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LTE Advanced is coming, but smartphone users may not care

Faster speeds of next-generation LTE not expected to drive many sales of Galaxy S4 and other smartphones

June 19, 2013 06:01 AM ET

Computerworld - Faster network speeds are better, right?

LTE Advanced is coming soon to the Samsung Galaxy S4 smartphone, offering double the downlink speeds of LTE (Long Term Evolution).

But U.S. carriers still have to upgrade LTE networks to operate with LTE Advanced, and their plans to do so are vague.

Even if U.S. networks were completely LTE Advanced-ready, some analysts question whether buyers would pay much more to upgrade their smartphones for a model with the LTE Advanced speed advantage. There's unlikely to be the same scramble for LTE Advanced as there was for LTE-ready smartphones such as the iPhone 5, which provide 10Mbps or more on LTE downlinks on average, boosting previous speeds by three times or more over 3G, analysts said.

One analyst is especially skeptical of LTE Advanced's value. LTE Advanced in a smartphone or tablet "is not important to the user, especially in the U.S. where carriers have been marketing LTE or 4G for years now," said Carolina Milanesi, an analyst at Gartner. "The novelty has worn off. To tell customers that LTE will be even faster ... is nice, but not life changing."

Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates, said consumers don't understand what LTE Advanced is. "Will users actually see that much improvement? Will they notice anything all that different in their user experience? For most, probably not," Gold said Tuesday. "Carriers [and manufacturers] are really trying to find advantage to keep the market excited about their networks. Will users buy into it? Remains to be seen."

JK Shin, co-CEO of Samsung Electronics, said Monday that the Galaxy S4 with LTE Advanced capabilities will go on sale in South Korea in June and with wireless carriers in other countries later on. He said that a three-minute download of a movie using existing LTE technology would take just over a minute to download over LTE Advanced.

Of the four largest U.S. wireless carriers polled on Monday, T-Mobile USA said it was planning on LTE Advanced network support, although it has not announced a schedule.

Verizon said it plans three network improvements that will support LTE Advanced, some of which will be ready and "invisible" to customers later this year.

Sprint said it has already deployed some elements of LTE Advanced, but didn't elaborate on a schedule or other details. The carrier said LTE Advanced will give customers greater speed, capacity and improvements in video quality, and will help lower Sprint's costs to keep unlimited data plans.

AT&T is also expected to move to LTE Advanced, but didn't respond immediately to questions about timing.

The upgrade cost to deliver LTE Advanced is expected to be minor compared to the many billions of dollars it cost to upgrade networks to LTE with new antennas and switches.

Analysts said that while Samsung will introduce the GS4 in South Korea on LTE Advanced networks, the value of LTE Advanced could be far less exciting in the U.S. Smartphones are getting wide acceptance in the U.S., where a majority of Americans own the devices, according to a Pew Research Center survey. Smartphone makers and carriers face the challenge of marketing new features, such as faster network speeds, to lure buyers into trading in their old devices for new ones.



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