Next incarnation of mobile broadband takes shape

The 'long-term evolution' of 3G mobile broadband has taken a step closer to reality, after the 3GPP industry association approved its tech specifications

The technology specifications for the next incarnation of 3G mobile broadband have been approved.

On Tuesday, the Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) announced that it welcomed the confirmation by 3GPP — the industry body behind the 3G standards — that the so-called "long-term evolution" (LTE) technology specifications for 3G had been given the go-ahead.

LTE is the next stage of 3G-based technology, the planned successor to the "super-3G" HSPA technologies currently powering high-speed mobile broadband use. Like its rival, mobile WiMax, LTE is an all-IP standard and, as of October last year, the WiMax and LTE standards are in the same broad family of standards, IMT-2000.

"LTE is firmly on track, and will deliver competitive capacity and data-throughput enhancements, to build on the huge momentum and market success of mobile broadband services and applications enabled today by WCDMA-HSPA systems," said Alan Hadden, president of the GSA, on Tuesday.

However, Ovum analyst Julien Grivolas said on Wednesday that much more work needs to be done before LTE sees the light of day. "LTE is just the radio side of the story, as 3GPP Release 8 specification completion also relies on the approval of the work on the core network side, called SAE (system architecture evolution)," he wrote on the Ovum website. "It seems that the SAE development is a bit less advanced than on the radio side; however, 3GPP confirmed to us that Release 8 remains well on track for completion by year-end 2008."

Paul Senior, the chief technology officer at wireless-broadband specialists Airspan, said on Thursday that his company — an enthusiastic backer of WiMax — saw LTE and "evolved versions of mobile WiMax" as being "virtually the same things".

"It's a software difference," said Senior, who also sits on the board of the WiMax Forum. "LTE is more optimised for voice applications and mobile WiMax more for data applications [but] the specifications, from a hardware perspective, are going to be incredibly similar. We [Airspan] feel well placed, because of the similarities, to run with both technologies."