Monday, 24 January 2011

Are Device Manufacturers Ready for LTE?

At CES this year, Verizon Wireless launched a series of devices, including four Smartphones: the LG Revolution, the HTC Thunderbolt, the Motorola Droid Bionic and the Samsung SCH-I520. A few other devices, a couple of hotspots - job done.

Speaking to many device manufacturers over the years, usually they wait at least six months after a network has launched before they even start to think about developing devices on any kind of scale. A key difference between 3G and LTE deployments is the time between the first tests and network launch is much smaller, so there is much less time for testing the network, QoS and devices. Operators will still be finding protocol and interoperability issues and will continue lab testing of devices and services because everything is new. So if network maturity has always been key, then why rush to get so many devices out into the market so early?

There are a few possible reasons. Samsung LG and HTC have been the most agressive device manufacturers for LTE and are keen to gain a piece of the smartphone market in which Apple so far has dominated. Samsung has already launched the first LTE dual-SIM smartphone with MetroPCS, so are keen to develop devices and be seen as leaders in the industry.

The more likely reason is that Verizon Wireless is keen to close the gap on AT&T in the US smartphone market, where AT&T has built a sizable lead largely due to the iPhone. In fact in 3Q10 AT&T had more than twice as many smartphone subscriptions as Verizon, with 49 million compared to 20 million at Verizon, according to Informa Telecoms & Media data.

It is an interesting strategy from VZW, as they have always touted the fact that the quality of thier network is far superior to that of AT&T, although this is unlikely to be the case early on with thier LTE network. One would have expected the likes of VZW to take their time to get the network to a good standard before they launching lots of devices. Instead they seem to have taken a leaf out of AT&T's book. Perhaps they have realised that customers don't care about the network or which technology an operator uses - its all about the devices.

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