The release of the iPad 3 has greatly boosted the acceptance of 4G LTE, which is expanding considerably in the US. But though 4G LTE is becoming the ubiquitous wireless network, it still does not allow for international roaming on the network. The fact that 4G LTE is so common now does not guarantee that wireless operators around the globe will use the same frequencies of LTE that enable international roaming. This is primarily due to the fact that there is not enough spectrum available in the world in the same frequencies to make roaming between networks easy or cost effective. So, though global carriers use the same basic LTE technology for 4G networks, easy international roaming is still out of reach.
“The fragmentation in 4G is driven by spectrum scarcity,” said Neville Ray, chief technology officer for T-Mobile USA. “The International Telecommunications Union tried 15 years ago to harmonize the spectrum plan globally, but what works well for one country or region doesn’t work well in another region. So we have this patchwork approach.”
Currently, spectrum differences between countries vary greatly. Most operators in the US utilize the 700MHz spectrum for the LTE network. European operators rely on the 2.6GHz while China uses 2.5 GHz. Devices built for one brand of radio frequency will not work on a network that uses a different band of frequency. Some industry experts state that the lack of planning for a united and cohesive spectrum has doomed the possibility of international roaming on the 4G LTE network.
“We’ll likely see some LTE roaming between different regions and carriers,” said Chris Pearson, president of the industry trade group 4G Americas. “But it won’t be worldwide roaming.” But a similar group of analysts believe that LTE roaming will be possible as the technology market inevitably develops further. It may be possible for devices to be created that can accommodate the most widely used spectrum bands in the world. Today’s phones that roam on the 2G and 3G networks operate in about six bands. But for LTE devices, international roaming would require that they support at least about 12 frequency bands.