LTE revolution faces spectrum fragmentation

The world is going LTE, but the availability of spectrum in different countries and regions is fragmenting the 4G wireless standard internationally, according to research from Informa Telecoms & Media. The company found distinct regional bands are emerging for LTE, which is posing a challenge for manufacturers looking at which bands to support in their devices.

Informa said the availability of spectrum for 4G varies widely from country to country and by region with some bands only available in particular countries. For example, the 700MHz band, which is popular in the U.S., will only be adopted by a handful of operators outside the Americas. The 1900MHz band is most likely to be confined to the U.S. and Argentina, while the 1500MHz band will be limited to Japan.

 “Given the design and integration constraints associated with providing multiband support for LTE, device vendors and chipset providers in particular will want to consider the size of the global addressable market for each band, as well as regional band adoption patterns and band pairings, before configuring their products to support specific band combinations,” said Malik Saadi, principal analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media.

Here’s a look at some of the popular band combinations that are in use for LTE deployments:

  • North America 700+2100
  • Latin America 700+2100 ; 700+2600
  • Asia-Pacific 700+1800; 700+2100; 800+1800; 1800+2600; 2300+2600
  • Western Europe 800+2600; 800+1800+2600
  • Eastern Europe 800+2600; 1800+2600
  • Africa 2100+2600
  • Middle East 900+1800

This means users will likely have a hard time roaming globally as they do with many GSM phones. Even in the U.S., different flavors of LTE between AT&T (s t) and Verizon Wireless (s vz) mean that consumers will not necessarily be able to jump between carriers with one device.

Verizon told PC Magazine that its LTE phones won’t be compatible with other 4G networks in the U.S. Verizon uses spectrum in 746-787MHz frequencies for 4G, while AT&T’s 4G network will operate primarily in the 704-746MHz range. Though there is some overlap in their networks, a business arrangement might need to be struck to get devices to work on both networks.

The spectrum issues shouldn’t undermine the larger rollout of LTE internationally, but it will give manufacturers and some international travelers more headaches along the way.