Friday, February 19, 2010

Mixed Results for 4G Wireless Trials

Cox Communications released some interesting results at the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona, Spain yesterday. The company has been testing Long Term Evolution (LTE) wireless delivery on both its AWS and 700 MHz spectrum in San Diego and Phoenix. I've written here in the past about the 700 MHz spectrum range - back in 2005 Congress passed a law that requires all U.S. TV stations to convert to all digital broadcasts and give up analog spectrum in the 700 MHz frequency band. This law freed up 62 MHz of spectrum in the 700 MHz band and effectively eliminated channels between 52 and 69. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) held a 700 MHz auction in 2008 with Cox and others buying some of that spectrum for technologies like LTE. The Advanced Wireless Services (AWS) band is similar to 700 MHz but operates at a higher frequency, representing 90 MHz of spectrum in the 1.7- to 2.1-GHz range.

Some industry people have been saying fourth generation (4G) technologies LTE and WiMAX will effectively backfill areas where high speed "wired" broadband services (Cable, FTTN, FTTH, etc) are not available. I've been one of those with my fingers crossed, hoping 4G technologies will eventually provide high-bandwidth services to underserved areas of our country. If Cox's test results are any indication, it does not appear this will be the case though. Stephen Bye, Cox's vice president of wireless services presentation is referenced in a Fierce Wireless post yesterday:

Cox's LTE trials showed peak speeds of around 25 Mbps with 2x2 MIMO technology over a 2x5 MHz channel in the carrier's AWS spectrum. However, those speeds were for a single user very close to the cell site.

On the cell edge, that same single user would only get around 10 Mbps, according to Cox's tests.

Multiple users on the cell edge would see far slower speeds.

To put those numbers into perspective, Bye said Cox's wired Internet subscribers average around 8 GB per month of data use, and the top 1 percent carrier's most active wired Internet users access 200 GB of data per month (those users enjoy wired Internet speeds of up to 50 Mbps, he said).

Bye said Cox has witnessed a 200 percent growth rate in 12 months in its customers' wired Internet usage.

In his presentation, Bye described wireless as "complementary" to the MSO's wired network and explained that LTE will never handle the traffic loads that fully wired Internet users generate.

A dose of reality - unfortunately - I have to agree with him. The consumption and desire for more and more bandwidth is not slowing. Even if a wireless provider like a Cox, Verizon or AT&T could provide 25 Mbps sustained to underserved areas - in the end it is still not going to be enough when compared to much higher bandwidth "wired" services we're seeing in many parts of the U.S. and other countries.

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