On mass market penetration, we are still far. Out of the 140 network commitments, 17 are launched so far, in many cases at the city level. I could not find many figures in term of LTE subscriber numbers except for Verizon, and I think in itself it is a sign. Additionally, out of the nearly 100 LTE devices out there, only 6 are smartphones. 7 are tablets, the rest are notebooks, modems, dongles, routers, etc...
The technology will certainly take off but we are far from mass market adoption.
On ease of use, I can't really comment. I haven't had yet my hands on an LTE device or accessed an LTE network. The peak speeds advertised make my head swoon and certainly raise questions about unplugging fixed line access. I am hoping LTE in itself won't negatively impact the current trend of intelligent devices that allow me a better connection to my network and apps.
Interoperability, once again in my mind is going to be the big issue here. One of the key advantages of LTE for an operator is to be able to reuse spectrum and bands allocated to older technologies (think GPRS, EDGE, 1X...). This result in about 20 paired bands frequency division duplexing that can be used by a given operator to roll out the service. Additionally, LTE can be implemented in time division duplexing (TDD), adding another 12 bands.
Operators have bid or have been allocated frequencies to operate LTE in their country. In many countries, like in the US, operators have different bands, which will force device manufacturers to have multi-band devices. Multiply that at the scale of the 600+ network operators worldwide and you understand that it will be a long time before we get a world phone on LTE.
Additionally, you have to think that each band requires a specif radio module. It comes with an impact on antenna and battery life. Economically and form factor-wise, it is difficult to have a smartphone today that will accommodate more than 5 bands.
This situation will lead to a variety of short term hindrance:
- Operators asking manufacturers for devices supporting as many as 12 bands to cater for international roaming. This will increase price of devices, decrease battery life and slow down adoption of technology for business users and travelers.
- The only cost-effective devices in the short term are going to be stationary ones or devices tied to one operator. they will accelerate the transition from fixed broadband to mobile broadband.
In conclusion, I see LTE time frame for mass market to be ~7 years. I have no doubt it will be successful but the current growth in data traffic might choke current networks before LTE has a chance to flourish if the above issues are not addressed.