Vodafone Germany is preparing to use LTE (Long Term Evolution) to enhance TV services, while the arrival of smartphones and tablets from Samsung and HTC in the beginning of next year will help the technology take off in Europe.
The most basic use of LTE is as a substitute for fixed line broadband, or to cover households that currently have no access to high speed broadband.
For Vodafone, getting users to choose LTE in favour of DSL means the operator doesn't have to pay a rental fee for the copper line to Deutsche Telekom, and instead it could use that money to build out its own network.
But connecting a household with LTE also allows operators to expand their service offerings. At IFA, Vodafone is demonstrating regular TV distributed over 4G.
"But, I think, when we enter the market with that product, which will be in the beginning of 2012, we will use it more as a hybrid solution," said Zoltan Bickel, director of LTE commercialisation at Vodafone.
A hybrid TV solution is where a traditional broadcast technology is combined with IP (Internet Protocol) to offer TV and surrounding services. In this scenario, LTE would be used for video-on-demand and electronic programme guides, according to Bickel.
At IFA, vendors like Samsung and HTC are showing smartphones and tablets with LTE for European spectrum bands, which are 800MHz, 1,800MHz and 2.6GHz. That smartphones and tablets with LTE are already available in the US shows the advantage of being a big country.
"It is really the next step, and quite important," said Bickel.
In general, mobile data gets more relevant on a smartphone or tablet, which users carry with them all the time. Also, younger people are beginning to question why they need a laptop in the first place, according to Bickel.
The devices from Samsung and HTC will start shipping in the beginning of 2012, most likely January or February.
"When we talk to other vendors they all say they will have the first versions in 2012. I also think LG will have something in the beginning of next year," said Bickel.
Recently, there have been a lot of rumors about when Apple will launch the first iPhone or iPad with LTE. But Bickel doesn't have insights he wants to share at this time.
Vodafone Germany acquired its LTE spectrum May 2010 and, so far, 1,000 base stations have been upgraded to LTE. Another 1,000 could have already been deployed, but the operator is still waiting for the approval to turn on the microwave links that in many cases are used to connect the base stations to the core network, according to Bickel.
Vodafone has spectrum in both the 800MHz and 2.6GHz band. The roll out of LTE started in rural areas, because that was part of the licensing terms, using the lower band, whose signal propagation requires less infrastructure to provide wide mobile coverage. While it has more spectrum in the 2.6GHz band, which allows Vodafone to offer higher speeds, but with worse coverage if the same number of base stations are used.
The company has also started to upgrade its mobile network in cities. Düsseldorf is the first city where Vodafone has rolled out LTE and the operator has also upgraded some sites in Berlin, including LTE coverage at IFA.
"But this was all done with 800HMz. We think it works better in the cities, because you get better indoor coverage, as well," said Bickel.
Instead, Vodafone thinks 2.6GHz is the right band for use in LTE hotspots later on.
"If we see capacity constraints in the 800MHz grid, we will add additional base stations using 2.6GHz," said Bickel.
Theoretically, the 800MHz band allows Vodafone to offer up to 70M bps (bits per second) and 100M bps at 2.6GHz, but currently it caps the maximum speed at 50M bps, so there would be no difference between the two.