Tucked into a conference room in this unassuming Port Melbourne office block is Ericsson's LTE Global Competence Centre. The centre includes a full installation of the same gear Ericsson has used in commercial deployments by TeliaSonera (Sweden & Norway), MetroPCS, AT&T and Verizon (USA) in a high-security equipment room somewhere on the premises. The gear has a small transmitter operating at very low power (limited by the government-granted scientific licence) providing LTE services around the room over 2.6GHz radio-frequency spectrum.
The red fixture on the ceiling is the mini LTE base station. In the demonstration environment it's communicating with a variety of devices equipped with Samsung 4G USB sticks, just metres away. For this demo, the Samsung stick was attached to the top of the left-most screen to minimise the chance of physical interference.
The base station is connected to Ericsson's SGSN-MME (Serving GPRS Support Node — Mobility Management Entity) and CPG (Converged Packet Gateway), then to the internet. Within the centre are a number of servers hosting 17 different virtual machines to provide a variety of test environments for the LTE system.
A TeliaSonera audit of LTE customers' usage patterns showed a strong proportion of the traffic consisted of peer-to-peer (41 per cent) and FTP transfers (14 per cent), with web browsing accounting for just 9 per cent of traffic and HTTP downloads a further 6 per cent. Online video consumed 7 per cent of bandwidth, with a variety of other applications filling out the numbers.
LTE has been committed to by 101 operators in 41 countries, with 22 networks in service by the end of this year and up to 50 expected by the end of 2012. This map shows coverage and third-party audited performance figures for the LTE network around Stockholm. Among other interesting TeliaSonera statistics: 90 per cent of LTE users came from 3G services; 65 per cent use LTE as a complement to fixed broadband rather than a replacement for it; and 54 per cent would never go back to 3G. LTE access had also changed usage patterns: 26 per cent said they were working with more mobility, 23 per cent said they were downloading larger files than on 3G, 19 per cent were watching web TV and movies, and 16 per cent were surfing the web more since they got LTE.
The first demonstration application is streaming video. The app showed four different versions of the demo clip streaming over the LTE connection — encoded at bitrates of 512Kbps, 1Mbps, 2Mbps and 4Mbps. Speeds of 2Mbps are good enough for commercial video services and 4Mbps represents a top-end offering that would be overkill for many markets, according to Ericsson North America head of innovation Mark Murphy.
Video streamed smoothly over LTE at all bitrates and was extremely watchable on the high-resolution flat-screen monitors. Note the meters in the bottom right-hand corner, which show historical bandwidth usage and latency figures.
The second demonstration is a mobile healthcare system, in which location services and the network's IMS (IP Multimedia Subsystem) capabilities are used to establish connections and manage a variety of communications sessions between a central dispatcher and an LTE-enabled device in the field.
A close-up of the Samsung 4G USB modem used in the demonstration facility.
This handheld, Windows 7-based computer has been connected using a Samsung USB dongle and can be tracked and connected to by the dispatcher. In the demonstration scenario, emergency medicine crews would carry such a unit in their vehicles, connecting with the dispatcher via LTE.
If a patient requests help, the dispatcher can identify which emergency staff are within the area (notated with the yellow square) and feed them information about the incident while the emergency crew is on the way. This can not only improve diagnosis, but save invaluable time and facilitate communications with support staff: for example, a doctor who can provide treatment advice via live video-conference and sharing of x-rays or other images.
In the third demonstration, a wireless security environment is able to instantly relay live video to the handheld PC (or, in practice, any other end point) at full resolution via LTE. Operators can control the cameras, record video and otherwise interact with the security system.
The fourth demonstration application involves e-learning: here, the teacher (Murphy, off-screen) is giving an interactive video lesson about koalas that is being broadcast to wirelessly-connected computers of students (here, Ericsson strategic marketing manager Warren Chaisatien).
Another demonstration lets dispatchers set up "traps" that trigger alarms whenever field technicians enter specific areas. In this image, the IMS system (status window at bottom left) is pinging the remote technician's computer to establish a communications session.
Here, Murphy demonstrates the use of LTE to support live news gathering. One or more cameras can be set up in the field, then wirelessly connected to — and controlled from — the broadcast centre, from which studio technicians can monitor and control multiple cameras. Strong connectivity and ease of control would allow one-man news teams to cover complex events with minimal on-the-ground assistance.
Again, location and IMS capabilities could be used to find the nearest crew to a breaking news story, then assign them jobs directly to their wirelessly-connected terminals.
In another experiment, Ericcson researchers fitted a number of road bicycles with purpose-built computers that conveyed details on the bike's location, as well as riders' vital signs such as pulse rate and oxygen saturation. Coaches were able to monitor two teams of athletes, and communicate with them, at every point in the race (represented by the teams' red and blue lines on the map), using only LTE coverage.
Telstra and Optus are still in early-phase LTE trials, but TeliaSonera is proceeding aggressively to extend the footprint of its commercial network. Plans include a dual-mode plan combining 3G HSPA coverage with 4G "add-on" at AU$55/month for 16Mbps service and 20GB/month, or a high-end business plan offering 80Mbps speeds, 30GB/month for AU$90/month.