Opinion: Are you ready for the shift to LTE?

(Image Credit: iStockPhoto/Savushkin)

For several years now, the Internet of Things world has known that AT&T would eclipse its second-generation networks at the end of 2016. Until now, however, it seemed like a far-off date. But Long Term Evolution is overhauling the industry in only a matter of months.

Some companies are already ahead of the curve. Leading automakers are already using LTE technology to turn their cars into Wi-Fi hotspots. Plus, more and more nurses are using tablet-based LTE connections to access healthcare apps, allowing them to check dosage information and access medical calculators with just the touch of a screen.

Although there are other 2G networks still available, such as T-Mobile, the fact remains that if your company has any machine-to-machine or IoT devices operating on 2G, or even 3G, there will come a time when you will need to make the shift to LTE to remain relevant.

Benefits and Misconceptions

LTE is growing in importance every day, but many companies and industries remain reluctant to embrace the technology. Why?

There are three misconceptions:

  1. LTE modules are expensive. As with most technologies, the cost of an LTE module is falling constantly. In the near future, these devices should cost around 25 pounds, which is the same as the price of third-generation GSM devices in the final quarter of last year. It won’t be long before we see a new category of LTE devices available for as little as 6-8 pounds, placing them in the 2G GSM cost range. By spring of next year, class-one devices could cost around 17 pounds. If we look at the lifetime ownership cost, LTE will likely be far cheaper than 2G. Forty-seven percent of early adopters have already reported cost savings, and this trend is only set to continue.
  2. Coverage is patchy and poor. When new networks are rolled out, people are always skeptical about coverage. LTE is no different, and many suspect that it’s not as widely available as the 2G and 3G networks. Verizon had already built a powerful network by January 2014, and coverage has only expanded. If we compare the coverage map from 2014 to the one from today, we can see how widely available this technology is within the U.S.
  3. LTE is not fully interoperable. There’s still work to be done here, but interoperability is improving constantly. Last year, Verizon and AT&T both pledged to roll out voiceover LTE call interoperability by the end of 2015. Even if the companies don’t manage to deliver by the deadline, we should consider their willingness to work together a positive sign.

With prices falling, coverage improving, and interoperability on the rise, LTE is the future of networked communications. The new communications standard carries a number of advantages over its predecessors.

LTE has higher bandwidth capabilities. By converging two spectrums, Nokia was able to reach speeds of 3.78 gigabits per second in June of last year. To put that into perspective, this is fast enough to download a full-length HD movie in 11 seconds. While these speeds aren’t widely available, the average LTE speed here in the U.K., for example, is already eight times faster than 3G and five times faster than the average fixed-line connection.

As an added bonus, 67 percent of U.S. businesses using LTE technology report increased productivity because business can take place whenever, wherever.

Lastly, LTE prevents outages. Second-generation technology may have saved us from the dropped calls of 1G, but disruption remains a problem. Businesses are terrified of outages, and DSL carries risks. Embedding LTE technology, however, builds in a failsafe, ensuring that if the main network falls, seamless connectivity can continue at high speeds.

Technology has come a long way since the first 2G rollout, and our enterprise practices need to follow suit.

Best Practices

Looking back at the history of M2M, we see that businesses came up with the idea of a product, and then looked into wireless integration.

The world of mobile communications and M2M technology has moved on. Instead of building the product first, companies must connect with providers at a far earlier stage of the process, outlining their desired coverage and discovering what’s possible.

In our globalized economy, enterprises must also consider their wider economic models. Few companies develop products solely for one market. With around a quarter of the lifetime cost of a device coming from connectivity, it’s essential for leaders to think about network availability and costs sooner rather than later. The first step is to solicit advice from connectivity providers and experts.

The next generation of mobile technology is here, and it’s set to liberate the IoT. To take advantage, we must plan ahead.

What else do you think needs to be considered in the shift to LTE? Let us know in the comments.

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21 Jan 2016, 5:08 a.m.

Alex, interesting perspective about outlining desired coverage before building the product - it makes a lot of sense for the MVNO. As other parts of the world may not be fully LTE ready quickly, or might have different approaches for 3G fallback, having global solutions may be quite challenging. Also security and regulatory are two more areas requiring more attentions, especially in the medical and financial verticals where you would like to expand.