Nowadays users don’t care anymore about the name of the technology that allows them to communicate. After the smartphone boom lived during the last years, what users want now is more bandwidth, they don’t care if it’s WiFi 802.11, 3G or HSDPA, the important thing is to be able to view high quality videos and photos without having to wait for seconds until they load.
The 3GPP group has been working for years on a series of standards to define the next generation of mobile communications, known as 4G. Up until now Japan had ignored international standards and had played their own game defining its own, supposedly better, telecommunications standards. During the 3G introduction days, Japanese companies didn’t have the patience to wait for everybody to agree on standards, and they quickly launched their own networks.
For example, Docomo launched what is considered the first commercial 3G network in history in May 2001, they called it FOMA and was based in W-CDMA, a communications protocol that with time was accepted by the international community but that was never used outside of Japan. Docomo still uses FOMA nowadays, the maintaining cost of the network based on its own technology during the years has been very high. After the experience, once again it seemed that Docomo was going to commit the same mistake developing its own technology, it would have been called Super3G. Two years ago, during the research and development of Super3G, Docomo achieved download rates of up to 350Mbps and upload rates of up to 75Mbps. Everything seemed like, once again, Docomo was going to leap ahead of the competition and the rest of the world by using their own technology.
However, eventually after many years of research, Docomo announced that they were abandoning the Super 3G technology and they would opt to follow the international project LTE. Most likely they decided that this time it was better to wait until the international community agreed on a standard than launching their own technology and then have to maintain it on their own.
NEC, Fujitsu and Panasonic have their first LTE cell phones almost ready and Docomo will be able to offer them service starting next October. In China, United States and some other European countries service will be available at the end of this year as well.
Docomo expects to be able to give LTE service with 32Mbps download rates at the end of this year and then increase the rates until more than 100Mbps during the next years. Mobile devices manufacturers are getting ready for the revolution that is awaiting; bandwidth will not be the limiting factor anymore, and to take advantage of the new possibilities we will need faster processors, more memory, better cameras and screens with higher resolutions. For example, Sharp is working on a smartphone with a 21 megapixel built-in camera, they are expecting that sending 20 megabytes photos with your cell phone in the near future won’t be a problem.
Smartphones like the iPhone or the Blackberry have changed our way to access the net, our way to communicate and interact; how we use our cell phone has radically changed in the last years, voice communication is not as important now as some years ago, now the important thing is to be able to exchange data at high speeds. To be able to get the best out of the new generation of mobile devices we need a new infrastructure; Japan’s big bet is LTE, the same bet as most of the largest operators in the world.
The ubiquity of telecommunication networks is going to be even more homogeneous during this new generation of protocols than during the 3G era. However, the transition is going to be long and difficult, the biggest winners will be the users.
Article originally published in the Spanish newspaper El País.
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