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More on LTE Spectrum Fragmentation

Introduction

Some weeks ago, I posted on the LTE spectrum fragmentation problem and its impact on M2M. As well as a comment to people who had purchased the new Apple iPad that uses LTE.

Since then, a few changes and interesting events have occurred.

Band 26 Approved

First, in the latest 3GPP Release 11 update in March of 2012, Band 26 was approved for use with LTE.

This means that Sprint can use their Nextel spectrum for LTE (or a combination of LTE and CDMA within that band, with appropriate guard-bands to avoid interference) once they have the approval from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to re-purpose the spectrum.

The table below identifies the latest bands available for LTE:

Band

Uplink low (MHz)

Uplink high (MHz)

Downlink low (MHz)

Downlink high (MHz)

Bandwidth (MHz)

FDL low FUL low (MHz)

1

1920

1980

2110

2170

60

190

2

1850

1910

1930

1990

60

80

3

1710

1785

1805

1880

75

95

4

1710

1755

2110

2155

45

400

5

824

849

869

894

25

45

6

830

840

875

885

10

45

7

2500

2570

2620

2690

70

120

8

880

915

925

960

35

45

9

1749.9

1784.9

1844.9

1879.9

35

95

10

1710

1770

2110

2170

60

400

11

1427.9

1447.9

1475.9

1495.9

20

48

12

699

716

729

746

17

30

13

777

787

746

756

10

-31

14

788

798

758

768

10

-30

17

704

716

734

746

12

30

18

815

830

860

875

15

45

19

830

845

875

890

15

45

20

832

862

791

821

30

-41

21

1447.9

1462.9

1495.9

1510.9

15

48

22

3410

3490

3510

3590

80

100

23

2000

2020

2180

2200

20

180

24

1626.5

1660.5

1525

1559

34

-101.5

25

1850

1915

1930

1995

65

80

26

814

849

859

894

35

45

33

1900

1920

1900

1920

20

Tdd

34

2010

2025

2010

2025

15

Tdd

35

1850

1910

1850

1910

60

Tdd

36

1930

1990

1930

1990

60

Tdd

37

1910

1930

1910

1930

20

Tdd

38

2570

2620

2570

2620

50

Tdd

39

1880

1920

1880

1920

40

Tdd

40

2300

2400

2300

2400

100

Tdd

41

2496

2690

2496

2690

194

Tdd

42

3400

3600

3400

3600

200

Tdd

43

3600

3800

3600

3800

200

Tdd


That makes the count: 35 possible bands for LTE deployments world-wide!

Certainly, not every band will be used in every country, but:

  • The US is likely to have the most bands in use in actual deployment.
  • World-wide roaming with LTE handsets is likely to remain a problem for many years.

Current Service and Announcements in the US

A reminder, the announced LTE service bands are:

  • Verizon: 700 MHz (different block/class from AT&T).
  • AT&T: 700 MHz (different block/class from Verizon).
  • MetroPCS: 1.7 GHz / 2.1 GHz.
  • Sprint: 1.9 GHz Block G, 800 MHz.
  • T-Mobile: 1.7 GHz / 2.1 GHz (if it can quickly and cleanly move HSPA+ users to 1.9 GHz).
  • Clearwire: 2.5 GHz (TDD LTE).

Future Service Bands in the US

All these Carriers are likely to re-farm other spectrum (800 MHz, 1.9 GHz bands, etc.) to change to LTE in those frequencies over time. In the case of 1.9 MHz PCS, they also have different blocks available in different markets (remember that the original 1.9 GHz PCS band is split into 6 blocks: A through F).

For example:

  • AT&T is likely to deploy LTE at 1.7 GHz / 2.1 GHz, and eventually convert their current 800 MHz / 1900 MHz GSM bands to LTE.
  • Verizon is likely to convert their 800 MHz and 1.9 GHz CDMA to LTE, and also 1.7 GHz / 2.1 GHz that they might acquire from cable companies.
  • Sprint is likely to deploy LTE at some unused 1.9 GHz PCS blocks (i.e., other than block G) in some markets.

Real-World LTE Fragmentation Issue

Australia and the New iPad

In that earlier post some weeks ago, I also said the following:

So, if you just ran out today and splurged on the latest third-generation Apple iPad for use with Verizon or AT&T (in the US), I hope that you stay happy with the Carrier you selected. Since you will not be able to move service to the other provider any time, now or later not with the same unit, that is!

And, sure enough, the LTE spectrum fragmentation problem has already occurred.

Apple iPad purchasers in Australia have discovered that their new tablets will not work in LTE mode on the Telstra cellular network! Since Telstra is currently the only provider of LTE services in Australia, the purchasers cannot get LTE service from other carriers.

Apple is offering full refunds to iPad purchasers in Australia due to this issue.

By the way, the Apple store site in Australia now has the following information:

Wi-Fi + 4G model: Keeps you connected to the Internet using a fast cellular data connection when Wi-Fi isnt available. So you can stay connected when youre commuting on the train, hanging out at the park, or looking for directions during a road trip. Its available without a contract, and service is sold separately. See your carrier for rate plan information.

This product supports very fast cellular networks. It is not compatible with current Australian 4G LTE networks and WiMAX networks.

And the word current in their disclaimer may be prematureif Telstra is unable to ever deploy LTE at 700MHz (it will depend on the Australian spectrum regulators and availability), these new iPads may never work in Australia in LTE mode.

Other Countries and LTE at 700MHz

The problem is actually worse than described above for the Apple iPad in Australia. The two versions of the new iPad can only use the Verizon and AT&T 700MHz bands, respectively and separately and these bands are not in use in any other country in the world today!

(Note that Canadian Carriers are intending to deploy units at 700MHz, but it is not yet clear to me which blocks in 700MHz are available and which will be used by which Carrier when. My speculation is that Rogers will be compatible with AT&T, and Bell Mobilite, Telus and others will be compatible with Verizon.)

Unfortunately, I am not aware of any disclaimer wording in Apple web site stores in countries other than the US the problem may get worse for them in the very near future.

Consider M2M LTE Deployments Carefully!

If the best and the brightest engineers and marketers at Appleone of the best and innovative technology companies in the worldcant quite get it right will you?

Of course, other than the marketing faux pas, I cannot blame Apple for the iPad problem in Australiathe availability of LTE radios, their commitment to the large US market, etc., drove the decisions behind this LTE band selection.

By the way, would you expect Apple to develop, certify, manufacture, and sell country-specific LTE versions of the iPad (two versions for the US was difficult enough)?

I certainly would not, and dont think this will happen soon either. Certainly not till there is some harmonization of LTE spectrum world-wide (or a common available band is found and all Carriers agree to deploy equipment to use it) and cellular chip-sets are updated, etc., etc., etc.

It is just very unfortunate that LTE spectrum fragmentation is going to hurt Apple 4G LTE iPad sales outside the US in the short run though!

Like the Apple iPad, it is possible that short-range WiFi at 2.4GHz and 5GHz may be the common element in M2M deployments, even though the islands of available service problem may preclude wide-spread use for M2M Applications. But, this may give a new lease on life to the Muni WiFi efforts (more on that some other day) in denser urban deployments, or the Carriers may make WiFi an integral part of their services in urban areas.

So what are your LTE plans for M2M deployments in the face of this uncertainty? Id love to receive comments from people who are reading this post!