Why Is My Country/Carrier Adopting LTE So Slowly?

Long Term Evolution (or LTE) is a term used to described a series of bandwidth technologies that far surpass those of the third generation (or 3G) networks, allowing for speeds of up to 1 Gbit per second downstream and 500 Mbits per second upstream. The requirements to get this technology to take off are relatively easy for multi-billion-dollar companies to accomplish. However, we’re not seeing the same rate of adoption everywhere in the world. Heavy bandwidth users who want to enjoy their smartphones everywhere they go are complaining that LTE isn’t being adopted in their regions. Why is that? We plan to explore some of the reasons why your country might not be adopting LTE as quickly as you may have hoped.

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A congress composed of multiple mobile operators gathered one day to discuss the changes in how bandwidth would be distributed onto mobile devices, and they came up with a standard known as long term evolution, often marketed as 4G LTE.

The standards called for new antenna designs, new software, and even additions onto existing cellular infrastructures. However, doing all of this was just a part of the battle. The very first LTE service was available at the end of 2009 in Sweden, launched by a mobile operator known as TeliaSonera. Since then, there’s been a constant fray to adopt LTE in other operators and, more exactly, several local regions. Although many mobile operators have since been able to adopt LTE and cover several regions with the service, we’re still not fully able to roll out with the technology. By the time a country like Ukraine will finish committing its resources to getting LTE working, it’s quite possible that another form of the bandwidth standard will take precedence.

So, how did we end up in this mess?

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The way most phones communicate is through a radio spectrum specifically tailored for certain activities. For 4G LTE to work, it needs a particular frequency range, and only a few mobile operators can actually operate on that range. To make order out of this chaos, the spectrum needs to be split into pieces much like how countries are split into regions. Because of these limits, the governments controlling these spectrums are forced to either ration them out or auction them to the highest bidder. At least in the U.S. and Europe, the latter becomes a solution.

With 3G, the auctioning process didn’t go over very well for operators. The U.S. government pocketed a hefty $100 billion and mobile operators had little more than a market crash to show for it. This time around, operators were very skeptical of 4G’s value, considering what return on investment (ROI) they got for the 3G ordeal. Of course, the mobile climate has since changed drastically, so they soon learned that investing as much money on LTE spectrum opportunities as possible was the way to go.

Now, there’s a battle for profit between governments and operators. Governments have to make the price of spectrum space feasible enough for a company to want to bid on it, but still expensive enough to be respected as a rare commodity. Needless to say, they’ve never been quite good at pricing things, hence one reason adoption has been a bit slow.

Since different types of LTE require different bands (an oversimplified example: 700 MHz in North America vs. 800 MHz in Europe) depending on the continent you’re currently in, a phone’s LTE capability might not work in one country while it worked in another.

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Perhaps one of the biggest reasons why LTE isn’t adopting so quickly in some countries of this green earth is that customers aren’t adopting it either. For example, in Romania, consumer-level adoption of LTE is at an extreme low. Of every 100 smartphones purchased, only a handful actually have LTE antennas. This is a country where the higher-end of cheap smartphones are selling quite healthy, while mid-range LTE devices aren’t seeing as much glory. 3G networks are quite the norm here.

The same happens to be true of much of Eastern Europe.

However, other problems are also causing LTE to fall flat. Some operators around the world simply don’t have the interest or the money to make the necessary changes to their infrastructures. Others must rely on the state to give them the green light to do their work.

The adoption of high-speed mobile broadband is perhaps the greatest priority since the dawn of the smartphone. Don’t fret. As long as you’ve got that LTE antenna, there will be a carrier trying to hook you in as a customer. Got some of your own thoughts on the matter? Leave a comment below!