Is 3Mbps the new 4G?


There is a fairly sterile debate going around about what constitues 4G. "Is LTE 4G?" some ask. Not according to the standards bodies, others reply, polishing their spotters' badges. But unofficially Telia Sonera had no such qualms, heralding its December 2009 LTE launch as 4G. And you will see trade events from analysts such as Yankee Group labelled as 4G events, where the majority of the topics are LTE-related.

So when, this week, Vodafone announced plans for LTE rollouts, it was perhaps just as well it avoided the 4G term - as it said that initial rates would be 3Mbps. Yes, that's 3Mbps.

Interestingly, the operator is going to start with rural coverage, where it said it would initially be offering "actual transmission speeds" of 3Mbps. That doesn't seem like much, given the peak numbers LTE is designed to support. Of course, this is LTE at 800Mhz, where coverage rather than capacity is important for Vodafone to meet its regulatory requirements for the spectrum.

The operator did say that it plans to have "much higher" average speeds in urban areas.

Vodafone said it will start work on the LTE upgrade at the end of September, and by next year 1,500 base stations will incorporate LTE technology. A statement from the company said, "We eventually plan to upgrade all base stations in Germany to LTE".

This puts Vodafone Germany ahead of much of the rest of the group, mainly because Germany has already licensed spectrum and mandated rural coverage.

Vodafone Germany added that it has has selected Huawei and Ericsson as technology partners for its upgrade to LTE. One note on this - Huawei always seems to get listed in these initial LTE contracts, and then has been dropped on occasion (by Telia Sonera, for instance). I'm sure this isn't the case in this instance, but one operator CTO told me recently that he will keep Huawei involved in contracts to "keep the others honest" on price. it might be worth keeping your eyes on how much work Huawei does with Voda Germany, and for how long.