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LTE Stands Alone: The Case for Single-Mode Devices

Thu, 08/01/2013 - 11:03am
Andrew Berg

LTE is billed as the rocket fuel that powers our smartphones and tablets, but as coverage expands and operators begin shuttering legacy networks, it’s proving out as the global standard. That said, chipmakers and M2M providers are increasingly exploring the value in single-mode LTE devices. We sat down with Craig Miller, vice president of marketing for Sequans to talk about where the opportunity is for LTE-only devices. 

Wireless Week: What are the advantages of a single-mode LTE chip? 

Craig Miller: The mistake people make is that it's all about phones. True, phones are the dominant device today, but it's the data payload within the phone that's driving the operators to move to LTE. They're basically trying to get all their spectrum off of 2G, and 3G and on to LTE. So trying to refarm that spectrum because they know that's the only way they're going to make money in the future. So, you know, if you want to go to the device level. What are the advantages of not putting in legacy support, well: cost, size, complexity, time to market, certification. All these sort of technical assets start to line up on the devices. So we look at it from the operator’s perspective, as well as from the device side. 

WW: Are there particular device segments, or markets for which a single-mode LTE chip is best suited? 

Miller: If we break it into device categories, certainly the things that are delivering data to a consumer are: tablets, laptops, mobile hotpots, data cards. That's the traditional mobile broadband market, if you want to simplify it. So these products that are really just about connecting to the Internet and delivering IP-based services. In the non-traditional space, there's two categories: Consumer electronics, which will benefit from being connected to the Internet; and the M2M space.

WW: How are the roaming challenges playing out? Is realistic to imagine a single-mode LTE chip for a global M2M solution? 

Miller: It's carrier dependent, but if you look around the world at carriers who have a sizeable LTE footprint in their geography--you're talking about big operators like Verizon, Softbank--you can build a single LTE-only SKU, that has support for only those operators. Obviously, it's a trade-off. It's cost versus coverage, or however many SKUs you want to manage. I think in most cases though, M2M module vendors are looking at sizeable volumes where they can justify having a SKU for Verizon, or Verizon plus maybe another U.S. carrier, and then maybe a different SKU for China Mobile. Technically though there is no problem putting six bands into an M2M device. It's just a function of many do you need? 

WW: Do you have a timeline for when we'll start seeing more LTE-only devices coming to market? 

Miller: In the traditional space, I can tell you with conviction, you're going to tablets, mobile hotspots that are LTE-only shipping in some of these markets-the U.S., Japan and Korea--this year and certainly in significant volumes heading into next year. So it's already happening in that space. The design pipeline is already hot. I think the non-traditional space or emerging devices, the design gestation is maybe a little bit longer. I don't think you'll see a lot of volume this year in a classic M2M space, even though we did just announce some business in Korea that's LTE-only. Korea is interesting because they have 100 percent population coverage now across two or three different operators. The U.S. might be a little slower to deploy. Verizon might be a little quicker because their coverage meets or matches their 3G coverage so why would they put both in? 

WW: What about a carrier like AT&T that has an HSPA+ network? 

Miller: I think AT&T is an example of a hybrid network where they'll maybe maintain certain areas where they'll still maintain an HSPA network for years to come. Although they've already announced that they're shutting down their 2G network. There's millions of connection on 2G, so where do they go? Do they go to 3G or do they go to LTE? And given the longevity of LTE and the roadmap, I think there's a strong case for them to move to LTE. Even though they might leverage the throughput or the raw speed, there's other reasons to go there. That's where the operators are going.

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