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First commercial 4G base station being tested in Sweden

Swedish mobile operator is among those building next-generation networks for mobile broadband with 4G technology--a concept some observers have criticized.

The world's first radio base station in a commercial 4G network has been deployed in Stockholm, Sweden. Or at least that's what the Swedish national incumbent telecommunications operator Telia has announced.

Telia is among a handful of mobile operators worldwide building next-generation networks for mobile broadband with 4G or LTE (Long Term Evolution) technology. The largest is Verizon, identified as a world leader by Ericsson CEO Carl-Henric Svanberg.

"The U.S. is back in the driver's seat and Verizon has taken the lead in rolling out LTE," Svanberg said in an interview recently.

Though Telia says it has connected the 4G base station to its IP network and to a test network belonging to Swedish telecom vendor Ericsson, commercial launch of the network is not expected until 2010, when modems will be available. Verizon has announced the same time frame.

Expected speeds are "10 times faster than the speeds customers enjoy today with mobile broadband in 3G networks," according to Telia.

That would mean between 60 megabits and 100 megabits per second, given that today's 3G networks with HSPA (High Speed Packet Access) technology can attain 6Mbps to 10Mbps, depending on the version deployed.

One reason why Verizon is aggressively planning for a 4G network is that its 3G network, based on EV-DO (Evolution Data Optimized) technology, doesn't match the speeds possible in HSPA networks belonging to the GSM/WCDMA family, used by operators such as Telia and AT&T. GSM stands for Global System for Mobile Communications, while WCDMA is short for Wideband Code Division Multiple Access.

Verizon expects to cover 25 to 30 markets in the first year, and to blanket the continental U.S. and Hawaii by 2015.

Meanwhile, the Norwegian incumbent Telenor has been criticized for running advertisements that promise indoor coverage for 99 percent of the Swedish population at 80Mbps to 150Mbps in its Swedish 4G network that will compete with Telia's.

Though 3G coverage is at this level in Sweden, a country slightly bigger than California, Telenor's promise is "completely unrealistic," Jens Zander, a professor in radio technology, said recently in an interview with Swedish technology weekly Ny Teknik (in Swedish).

But compared with Swedish operators, Verizon has an advantage. Verizon's 4G network will use the 700MHz segment of the wireless spectrum, permitting each base station to cover an area about five times larger than delivered in the 3.6GHz spectrum initially being used in Sweden, and also resulting in better indoor coverage.

The advertisements by Telenor were published just weeks before mobile operators in Sweden agreed on marketing realistic maximum speeds of mobile broadband, as opposed to theoretical maximum speeds often used by the industry.

The agreement stemmed from the governmental agency for consumers rights threatening the operators with heavy fines for misleading marketing.

Some telecommunications consulting firms have criticized the 4G deployment and the whole 4G concept.

"The weakness of the telecom industry is that when it's time to harvest the success of its investments, it rushes into new technology," Bengt Nordström, CEO and founder of Swedish firm Northstream, told Ny Teknik. He pointed out that both 2G and 3G technology matured four to five years after their initial launches.

And although LTE involves new radio networks with different technology, the Danish firm Strand Consult says that the 4G concept is a media invention, as LTE technology is part of the 3G standard IMT-2000.

"We know for a fact that customers that purchase mobile broadband are not asking for 1G, 2G, 3G, or 4G, they are asking and paying for the possibility of getting online and using the available services," Strand Consultant states.