News and views on the Canadian telecom industry, and tips and tricks for saving on your cell phone bill.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

What LTE Networks Means for You

If you've spent any time in Ontario this September, you've probably seen some form of Bell advertisement announcing their launch of something called LTE. These ads are covering billboards, adorning the sides of buses, blaring on television screens, and inundating website banners all across Southern Ontario. So what is all this LTE business, and what does it mean for you? Well basically, LTE stands for Long-Term Evolution, and is a new network technology that will allow for much faster, efficient, and reliable data access. LTE is an upgrade from Bell's current HSPA+ network, and is anticipated to be about three times faster. As a CBC report states, "The company said it expects typical speeds for the network to be between 12 and 25 megabits per second. Bell's HSPA+ network offers typical speeds of 3.5 to 8 megabits per second and 7 to 14 megabits per second in areas where it offers HSPA+ with dual carrier technology." LTE is being referred to as a "4G" network, in keeping with the standard network "_G" nomenclature (i.e. 2G, 3G, etc.). Of course, Rogers is following suit with their own LTE adoption, and their "Beyond 4G" (hubris much?) network will be launched September 28th. Interestingly, the "Beyond 4G" tag has generated significant controversy, as consumer advocacy groups have claimed it to be misleading. Truth in advertising issues have surrounded the "_G" tag for years now, and with good reason. But that's an issue for another post...

LTE-capable USB turbo sticks are available from Bell now, but they say the release of LTE smartphones and tablets is on the horizon. Rogers is making the same claims, which means that sometime in the near future you can bet that we will all be carrying around LTE-capable phones, downloading and uploading faster than we've ever done before. So where does this leave us? Well the most obvious outcome is greater ease and speed in emailing, internet browsing, gaming, and downloading of images, music, videos, games, and other applications. With theoretical LTE download speeds of 150 Mbps and upload speeds of 70 Mbps, data-based processes on your phone or tablet are about to get a heck of a lot faster. We can also expect greater network reliability as well, resulting in an overall smoother and more painless data experience.

However, you can definitely expect to pay a price premium for LTE-enabled devices, both for Rogers and Bell (and whoever releases LTE-enabled devices in the future). While new hardware release pricing obviously works in a similar manner (release a new device, jack up the price, lower the price in the coming months), the premium on these devices will likely be a bit higher than normal. But the real cost to consumers will likely be seen on the data usage line of their monthly phone bills. Interestingly, once Rogers and Bell have set up these LTE networks, the marginal cost of providing data to their consumers is actually less than HSPA+. Some analysts have predicted this will lead to a drop in data prices, as the telecom giants pass on the savings to their customers. But I'm betting this won't be the case, especially in the beginning. While cost competition is a burgeoning trend in the industry, LTE represents a lucrative opportunity for Canada's Telecom giants to jack up profits even further. Chances are the costs of data packages will stay the same, and we may even see unlimited data packages released by the Big Three. With download/upload speeds so high, I can definitely see those with LTE-capable smartphones racking up ENORMOUS cell phone bills. With speeds like that, it's not unrealistic to assume that users' downloading and web surfing behaviours will accelerate as well. Think about it. Say it originally took me about a minute to buffer and stream a YouTube video on my 3G enabled BlackBerry 9780. With an LTE-enabled phone, I could stream said video and be ready to watch it in maybe 15 seconds. With speeds like this, I'd be far more likely to watch tons of videos, comment on them, share them with friends, and so on. All these actions use significant amounts of data. With this increased data consumption, original data plans might not be sufficient anymore, and huge data overage costs could start appearing on my bill. If I don't notice these charges at first, the cost to me could potentially be thousands of dollars.

Of course, the remedy here is to be a conscientious phone user and monitor your bills carefully. This is still important regardless of what network speed you're on, but will become increasingly crucial if you're one of those LTE early adopters. If you are near or over your current data limit, you may want to think about upgrading your data package (which MobileVantage would be happy to help you with). It's important to monitor your data use, understand how much data is takes to perform certain actions, and even think about downloading an app that tells you how much monthly data you have left. LTE has the potential to enhance your smartphone experience exponentially. But it also has the potential to cost you a small fortune if you're not careful. So as MobileVantage always preaches, be a conscientious phone user, and monitor your bills and usage. If you do that then you really have nothing to worry about, and you can enjoy every advantage that LTE has to offer.


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