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June 08, 2009

Challenging Realities of LTE Standard

By Susan J. Campbell, TMCnet Contributing Editor

The deployment of 3G technologies delivered considerable benefits to users throughout the world. And, just as they learned how to maximize their assets in this environment, it is now time to get ready for 4G. Companies throughout the industry are already testing equipment that relies on the Long-Term Evolution (LTE (News - Alert)) standard.

With these advancements come challenges in order to make the standard work. AIRCOM offers specific tips on how best to anticipate and embrace the creation and arrival of the LTE standard.  

The Number of New Cells Required by LTE

LTE presents unique challenges as the frequency at which it is deployed (i.e., 700Mhz vs. 2.6GHz) presents dramatic impacts on the number of base stations that are necessary to provide coverage that is similar to that of a current GSM network.

As a result, operators will need to deploy thousands more cells across the United States in order to provide adequate capacity and coverage in urban and suburban areas. Considering the state of the capital markets, these operators are most likely to not have the funds to purchase and deploy such a large number of cell kits, which then limits the scope of initial LTE rollouts.

With this challenge, operators then have a choice: they can either upgrade their cells to intermediate technologies or plunge directly into LTE. Many U.S. operators have already announced that they are rolling out LTE at 700MHz, yet this presents challenges of its own – including the ease with which that frequency easily travels through building walls.

The Role of Femtocells (News - Alert)

Due to the fact that LTE requires roughly twice the number of base stations as a 3G environment, operators will need picocells and femtocells. Both options offer a cost-effective alternative to more expensive macro cell sites, especially when it comes to using it indoors.

Operators in the U.S. are moving cautiously with trials as femtocells as a mass-market proposition is incremental and slow-moving. Such a rollout carries with it a variety of complex and new challenges for an operator on a network planning and management level.

At the same time, such a mass rollout of femtocells requires the potential of new miniature 3G sites going live over a span of days or weeks. These new sites could be anywhere, from a single femtocell in a house in the country to 50 or more in a single apartment building, which will generate multiple and overlapping 3G signals.

According to AIRCOM (News - Alert), such scenarios creates a bubble of radio interference as multiple femtocell signals “leak” into and disrupt the macro network, impeding performance and impairing the customer experience.

The Bandwidth Surge to the Core

The femtocell layer places new stresses and strains on a network architecture. As consumers plug into their femtocells, network managers will have to deal with sudden spikes in bandwidth demand across different parts of their network at different times. They must also factor in multiple choke points along the network “path” to the core.

Even though femtocells take traffic off the macro network, they will still pull more bandwidth from the operator’s core network resources. When the arbitrary dispersal and activation by end users is combined with the fact that operators are no longer in exclusive control of their own network planning, the impact of femtocells on a network’s entire capacity resource and performance presents tricky landscape to maneuver.

Susan J. Campbell is a contributing editor for TMCnet and has also written for To read more of Susan’s articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Jessica Kostek

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