4G/LTE: Yes, It's Fast... But That's Hardly All
A 10X speed improvement makes for an easy sell for mobile operators, but they should be touting 4G/LTE's other benefits, too.
While many UC vendors talk about mobility, Mitel is the first among them to put a strategy in place for actually bringing collaboration and mobility together. It isn't just creating a mobile UC overlay, as others have done, but is integrating at the network level -- a capability gained in the acquisition of cellular network software provider Mavenir Systems last March.
No vendors have tried to do this previously because they couldn't make it happen with 3G and earlier generation networks. 4G/LTE technology, which Mitel gained via Mavenir, makes it possible to bring these two previously disconnected worlds together. That made LTE a hot topic of conversation as Mitel shared its mobile vision with industry analysts at a November 2015 briefing.
In my opinion, the evolution to LTE is one of the most misunderstood industry transitions. In fact, a few of the analysts I spoke to at the Mitel event confessed they really didn't understand LTE's significance and the reason for Mitel's focus on the topic. As I've also found this knowledge gap in talking to Wall Street analysts, enterprise customers, and people just generally interested in LTE, let me explain LTE here a bit.
Fast, Faster, Fastest
I believe one reason people don't understand the benefits of LTE is that the messaging from service providers is around speed alone. Why? Well, because it's easy to do. Logically, LTE, or 4G as it's often called, must be faster than 3G because it's one more "G." 3G is faster than 2G, so 4G must be faster than 3G -- and while it's true that 4G networks can be around 10 times faster than 3G networks, speed isn't the only benefit.
Whereas previous versions of cellular technology are circuit switched, LTE is all IP. This represents a huge shift in mobile networks, and is the first thing you need to understand about LTE -- it's from this that most of the benefits derive.
Those of us grey hairs who have been in the communications industry for a while should have a good understanding of why IP is critical to communications. We have, after all, lived through the same sort of transition when circuit-switched PBXs evolved into packet-switched IP PBXs. The best analogy I can think of is that 3G is like using a dial-up modem and LTE is like having home broadband.
What's to Like
Once mobile carriers have fully deployed LTE networks, consumers and businesses will see the following benefits:
- Better audio quality. Circuit-switched networks only offer narrowband communications, which is why older phones sound like tin cans when you talk on them. With LTE, operators can offer wideband audio services, which, when compared to narrowband, sounds like you're in a studio. Once you hear the difference, you'll never want to do a narrowband call again -- the experience is like night and day.
- Calls become sessions. This difference between calls and sessions has been a pet peeve of mine for years. In the old communications world, we make calls. With IP, we establish sessions. Why is this nuance important? Once established, an IP session creates media flexibility for the user. If I initiate a voice-only IP conversation but then decide video is important, I can just promote the call to a video conversation. Another benefit of this is faster call setup times. Ever notice when you use a WebEx-like service and choose "connect over the Internet" the connection is almost instant whereas establishing a connection via the phone option takes a few seconds? Voice-over-LTE (VoLTE) calls connect at twice the speed or faster of circuit-switched calls.
- New ways of communicating. With a packet-based network, we can finally "unify" our collaboration tools on our mobile devices and things like presence status can become common features -- kind of like the way they are with IM applications. If you want to call someone and they're busy, then wait to call. Alternatively, shoot a text message over and wait for the person to respond. I know we can do that today, but having these integrated gives us more knowledge of who is available, when, and over what communications mode. As LTE becomes more widely deployed, expect to see more click-to-call/click-to-video applications.
- Better battery life. VoLTE calls are integrated into the network rather than being over-the-top IP calls. This has shown to be far more efficient when it comes to network resources, resulting in significantly longer battery life.
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As with anything in life, for every good, there's a bad -- and LTE does come with some downsides. These include things like more dropped calls, device limitations, and a lack of service provider interoperability. However, all of these are the growing pains associated with network evolution, and will be overcome over time. LTE is the way of the future because it modernizes mobile communications globally.
Mobile operators must start marketing LTE as a giant step for mobile kind. It's going to allow us to do so much more with our mobile devices than we could ever before. Don't get me wrong; everyone wants a faster network, but there's so much more to LTE than speed.