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U.S. LTE Adoption: Early Deployment, High Adoption, 'Too Much' Success

TMCnet Feature

September 29, 2014

U.S. LTE Adoption: Early Deployment, High Adoption, 'Too Much' Success

By Gary Kim
Contributing Editor

There are any number of ironies related to the adoption of Long Term Evolution in the United States.

It often has been the case that a relatively large continental mass and relatively less-dense population setting has led to a lag in adoption of new services and technologies.

That was the case, initially, for use of mobile phones or text messaging, for example.

Though some might consider U.S. adoption of high speed access a problem because of perceived high cost and lower speed, the actual pace of adoption arguably was not “late.” And there now is evidence that U.S. high speed access prices are lower than in Europe, while effective speeds are higher than in Europe.

On the other hand, some services that otherwise lagged have been promulgated faster than one might expect.

Consider Long Term Evolution, where U.S. carriers have moved early to deploy the networks, and encouraged its use. In fact, end users have adopted LTE (News - Alert) at levels high enough to produce the artifacts of high use: declining average speeds. In other words, success has led to "failure," at least as measured by average or typical speeds, at some locations, on some networks.

U.S. carriers spent more on capital investment than carriers in any other G7 country, save Japan, according to Roger Entner, founder and analyst at Recon Analytics.

There is a significant chasm between the U.S. and the rest of the G7 in the area of per-person investment as well.

In 2013, U.S. carriers spent twice as much per person as British and German operators, while Japan spent three times as much per person, Entner says.

Whatever the cost-drivers might be in Japan, the amount of U.S. spending is driven at least in part by the less-dense population.

Entner developed what he calls the “Urban Agglomeration Index” (UAI) to quantify population concentration.

He found that every other G7 country has much higher UAIs than the United States, meaning that operators in those countries are better able to focus their investment on significantly fewer places.

On the other hand, “success comes at a price,” as it always does on shared networks. Lightly-loaded networks often feature high performance. Heavily-loaded networks slow down. And that is what has happened for at least some U.S. LTE networks, which have experienced slower speeds in some cities, at some cell sites, because of heavy demand.

For such reasons, U.S. LTE “average” speeds have suffered, compared to LTE services in other markets.

Oddly enough, early deployment and heavy usage has lead to U.S. LTE experiences “falling behind” other LTE experiences on networks that are less heavily used.

In other words, even “leading” has led, because of heavy adoption, to “lagging.”

Edited by Rory J. Thompson

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