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Monday, May 18, 2009

Are there risks associated with an LTE "monoculture"?

I'm listening to a presentation on LTE-TDD, highlighting the close integration between FDD and TDD branches of the technology.

The underlying assumption in the industry is that it's wonderful that we might have, for once, a single global standard for wireless networks, albeit in two "flavours".

The subtext (or sometimes explicitly stated position) is that alternatives like WiMAX are thus undesirable.

But I'm wondering whether there is a dark side to full standardisation - even with its associated conveniences and scale economies. What happens if we create what biologists call a monoculture? In agriculture, this carries serious dangers.

The most obvious risk is that the impact of any catastrophic risk is magnified hugely. Any vulnerability - either technical, or perhaps IPR-based - would have universal effects if exploited.

In addition, certain business models are hard-coded in, or out, as a result of specific standards. This is already occurring in LTE because of requirements for mandatory SIM use, and because there is no option for local offload of traffic without backhauling via the packet core.

I'm not convinced that the short-term gains from standards and scale economy necessarily outweighs the long-term losses from business model flexibility and reach. An LTE monoculture may result in the eradication of valuable gene-lines elsewhere in today's mobile environment.

It's worth considering that what the technology industry calls "fragmentation", an ecologist would call "biodiversity".

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