Wired versus Wireless

The following is my response to a query on LTE versus wired, and the user experience. It capsulizes my current thinking, which evolves.

To your point, I don’t see LTE being competitive with wired in terms of speed or reliability today or in the future. You take the hit there for the convenience of mobile or portable operation. There’s a notion that if we just add enough base stations and repurpose enough spectrum to LTE, we can replicate the home wired experience in the mobile environment, but I don’t think that’s practical. The throughput from an LTE sector is divided among all users in the sector. If everyone wants to watch the Super Bowl at once on LTE, forget it (unless the LTE broadcasting standard is implemented, which let’s everyone watch the same channel like today’s TV (cough)). On FIOS or cable, the Super Bowl is no problem.

Moreover, video streaming on LTE is and will be a pain because of the need to maintain a relatively constant bit rate in a fading radio environment. An inordinate amount of system resources go into doing that, and the tiered rate plans we are seeing being adopted are in part a response to discourage that.

A twist is Wi-Fi, which can exceed wired data rates (or, at least somewhat match the speed of the wire it’s connected to). Many smartphones have Wi-Fi and, again, the tiered plans are to encourage you to use Wi-Fi whenever possible. In a year or two I think there will be more deployment of 3GPP’s Generic Access Network standard, that allows seamless switching of the phone between LTE and Wi-Fi — the core network can’t tell, and doesn’t care, which one it’s using. When you stream Netflix, it will switch to Wi-Fi by itself if available. With most smartphone use indoors, I think most smartphone access to the operator could one day be through Wi-Fi, with LTE as a backup for when on the move.

3 Responses to “Wired versus Wireless”

  1. And then there is only so much Wi-Fi spectrum… In dense urban areas the actual bitrates are far below nominal speeds. Reducing cell size only has limits, the available spectrum does not grow and efficiency reaches the theoretical limit – as usage grows, the gap between wired and wireless will only increase.

  2. Steve Crowley says:

    Those are good points. The 2.4 GHz spectrum gets more congested, Wi-Fi users get more interference, speeds go down. New standards with better antennas such as 802.11n help (not for high speed so much as interference suppression). I think eventually there will be new bands Wi-Fi can use. There is a 60 GHz Wi-Fi standard under development (802.11ad) that is target for publication in June of 2012. With that, one could get cell sizes down to cubicle level with bothering one another. Or, as long as you are in your cubicle, plug in a cable!

  3. Frank Rayal says:

    Agree with you on this, and in fact I go further to claim that wireline technologies will always get more throughput than wireless technologies because of interference. This is the price we pay for mobility and convenience!

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