Since its inception in 2004, LTE has become the fastest-developing system in the history of mobile communication. Now accepted as the global standard for the fourth generation of mobile broadband (4G), it is supported by all major players in the industry. From the very first commercial rollout in late 2009, the number of people with access to LTE has soared from zero to more than 200 million, with 40 live LTE networks in 24 countries (as at December 2011).
The origins of this global success story can be traced back to decisions made back in 2004, when Ericsson first started collaborating on a research project with NTT DoCoMo – the world's most advanced 3G operator at the time – on a concept for “Super 3G.”
The deployment of various 3G technologies was in full swing. However, the research partners saw the attraction of a technology that could not only use new radio spectrum to deliver much faster mobile broadband, but also enable the use of paired and unpaired spectrum through a combination of frequency-division and time-division duplex (FDD and TDD) technologies.
After examining a variety of radio technologies, Ericsson, NTT DoCoMo and other research partners settled on Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiple Access (OFDMA) technology, and started work on standardization.
Over the years, other technology pretenders to the 4G crown – including Mobile WiMAX, Flash-OFDM and Ultra Mobile Broadband (UMB) – raised their heads and gained plenty of media hype. While some offered superior speeds to LTE in the laboratory, LTE had already won the backing of major industry players and standardization work was progressing rapidly.
The truth is that a successful global mobile standard is as much about developing an ecosystem as it is about developing advanced technology.
LTE has been deliberately designed to work flexibly and efficiently across paired and unpaired, FDD and TDD spectrum – using bands ranging from just 1.4MHz up to 20MHz – as well as to work seamlessly with 3G technologies. The aim has always been to encourage participation on a global scale and drive down production costs.
As 3G technologies continued to advance and deliver ever higher data rates, LTE developers had the opportunity to think creatively about how LTE could deliver an even better mobile broadband experience. This can be seen, for example, in the way the LTE uplink can deliver maximum data rates with minimal battery drain.
LTE also benefited from advanced automation techniques that make deploying, optimizing and tuning the technology almost a matter of “plug-and-play.” LTE management systems also provide immediate and high-quality information, allowing continuous improvements to be made with a high degree of certainty.
With feedback from live networks showing how people appreciate its advantages, and with the best brains in the industry working to improve the experience even further, the future of LTE has never been brighter.