Published: 5 October, 2009
Just as the infrastructure makers are jostling for position in LTE, long before the technology hits the mass market, so the device vendors want to stake an early claim. The biggest hitter, Qualcomm, remains cautious in its timelines - and its predictions of 2011 for dongles, 2012 for first handsets, 2013 for real volumes, are clearly the ones to listen to. But in mobile device terms, that doesn't leave too long for vendors to set out their stalls, especially if they want to grab attention before the tier one players get serious.
As usual in cellular technologies, the Asian firms are leading the way, partly driven by the need for Japan's DoCoMo to stay ahead of its rivals with early adoption of mobile broadband (unlike KDDI, DoCoMo failed to be part of any group winning a WiMAX license). So, as KDDI itself announces dual-mode CDMA/WiMAX services from December - with handsets made by Hitachi, and running on the network of the cellco's UQ joint venture - DoCoMo is feeling the pressure to make its own 4G moves quickly, especially with disruptive data-focused operator eMobile biting at its heels.
Last week, three Japanese vendors and DoCoMo announced a sample chipset for a reference design that they hope to make a standard for the more basic functionality of an LTE handset. NEC, Panasonic Mobile and Fujitsu announced the mobile terminal platform 'LTE-PF', a core system comprising software for baseband processing and other basic functions, which is currently going through 3GPP standardization.
And another of the Japanese mobile majors, Fujitsu, has been chosen by DoCoMo for its first phase LTE ecosystem (which, despite the operator's avowed intention of reducing its dependence on homegrown suppliers, remains resolutely Japanese). Fujitsu will develop an LTE mobile data terminal.
Over in China, Huawei and ZTE are also seeking to gain a headstart in LTE devices, particularly the USB modems which will be the first wave of terminals - and in which Huawei, in particular, dominates the 3G landscape. ZTE was showing off two LTE modems at the ITU Telecom World event in Geneva. The AL620 and the AL600 dongles will both support theoretical download speeds of up 100Mbps and 50Mbps maximum upload. The AL620 falls back to 14.4Mbps HSPA or 42Mbps HSPA+ when LTE coverage is not available, and can also support GSM/EDGE. The AL600 also supports HSPA(+) and adds EV-DO Rev A as well. The first frequencies are 700MHz (which Verizon Wireless will use) and 2.6GHz. Options include GPS and a microSD slot.
Several of the WiMAX terminal chipmakers are looking to leverage the experience they have gained in OFDMA and MIMO to step sideways into LTE, including Israel's Altair, which promises its first LTE radio modem in November. He expects to see handsets in first trials towards the end of 2010, and a mass market in 2012. Altair has adapted its low power WiMAX architecture for LTE and multimode, and has released samples of its FourGee 3100, a very early LTE baseband chip for dongles, PC cards and even phones. Samsung and Nokia both have prototype modem designs for use in trials, and first stage test devices are making heavy use of the Sandbridge programmable platform.