Google Touts Gigabit LTE Advantage

Aims to Enhance Android Experience on High-Tier Phones

It’s common knowledge that differentiation is difficult in the smartphone space, particularly for Android manufacturers targeting the high tier. Android is hugely successful in raw scale, but beyond Samsung, it struggles in the most lucrative part of the market. This is a problem for its partners because it creates a ceiling above which it becomes very difficult to differentiate and compete. For Google, it means that the highest-value eyeballs are on iOS, rather than Android. It’s no coincidence that the company is raising its investment in hardware.

Google’s $1.1 billion deal with HTC may assist its own hardware endeavors, but it’s often struck me that the company can and should do more to help partners. It’s in a unique position to galvanize its ecosystem, combine forces and communicate a clear message about the value of Android and Google services. This is a tricky balancing act. There’s a clear incentive to work with partners to promote Android, but scale and reach are paramount and for that, it must be agnostic to platforms and devices.

In the past, Google has limited its efforts to supporting manufacturers in marketing, but this appears to be changing. In tandem with Qualcomm, Google is becoming far more direct — even provocative — in highlighting a competitive advantage. Its “Gigabit LTE. Only on Android.” campaign is a clear attempt to differentiate the Google experience.

Source: Qualcomm

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Some background: Gigabit LTE is only available on Android smartphones. To date, this includes more than 10 handsets from Asus, Essential, HTC, LG, Motorola, Samsung, Sharp and Sony, in addition to a number of MiFi devices that use Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X16 modem. Intel has announced its XMM 7560 solution, but it won’t ship until 2018. This makes Qualcomm the leading supplier of gigabit LTE, with Samsung’s Exynos 8895 available in the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy Note8 phones in other select markets.

Why would Google choose to help its partners differentiate on LTE-Advanced Pro features? The short answer is speed, performance and capacity. In essence, a better Google app experience on gigabit LTE devices.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that users will consistently receive gigabit-class speeds with devices that support gigabit LTE. What it should translate to is noticeably higher data rates. As more phones get out into the wild, this should start to boost operator network efficiency and capacity, which is critical as unlimited plans continue to spur more data usage and particularly, video consumption. Wider deployment of Licensed Assisted Access and efforts from operators to maximize unlicensed spectrum should also increase speeds, as AT&T demonstrated in San Francisco in June 2017, when it exceeded speeds of 750 Mbps.

The counter argument is that gigabit LTE has limited availability, but this assumes that operator investment is static. The first operator to launch gigabit LTE was Telstra in Australia in January 2017. In just nine months, the number of operators either deploying or trialing the technology has grown to 40 operators in 24 countries (including all four US carriers), and more than 10 supporting manufacturers. The network availability argument also ignores the advantages of having four antennas, particularly in areas of weak cellular coverage. This is independent of network upgrades, and an important element in environments such as large office buildings, commercial venues and shopping malls, where two extra antennas offer better a connection and fewer dropped calls.

Google and its partners have found a means to differentiate premium Android devices. Gigabit LTE will mean little to most consumers, but they understand speed and what that means for apps. Google emphasizes that speed improvements result in seamless access to Google Drive, Google Photos and a buffer-free streaming experience for YouTube and Google Play Music. As consumption rises with the advent of unlimited data, gigabit LTE becomes increasingly important.

There’s also a strong case that gigabit LTE is a future-proof purchase. As the real cost of devices becomes more transparent and operator network investment ramps, a gigabit LTE device will be able to take advantage of network upgrades as they become available.

This challenges the consensus on the features that define the premium tier of the smartphone market. In doubling down on gigabit LTE, Google is helping the ecosystem grasp a valuable point of differentiation.

A version of this article was first published by FierceWireless on 12 October 2017 and is available here.