Thursday, January 2, 2014

LTE Speed Titles

AT&T has already taken the LTE speed mantle for 2013.  I think that speed will continue to be an important marketing differentiation.  Sprint Spark, based on 2.5 GHz spectrum as that opportunity to break Sprint out of its downward slide.  

My article in RCR Wireless entitled LTE Speed Crowns and Network Dependencies lays out some of my thoughts.  A key piece in increasing speed is when carrier aggregation kicks in. In a nutshell,   it's the ability to piece together disparate pieces of a carrier's spectrum portfolio to make a 'fatter pipe' in order to deliver to the user, a faster speed (and lower latency) experience. Of course there are a lot of hardware dependencies that go into it.

While speed is exciting, what looks to be a Sprint win may be a marketing and revenue loss in the non-metropolitan areas.  That is due to 2.5 GHz's poor propagation characteristics.  It just cannot reach out there and Sprint's problem is that thought it has a lot of the frequency, in order to make it effective nationally, they would have to expend a LOT more money to blanket the U.S. geography. This is a similar argument that you don't see a fully geographic national PCS network.  Verizon Wireless and AT&T will have that advantage with their sub-1GHz portfolio. When these larger carriers piece their deep cellular bands with their 700 spectrum, they will have the ability to deliver greater speed than Sprint outside of the metropolitan areas.  This won't happen for a couple more years late 2015-2017, perhaps.   

Sprint will need to execute on its 2.5 GHz Spark buildout to have a shot at the standard speed surveys that Root Metrics (various metro updates over the course of the year) and PC Magazine (May) performs. It may be that Sprint will win some important metros but may not get the 2014 title until those survey cities are 'Sparked.'  Throwing a monkey wrench in 2014 will be Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile tapping their deep AWS assets. T-Mobile has already been reported to have a 20 X 20 (20 MHz down/20 MHz uplink) in the Dallas area while Verizon Wireless has turned on  20 X 20 in New York.

When Spark reaches some critical market threshold, I fully expect Sprint to turn up the marketing to push speed and unlimited.(And introduce a deep Tri-band device portfolio). It should definitely appeal to the technology forward users.  I'm also thinking that the tech blogs should help the cause. Of course, it depends on getting that network going. 

2014 will be an interesting speed year.