interview


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Thomas Noren, head of LTE Product Development at Ericsson Networks

Thomas Noren, head of Product Line LTE at Ericsson’s Networks business unit talks to telecoms.com about his confidence in the future that LTE will bring.

Swedish vendor Ericsson takes a decidedly monotheistic view of 4G mobile technology and Thomas Noren, head of LTE Product Line at the the firm’s network’s unit does not deviate from the party line. “It is settled,” he says. “LTE will be the only [4G] standard. For the 3GPP, the alignment of the GSM and CDMA communities was the intention from the beginning. And now we’ve managed to get the TD-SCDMA path fully aligned with the TDD version of LTE for carriers with unpaired spectrum. So I think it is very clear.”

For Noren, WiMAX won’t even get a look-in. Even US carrier Sprint, the trumpeted mobile WiMAX pioneer, he says, has “officially stated that they are preparing their network for LTE. And this is very good. In a maturing industry, what you want is to be able to maximise economies of scale-and for this you need a single standard.”

He delivers a withering assessment of the opportunities for WiMAX, despite suggestions from some quarters that the fact that both LTE and WiMAX will require the deployment of new networks could, to some extent, level the playing field upon which the two technologies will compete.

“I think the only similarity between WiMAX and LTE is that they are both based on OFDM. The similarity stops there because, performance-wise, you can achieve better performance with HSPA than you’ll be able to do in the future with a 10MHz WiMAX carrier. What sprint is competing against is HSPA deployments by AT&T for example.

“When LTE arrives it will introduce wider carriers and it will function in both FDD and TDD modes-and for these reasons I think it will be difficult for WiMAX to take off. It’s not the greatest technology, it’s not the most mature technology so what’s its role really. It can’t compete on performance or future proofing so the biggest problem it faces is that there is just no point in using WiMAX,” he says.

The development of both FDD and TDD profiles for LTE is important, says Noren, and not just because the TDD flavour allows for the inclusion of key Chinese players like China Mobile. “LTE TDD will definitely take off in other places,” he says. “There are several countries that have unpaired spectrum and there are several countries-India being one-that have spectrum available in the 2.3GHz band which is the band that China Mobile will target first with LTE TDD. So I am convinced that China Mobile, along with Ericsson and other vendors, will enable widespread rollout of LTE TDD.”

Where possible, operators will deploy LTE in both the TDD and FDD formats, he predicts. Ericsson believes that user demand for mobile broadband service will be so high that carriers with access to both types of spectrum will simply be unable to let TDD spectrum go unused, he says, adding: “Of course if you have a choice when it comes to spectrum then it’s always best to use FDD. But there will always be TDD spectrum and that is best used for LTE-rather than other technologies-because you can leverage the volumes in both chipsets and infrastructure that LTE will have.”

LTE doesn’t have a poster child carrier in the same way that the WiMAX community has Clearwire. But the alignment of CDMA carriers, particularly Verizon Wireless, says Noren, has been “a milestone for the industry”. The firm’s leadership in CDMA will be replicated in LTE, he says.

“Verizon and Qualcomm really made the CDMA standard,” he says. “And now Verizon’s decided to do it again, so they will be one of the drivers. They are a very strong force in this, obviously, and it was important to get them on board. But we have worked with them or many years to make this happen, so this was not a big surprise for us.”

It has been mooted that US CDMA carriers-without the interim step of HSPA+ to move to-will be the first to adopt the technology, propelling the US market to the vanguard of the industry. Noren is not sure this is how things will pan out, though. “If you look at the world’s largest economies-the US, Japan, China and Germany-the largest operators in these countries have all committed to LTE and are aggressive about it, so they are the ones that are going to drive this,” he says.

Hi profile commitments to LTE have also been made by TeliaSonera and the partnership of Telenor and Tele2; carriers from a part of the world where a strong precedent for wireless leadership exists. “What’s interesting about the Telenor and Tele2 announcement,” he says, “is that they’ve said they will have population coverage of 99 per cent by 2013. Sweden has a small population, but it’s a large country in Geographical terms. In Europe only France and Germany are bigger. And the population is very widely spread out, which means it will be a very large, very significant deployment of LTE.”

With the deployment of a new network, the role of the vendor community will be crucial. In recent years the trend towards managed services, where vendors assume operational management of the network, has gained momentum. Ericsson devices one third of its revenues from managed services contracts of various depth. But Noren does not expect the early days of LTE to be characterised by these kinds of arrangement, pointing out that the pioneering carriers in LTE tend to prefer to manage their own networks as a strategic choice.

He also believes that vendors will not be over-burdened by requests for financing options for the early LTE launches. “We haven’t seen any operators announcing profit warnings,” he says. “If anything, users are giving up their fixed line service, so mobile carriers are doing alright. Plus many governments have direct or indirect plans to encourage infrastructure investment because, as the US Congress reported, every dollar invested in wireless infrastructure gives ten dollars back.

“If you look at the operators that are driving LTE at the moment, they are financially very strong, so vendor financing is not a major issue at the moment.”

Noren argues that deployments will benefit from process improvements, making rollouts significantly faster than previous generations of mobile technology. That’s not to say that LTE is inherently simpler, there are many technical challenges, he says, and rollouts are never without their problems. But, he says, “vendors and carriers have learned lessons from previous generations. Operators have sites that can be reused and there’s a very strong focus in LTE to reduce opex and make it simpler to plan, deploy and operate these networks.

“We’ve introduced self-organising network features from the first release, meaning the base stations in the network will automatically identify neighbour cells so you don’t need to manually handle neighbour cell lists, which reduces one important task for the operator.”

With the huge amount of work that will be required to get LTE up and running, carriers are understandably keen to ensure that their new networks will deliver value over a decent lifespan. Noren, while conceding that predictions beyond the near term are difficult to make, suggests that the technology will be good for at least a decade and probably for some time beyond.

“For IMT advanced, which will target 3GPP Release 10, the plan is to have support for 1Gbps in the downlink, very wide carriers and lots of interesting new features. That technology will be based on LTE, so for at least as long as we can foresee, LTE will be used for cellular systems.”

And those cellular systems will be used to connect more than just mobile phones, says Noren. Ericsson predicts that the cellular industry will one day manage 50 billion connections across the globe, with each person owning a variety of connected devices. “We’ve started this already, with HSPA broadband modules that we can build into laptops and video cameras and this will continue with LTE. I think it’s important that we can connect numerous devices and machines to other machines or to human beings in a different way to what we’ve seen so far,” he says.

There’s a long way to go before we reach 50 billion mobile connections, but LTE could be the technology that makes it happen. And the pioneering moves being made by the likes of Verizon, China Mobile, Telenor, Tele2 and TeliaSonera are the first steps on the journey.


4 comments

  1. rpersaud 26/06/2009 @ 11:36 am

    Pretty arrogant stuff from Noren. Leaving aside that WiMax already has some big operator backers (BSNL, UQ, Yota, Clearwire), not many operators will be able to lay their hands on 10MHz+ channels anyway for full powered-up LTE that Noren talks about (which needs 20MHz). True, a few years down the line if LTE did get the scale Noren boasts, it could be that some WiMAX operators, who are just begining rollout in certain markets, might see the benefit in switching to LTE. But it’s too arrogant to say WiMax will disappear alogether, as Noren implies. I wonder what Ericsson’s new CEO thinks about WiMax baiting? Probably likes it.

  2. Jim A 26/06/2009 @ 1:46 pm

    Why is it that Ericsson feels that they have to spend so much time promoting their LTE technology as the only 4G network, when they know full well that WiMAX will remain an active and serious competitor to them.
    Note the qualifier that they make at the end of the following quote-10Mhz.

    Check this quote out:
    “… performance-wise, you can achieve better performance with HSPA than you’ll be able to do in the future with a 10MHz WiMAX carrier.”

    Interesting that their top man has left for the Oil Business.

    Jim A.

  3. Tom 26/06/2009 @ 3:00 pm

    “Just wait, it’s going to be great”? There is no reason to wait Noren. Just go with a no contract WiMAX service and wait for affordable LTE or HSPA+ to eventually see the light of day.

  4. Helene 01/07/2009 @ 1:33 pm

    50 Billion connected devices. And all these will be connected over a Mobile broaband connection part of the GSM/GPRS/EDGE/HSPA/LTE family. The scale of this business and eco system will be in another leauge than WiMAX – I am sure !

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