Dec 13, 2011
Android has had one particular advantage over iOS that can’t be argued: the availability of “4G” and LTE-capable devices that iOS so far has no access to. The faster speeds of these connections serve as a particular benefit to choosing Android phones, along with the bigger screens and advanced capabilities of the Android OS. However, it appears as if the move to LTE is coming with a major drawback: interoperability between LTE frequencies is going to be pracitcally impossible.
By way of Engadget, Wireless Intelligence is reporting that there will be over 200 LTE networks by 2015, and they will run on 38 different frequencies. Compare this to the current 3G situation, where in the US, GSM phones that run on AT&T’s 3G band can’t run on T-Mobile’s, and vice versa. It is at least possible for phones to work on multiple bands, but these are not common. These promote vendor lock-in, and prevent users from moving to a new carrier easily. It was hoped that LTE’s standardized elements would allow for this lock-in factor to be lessened, but it appears as if that is not the case.
This will prove to be a problem in particular for international travelers, who will not be able to easily use the phone of their choice when traveling abrouad, or at least will not be able to buy prepaid data SIMs to access data while on the go at faster speeds. As well, this will only further vendor lock-in in the US, as with so many LTE bands out there, users may need to buy new phones when they switch their network. This doesn’t even discount the potential environmental impact of basically being forced to throw away older phones when switching networks, just because they don’t support specific bands of LTE.
The manufacturers and carriers have little benefit to try to promote standardization, as lock-in helps to keep customers and sells more phones when they do change. It may require regulation, perhaps even self-regulation, in order to help users looking to use their phone wherever they choose to, not where their carrier chooses to.