My conclusion? It's still a Little Too Early for LTE .
According to GSA, (the Global mobile Suppliers Association), the current number of commitments from network operators to implement LTE is 140, as of March 24th2011. GSA is a vendors-led association, so the forecast are somewhat optimistic, but this is a respectable number of operators who have bravely started to invest in LTE.
When I traditionally look at the penetration capability of a new technology in the wireless ecosystem, I usually rely on a few indicators to gauge where the technology is in its adoption cycle.
- Mass market penetration: I would look for at least 30% of a given population having implemented the technology and having devices in their hands capable of using it. That could mean 30% of network operators in the case of LTE, but more importantly, I would look at 30% of the subscribers of a given operator having an LTE subscription as a sign of maturity.
- Ease of use, ease of adoption: In this case, I look at what the barriers to entry are for subscribers or operators to acquire and use the technology. The cost of license auctions, the relative cost of increasing HSPA+ network density and investments. What will Femtocell or data offload do to the demand?
- Interoperability: This is a key criterion, that is overlooked time and again in wireless technology introduction. This is about interoperability between the devices themselves, the devices and the network, backwards compatibility, the networks between themselves, roaming, interconnectivity, etc... This has been a consistent issue that has plagued the adoption and success of many wireless technologies over the last decades (WAP, MMS, PoC, IMS...).
In my next post, I will provide my opinion on the challenges of LTE and the time frame for its mass market adoption.