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Gigabit LTE Comes to China, Going Global

Sherif Hanna

Gigabit LTE is gaining momentum, spreading to more countries around the world.

The global race was sparked by the announcement of the Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM) Snapdragon X16 LTE modem in February of last year. It was made real for the first time with the launch of the NETGEAR Nighthawk M1 on Telstra's network. Then, Gigabit LTE arrived in the hands of millions of people through smartphones powered by the Snapdragon 835 mobile platform with X16 LTE, with more operator launches in the US, Europe and Asia.

Devices with Gigabit LTE capability include the Sony Xperia XZ Premium; the Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+; the HTC U11; Motorola's upcoming flagship smartphone powered by Snapdragon 835; and mobile broadband hotspots such as the Wi-Fi Station N-01J (for DoCoMo), Pocket WiFi 601HW (for SoftBank) and Speed Wi-Fi Next W04 (for KDDI).

And now, Gigabit LTE is coming to the world's largest mobile market -- China.

China Mobile, the world's largest mobile operator, and China Unicom, both recently announced field trials of Gigabit LTE technology, with devices based on the Snapdragon X16 LTE modem. This brings the total count to 26 operators in 18 countries trialing or deploying Gigabit LTE in 2017. That is up from 15 operators in 11 countries just five months ago.

Naturally, the buzz around Gigabit LTE in China carried over into this year's Mobile World Congress Shanghai.

At the Qualcomm booth, we demonstrated Gigabit LTE over TDD spectrum, using the HTC U11, and showcased real-world use cases and speeds of several hundred megabits per second.

HTC U11 showing a Gigabit LTE connection over TDD Spectrum at Qualcomm's MWC Shanghai booth.
HTC U11 showing a Gigabit LTE connection over TDD Spectrum at Qualcomm's MWC Shanghai booth.

We also showed a network simulation that predicts the real-world performance of devices with different LTE capabilities in a Gigabit LTE network. The simulation showed the impact of Gigabit LTE on improving video quality and reducing file download times, as well as increasing network capacity for all users.

Qualcomm booth visitors observing our TDD Gigabit LTE network simulation.
Qualcomm booth visitors observing our TDD Gigabit LTE network simulation.

And over at China Mobile's own booth, they demonstrated Gigabit LTE using the Samsung Galaxy S8 in a live over-the-air demo. Attendees could see the difference in file download speeds between the Galaxy S8 with Gigabit LTE and a Cat 6 LTE device. They also got to experience very high-quality 4K 360-degree video in the Samsung Gear VR, streamed over Gigabit LTE.

China Mobile booth visitor observing the Gigabit LTE demo with the Samsung Galaxy S8, and getting an explanation of the three technologies underlying Gigabit LTE: carrier aggregation, 4x4 MIMO and 256-QAM.
China Mobile booth visitor observing the Gigabit LTE demo with the Samsung Galaxy S8, and getting an explanation of the three technologies underlying Gigabit LTE: carrier aggregation, 4x4 MIMO and 256-QAM.

There are very good reasons why operators and smartphone OEMs around the world are embracing Gigabit LTE so boldly, and why Gigabit LTE momentum is accelerating.

China Mobile booth visitor enjoying 4K 360-degree video in the Samsung Gear VR, streamed over-the-air with Gigabit LTE.
China Mobile booth visitor enjoying 4K 360-degree video in the Samsung Gear VR, streamed over-the-air with Gigabit LTE.

From a user perspective, Gigabit LTE provides many benefits:

  • It improves average, everyday download speeds, providing a speed boost to all connected apps, and opens up exciting possibilities for virtual reality, augmented reality and cloud access.

  • Gigabit LTE devices have double the antennas of regular LTE devices, doubling speeds in good signal conditions in a Gigabit LTE network. And in weak signal conditions, whether the user is an area where the network has been upgraded to Gigabit LTE or not, the extra antennas improve speeds in weak signal conditions by up to 70%.

  • Gigabit LTE devices provide faster download speeds in crowded areas, where the airwaves are shared by many people at the same time. Because they use the airwaves more efficiently, Gigabit LTE devices can squeeze faster speeds out of a smaller chunk of the airwaves. They also get access to new lanes of data that aren't supported by users of older devices. It's like cruising on your own faster, roomier data highway.

And from an operator perspective, Gigabit LTE allows them to add capacity to their networks, which improves speeds for all users, not just those with the latest devices. More specifically, Gigabit LTE allows operators to deliver video, which accounts for around 70% of traffic on mobile networks, much more efficiently. In fact, Gigabit LTE devices can receive video using a fraction of the resources of older LTE devices. That leaves more room for other users to stream and download as well.

It is no coincidence that operators have begun offering unlimited data plans while also trialing and deploying Gigabit LTE. All four major US operators now have unlimited data plans, and all four have either begun -- or will shortly begin -- deploying Gigabit LTE. Even in China, all three major operators now offer unlimited data plan options. Gigabit LTE will allow all these operators to expand the capacity of their networks so they can cope with the additional data traffic that will come from users with unlimited data plans.

Gigabit LTE is not a fad, a gimmick or a "check-the-box" item for the sake of marketing. It is an important milestone in the evolution of 4G networks and devices, on the path to 5G. It can yield immediate benefits today, and unlock the potential for great new mobile experiences tomorrow.

Welcome, China, to the Gigabit LTE club.

— Sherif Hanna, Staff Manager, Technical Marketing, Qualcomm Technologies Inc.

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