WW-178 -- Next generation network technology

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Issue No. 179 Thursday November 06, 2008
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Next-Generation Networks in Japan
Seven years after DoCoMo launched its 3G FOMA services,
the company is testing a next generation network technology
called LTE or Super 3G. What are the company’s plans and how
do they compare to KDDI and Softbank?
The target date for the commercial launch of LTE is 2010,
starting with mobile broadband for PCs as the initial
application. LTE, or Long Term Evolution, and enables
high-speed data transmissions of up to 200Mbps downlink
and 50Mbps uplink. Although LTE uses the existing 3G
spectrum, new technologies are applied in its radio access
system. One technology is orthogonal frequency division
multiplexing (OFDM), which transmits data using multiple
sub-carriers in parallel. This technology is well suited
for urban environments where multipath propagation occurs.
The core network of LTE is all-IP.

LTE does not come without its headaches. The technology
needs to overcome two important hurdles: backward compatibility
and cost. KDDI could benefit from the backward compatibility
of CMDA earlier this decade. Customers can use their new
phones even in areas where the latest technology is not
available. KDDI only needed to operate one CDMA network
while DoCoMo has to support both the 2G PDC and 3G FOMA
networks. LTE is also costly as it needs a completely new
set of radio access and core infrastructure components.
New LTE chipsets are still very expensive. Prices will
come down as soon as economies of scale kick-in when more
carriers deploy the technology. This will not help DoCoMo
much as it will be the first carrier to deploy LTE.

Softbank takes another evolution path. It selected HSPA+
above LTE for cost and backward compatibility reasons.
HSPA+ requires less investment because the technology is
based on W-CDMA and does not need a completely new
infrastructure. Backward compatibility is guaranteed.

KDDI has not made a choice, yet. The options are LTE and UMB
(Ultra Mobile Broadband) developed by Qualcomm, KDDI’s
supplier of the CDMA technology. There are not many differences
between the two technologies. Last year Verizon that like KDDI
operates a CDMA network selected LTE for its next generation
network. Earlier this year, Verizon started a trial with its
partner Vodafone.

DoCoMo is moving full steam ahead towards LTE. Keeping its
reputation as a pioneer comes at a hefty cost, though. Will
its shareholders also be happy with the higher download speeds
or ask for postponing the roll-out?

By Arjen Van Blokland

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