Why We Don’t Necessarily Need LTE

There are those who are pure enthusiasts, and there are others who get excited about technology but are still somewhat cautious. I admit that at one point in my life I was a pure enthusiast, however over the years I have come to learn that newer, and faster doesn’t necessarily mean better. With wireless technologies such as LTE, and LTE Advanced, making their way into the spotlight nowadays on mobile networks worldwide, I can’t help but question whether we really do need these new “faster” standards or not.

Industry standard LTE & LTE-Advanced trademarked logos.
Industry standard LTE & LTE-Advanced trademarked logos.

Of course some people may argue that with faster connections we can have richer media services, and so on and so forth. I do not disagree with that statement, however, at what price? You see, a wireless network is lossy by nature; this means there is a very high probability that when you send data over a wireless medium, it will produce errors along the way and sometimes require that the data is re-sent in order to reconstruct it properly on the receiving end. Engineering techniques have been developed in order to reduce these losses, however that also comes at a price, and usually that’s overhead. But at the end of the day there’s one main thing that sells, and that is NUMBERS!

So effectively what are we doing? We are developing more sophisticated technologies with exponentially oversized overhead just to reach higher RAW data speeds, and hit those high numbers when other factors such as connection stability and reliability are still at stake.

You can give me a supercar, but if it’s gonna forcefully breakdown 50 meters down the road before I have to turn it off and on again, what good is all that raw horsepower?

The same applies to wireless mobile technologies.

Why should I invest in a technology that is going to be mind blowingly fast for a few seconds, and then crap out before it has to re-establish connections to the servers, etc.? You know what, I’m happy with speeds of HSPA and HSPA+. Give me a wireless connection on my mobile phone that gives me 10-20Mbps, but is reliable and stable, and isn’t jerky and undependable. We’re just injecting megabits and megabits into these connections, and of course this means more processing… and where there’s more processing, there will definitely be a need for more POWER!

Battery loss and power consumption! If you’ve read any of the reviews on the iPhone 5 coming from the U.S., everyone’s complaining about poor battery life. Guess why that is! Most probably due to the LTE radio that is enabled on those devices. I’ve already advised a couple of my friends there to turn off LTE on their iPhone 5’s and now they are more than happy with the performance of their devices. I personally have an iPhone 5 as well, and I’ve done some extensive testing on battery and data rate consumption, by varying the services used, etc. Not to brag, but I’ve been able to go 36 hours (+/- 3 hours) on average on a single full charge with my phone at moderate usage, after fixing all the settings needed. There’s no way that I’d be able to hit that level if I had LTE enabled.

Furthermore, to explain this any further, things would get very technical very fast, but the bottom line is, GSM/EDGE uses less power than 3G/WCDMA, which uses less power than LTE, when on idle mode… and most of the time your phone actually is in idle mode. LTE is only more efficient than 3G when you are transferring large amounts of data (file transfers or HD video streaming), at an approximate rate of 5Mbps+, for a continuous amount of time. However, if you’re using your device for Tweeting, or updating your Facebook status, WhatsApp, iMessage, or any similar app, then believe me it is beyond overkill. This is where the (mis)concept of spectral efficiency plays a very important roll. It goes along the lines of the Chinese proverb, “Don’t use a cannon to kill a mosquito”.

We, the consumers, are flooded on a daily basis with marketing campaigns of “superior services” being provided, and it’s always a race for the bigger number, but bigger/faster isn’t better. A very clear example was illustrated by Intel in the early 2000’s, when they reached a clock-rate limit with their Pentium processors, before they started producing uncontrollable heat issues. Instead of focusing on selling higher CPU frequencies, they went ahead and re-engineered the CPU architecture, as we know it today, and came out with a completely new one, the “Core” architecture, which we all have (an evolution of) in our computers today. They dropped the clock rate, but effectively developed much more powerful processors (by orders of magnitude). I propose the same thing for the 3G and/or LTE ; don’t give us a faster service, give us one that performs better, i.e. somewhat reliable/consistent data rates, reasonable quotas so we can actually take advantage of the technology instead of putting things on hold until we have Wi-Fi access, and good FULL coverage. If we get those factors guaranteed via a Service Level Agreement (SLA), for example, then I honestly believe that we will be much happier and more productive in the way we work.

As a parting thought, next time you’re on YouTube on your phone or tablet, on a mobile data network, and you realize that it’s acting a little funky, when just a few minutes prior it was working just fine. Make a note of the fact that your frustration is from the lack of reliability of the mobile network’s technology used, and not necessarily from the service providers themselves.

Looking forward to hearing your feedback, and if you have any questions, feel free to ask them.


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