Ericsson has hopes of DoCoMo’s LTE deal plus more US wins

by Caroline Gabriel

The LTE market may not gain critical mass until at least 2012, but it is important that the key vendors establish their credentials now, building confidence among customers and investors.

Huawei has stolen much of the thunder in terms of recent early trials, but Ericsson, seen by many (including itself) as the heir presumptive to the LTE crown, insists it has a wide range of trials of its own, notably one with Japan’s NTT DoCoMo, which could turn into an order as early as next year.

Meanwhile, Intel used last week’s Developer Forum to remind the world that, as wireless networks creak under the strain of always-on laptop access, WiMAX is being deployed right now to address the challenge.

Ericsson needs some flagship LTE contracts to maintain confidence in its leadership position in wireless infrastructure, even if the key driver of its revenues will be HSPA for some years to come. It delivered in style when it won part of the first commercial LTE deal, at Verizon Wireless, earlier this year, sharing the RAN spoils with incumbent Alcatel-Lucent.

DoCoMo is exactly the kind of win Ericsson wants to line up behind Verizon, given the Japanese firm’s reputation for being the world’s most advanced technologist among cellcos, and its plan to move to LTE at an early stage (unlike many so-called deployments scheduled for 2010, which will in reality cover just one or two hotzones, DoCoMo aims to skip HSPA+ and move towards wide area coverage as early as possible).

The Swedish giant’s head of radio networks, Ulf Ewaldsson, said in an interview with Dow Jones newswires that DoCoMo is trialling its kit, and will decide in 2010 whether to select Ericsson as its supplier. He pointed to trials and first stage wins at TeliaSonera and MetroPCS, and to the “keen interest” at China Mobile, which will adopt the TDD flavor of LTE.

Ewaldsson explained why early trials are important to vendors, saying that operators will mainly choose their LTE suppliers on the basis of the past track record.

Also important to Ericsson’s efforts will be its acquisition of Nortel’s LTE and CDMA assets – not just for technology, but more significantly for an enhanced position in north America. “The US has become the absolute driver of 4G,” Ewaldsson said. “We will gain 450 engineers in north America. We do that because of all of the commitments in the US to LTE.”

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