTE coverage, and LTE hardware costs have begun their journey down the cost curve. In fact, some chipset vendors expect costs to drop to $20 by the end of this year. That’s competitive with older, slower cellular technologies. All of these factors make it increasingly easier for AV/IT vendors to justify offering products with LTE either built in or as an option.

· LTE’s rise signals the end of legacy technologies. For example, AT&T said that by 2017, it will shut down its GPRS network. If you have a device that needs to remain deployed for five years or longer, it makes sense to consider an LTE-based solution now because it could be less expensive than replacing it when the legacy network is shut down.

If you’re ready to consider LTE, be aware of a few factors and pitfalls:

· LTE is designed to be used in more than 40 spectrum bands. Today, about a dozen are actually in use. It’s too complex and too expensive for makers of smartphones, tablets, laptops and AV devices to build support for that many bands into their products. So make sure that the products you’re considering match up with the band(s) used by your mobile operator of choice. This decision becomes more challenging if, unlike digital signage or surveillance cameras, the devices are something that employees will take to other countries, where LTE roaming often isn’t an option.

· LTE isn’t everywhere yet. Determine whether your applications can still provide a good user experience – such as video that doesn’t freeze or tile – when using slower, older but more widely deployed technologies such as HSPA or CDMA2000 1xEV-DO. If so, then determine which of those “fallback” technologies is the one you want to use because it’s rare for a vendor to build both CDMA and HSPA into a product.

Virtually the entire cellular world is migrating to LTE. That’s good news for technology managers because it reduces many longstanding fragmentation problems, such as choosing between CDMA or GSM, or having to work with multiple operators. But it has a few of its own challenges, some of which will fade as it matures. Either way, it’s here to stay for the long term.

Since 1998, Tim Kridel has covered the tech and telecom industries for a variety of publications and websites, including AV Technology, Carrier Ethernet News, Digital Innovation Gazette, Pro AV, and InAVate. His coverage includes carrier Ethernet, mobile apps, speech recognition, digital signage, FTTx, videoconferencing, Wi-Fi, and cellular. He can be reached at