Potential for LTE global roaming in doubt

12 November 2012 |


Operators remain divided on the prospects of an LTE global roaming ecosystem after a leading Wifi operator rejected the idea that it could operate successfully.

With the increasing uptake of LTE 4G technologies globally, operators have begun to promote the idea of LTE roaming between continents and include the advantages of LTE roaming in data tariffs.

Steve Livingston, SVP of carrier development at Wifi company iPass, said that despite all the hype surrounding the initiative, “operators constantly give vague answers on how 4G roaming will work”.

He told Capacity: “The challenge for 4G roaming lies in the fact that different countries will run the network over different spectrums. Once a network finds it is operating on different spectrums it will revert back to 3G connectivity, which defeats the purpose in a sense.”

Livingston voiced his concerns for US roamers, particularly if they were, for example, travelling to Europe.

The US operates on several different bands, including 700MHz, 800MHz, 1700MHz and 1950MHz, while many European countries are in the process of auctioning 900MHz, 1800MHz and 2100MHz. Livingston argues, that with consumers largely oblivious to which bands they are accessing, it is highly unlikely they will turn on data roaming.

Despite Livingston’s concerns, Tim Sherwood, Tata’s VP of mobile segment strategy and development, believes that the situation has the potential to be resolved through the increasing capacity of smartphones. “We believe this will be worked out over time and we see it as a domestic market opportunity to create more capacity for smartphone users that are accessing applications that are IP-based,” he said.

With European adoption occurring a lot slower than the US and Asia, Sherwood did concede that it will take up to three years for these issues to be addressed, which may make operators think twice before marketing 4G LTE roaming.

“Solving the challenges around spectrum and interoperability for different frequencies needs to occur at handset level, and this can take a substantial amount of time.” Ken Stewart, CTO at TE Connectivity added: “With similar devices operating in the major markets, it lies with handsets to accommodate different spectrum capability in different bands.