TeliaSonera today switched on LTE networks in Stockholm and Oslo with coverage for 400,000 customers.
The operator is pushing Long Term Evolution as offering ten times the speed of 3G, promising speeds between 20 and 80 Mb/sec at 2.6GHz, and making synonyms of LTE and 4G - as though WiMAX had never existed.
But WiMAX struggles to provide 6Mb/sec, despite officially being a 4G technology. It has comprehensively failed to take advantage of its technical lead, and now LTE is in the hands of punters that lead has all but disappeared.
Not that LTE is getting literally getting into punters' hands, nor is it exactly ubiquitous: TeliaSonera expects to run out of modems pretty quickly, and the USB-sticks are LTE-only - no roaming to 3G networks if you step outside the major cities, though TeliaSonera will provide an alternative (3G) stick, along with a free upgrade to a multi-network stick some time next year.
Around the same time users will have to start paying real prices for the service - until July 2010 customers will pay only 4 Swedish Kronor a month (1 NOK in Norway, 35 pence in old money), after then the price reverts to a more-realistic 599 Kronor a month (699 NOK or 50 quid).
LTE is a data-centric networking technology, but TeliaSonera's roll-out goes further by being data only: no LTE handsets have been announced or demonstrated, which makes sense when voice is better handled on the 3G network running at 2.1GHz.
Not that LTE has any problems carrying voice - the power of LTE lies in its flexibility which allows it to operate at hugely variable speeds and frequencies. LTE isn't just intended to extend 3G capabilities, but to replace every radio standard used in mobile telephony*.
TeliaSonera is deploying at 2.6GHz, and recently bought spectrum in Finland which it intends to fill during 2010. The company also mentioned the upcoming auctions in Denmark.
So when can we expect such delights in Blighty? Not very soon, unfortunately. Our 2.6GHz auctions are so mired in legal battles and turf wars that we'll probably need a general election before we even find out who has the rights to make use of it. LTE could be deployed elsewhere, but no operator is going to start building anything until the next round of spectrum auctions have been completed. ®
* Excepting Bluetooth, UWB, WirelessHD, WiGig, Wi-Fi and FM radios, of course.