The Washington Post has covered news that Verizon Wireless, the second largest mobile network operator in the U.S., is looking to begin trials next year of a technology called LTE (Long-Term Evolution), based upon UMTS release 8. Further still, it states that Vodafone in the UK, part owner of Verizon, are expected to also take part in the trial.
Whilst not ratified as a standard yet, the 3GPP LTE project is looking to improve efficiency and lower costs whilst improving the service available to users. It offers speeds of up to 100Mbps (Megabits per second) downstream and 50Mbps upstream. This is a step up from HSDPA/HSUPA which is currently being rolled out which offers a maximum data rate of 14.4Mbps. Current deployments in the UK see 7.2Mbps in some areas from Vodafone, with other networks to follow with similar speeds next year.
LTE is similar to BT's 21CN in that it aims to move the mobile network over to an all IP based system running voice and data on top. It should bring advantages of low latency (sub 5ms for small IP packets) and fail-over to previous network technologies such as 3G or GSM. It also helps improve compatibility, particularly if taken up both in Europe and the U.S. as hinted at by the Washington Post; eventually negating the need for phones to support a multitude of platforms like existing tri or quad-band handsets.
This does bring forward one clear advantage that mobile network operators have over their fixed-line cousins. There are no costly cables in the way for the 'last mile' of the connection which need maintaining or upgrading to bring out new technologies. Mobile networks use the cheapest medium available, transmitting their signals as waves through the air. This will always allow faster upgrade paths, particularly in a market where mobile phones are seen as a fashion symbol and a large proportion of users get a new phone every 12 to 18 months to stay with the latest trends and technologies.
So what does all this techobabble mean? It means that perhaps if we continue to wait around for our telephone lines to be upgraded to fibre, we will find that the mobile operators jump in first and offer a similar solution that works wherever you are, allowing you to watch High Definition Television (HDTV) on your big screen TV at home and also on the train to work. Perhaps FTTH (fibre to the home) is something that will be defunct by the time it's available on a wide scale. With commercial deployments for LTE looking to be as early as 2010 or 2011, perhaps the mobile operators have already set their lead over fixed-line services in stone.