The upgrade cost to deliver LTE Advanced is expected to be minor compared to the many billions of dollars it cost to upgrade networks to LTE with new antennas and switches.
Analysts said that while Samsung will introduce the GS 4 in South Korea on LTE Advanced networks, the value of LTE Advanced could be far less exciting in the U.S. Smartphones are getting wide acceptance in the U.S., where a majority of Americans own the devices, according to a Pew Research Center survey. Smartphone makers and carriers face the challenge of marketing new features, such as faster network speeds, to lure buyers into trading in their old devices for new ones.
"We are getting to the point where selling innovation is hard," Milanesi said. "That innovation today is about user experience, convenience and incremental benefits -- not transformational ones. "
Such incremental benefits are hard to sell in a store because the features take longer for salespeople to demonstrate, she added. The sales rep might be showing the improvements on "a phone that otherwise will look like all the rest -- or even worse -- like the previous generation," Milanesi said.
Gartner and other analyst firms noticed a new trend that starting in the fourth quarter of 2012: U.S. smartphone owners were keeping their devices longer, holding them beyond a two-year contract rather than upgrading before the end of the two year period to get access to newer hardware, software or network speeds.
"Some users might hang onto their smartphones and get a tablet instead," Milanesi added.
As a result of both lower perceived innovation in new smartphones and the hype to buy tablets, smartphone lifetimes are lengthening, Milanesi said. "That means for a market like the U.S. where we have a replacement market, [sales] growth will decrease," she said.
At Verizon, LTE Advanced is viewed as an improvement that will be invisible to customers, Verizon spokesman Tom Pica said. Verizon already has rolled out LTE to more than 400 cities, and LTE Advanced will mean customers "continue to find the consistent reliability and high speeds they have come to expect" from Verizon, he said.
Later in 2013, Verizon will deploy small cells and AWS (Advanced Wireless Service) spectrum as part of LTE Advanced capabilities. A third step, involving advanced MIMO (Multiple Input, Multiple Output) antennas for devices and cell sites, is in the plans, but no schedule has been announced.
AWS uses two spectrum bands in the 1700 MHz and 2100 MHz channels to increase network capacity for heavy data users but not necessarily speed. Verizon already sells seven devices that support AWS, including the GS 4, the Nokia 928 Lumia and the BlackBerry Q10. Small cells can increase network capacity and network reach.
This article, LTE Advanced 'not important' to smartphone users, analysts contend, was originally published at Computerworld.com.
Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is email@example.com.
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