LTE Fragmentation in the 700 MHz Frequency Range

Analyst Blog

Dec. 7, 2010, 11:50 a.m.

Verizon voiced its concern recently regarding Cellular South-Samsung alliance'slaunch of LTE. Cellular South plans to deploy LTE in the 700 MHz range, frequency which has high propagation and in building penetration. Carriers that have frequencies in the 700 MHz band also include AT&T as well as Verizon.

This may seem like a good thing initially, since one would think 'Various carriers are starting to consolidate the700 MHz frequency for LTE in the U.S. This is good for the ecosystem as it will allow roaming!'. This isn't true since mobile device manufacturers have only been making vendor specific LTE devices that only support the specific 700 MHz bands that the large operators own. Currently, AT&T LTEdevices will only be able to use the AT&T LTE frequencies, and Verizon LTE devices will only be able to use the Verizon LTE frequencies. Cellular South and other small carriers that have won otherBlock A 700 MHz frequencies (not compatible with Verizon's or AT&T's LTE spectrum), have grouped and formed together a "Good Faith Purchasers Alliance" that petitions the FCC to avoid larger carriers from segmenting the 700 MHz spectrum, and impose these carriers to provide devices that will be compatible with the total 700 MHz spectrum.

This is a perfect example of how LTE spectrum fragmentation will hinder its growth and maturity.

  • All carriers and device manufacturers, large or small,care about their competitive advantage inproviding a product or service.
  • Atthis stage of LTE, device manufacturers will not want to risk putting out a full-band 700 MHz device for LTE, since it would add more variables to the equation and adding variables means more things that can go wrong. They will pinpoint their devices to meet the needs of carriers, limiting it to the specific carrier’sband only.
  • Large carriers want to get a head start on their competition regarding LTE, and will use the best, most reliable and available device showcased to them. This in this case, will be a carrier specificmobile device.
  • Large carriers drive large volumes of these devices. Smaller carriers may see this as service providers using their weight to hinder the 700 MHz unification, but it's rather the service providers committing to what is reliable as well as available at the moment.

The 700 MHz band will eventually unify, but this will take time. Larger service providers aren't pushing to hinder this, but by having largevolumes of band specific devices, it isn't incentivizing this either. When large carriers feel the needfor the full 700 MHz band devices (and in turn incentivize device manufacturers to produce them), or when device manufacturers are confident enough to release devices that support the full 700 MHz spectrum to have them available in their offerings, only then will this consolidationoccur.​