Ericsson Wednesday unveiled "gigabit LTE" hardware and software upgrades ahead of the Mobile World Congress show later this month, but the vendor says the new radio system will also benefit existing smartphone users.
The Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) radio system is the "world's first commercial Gigabit LTE Solution," according to the Swedish vendor. The upgrades, however, will be mostly familiar -- in name at least -- to those that have followed the evolution of 4G through LTE-Advanced. (See Why You Should Care About LTE-Advanced (Eventually).)
One building block of increasing uplink and downlink speeds on 4G networks is to build larger multiple (MIMO) input antenna arrays. Ericsson says its new system will offer a split system: 4×4 MIMO on mid and high radio bands, and 2×2 MIMO in low bands.
The radio upgrades will also allow carriers to bond together up to 60MHz of separate radio spectrum bands, which are typically 10MHz or 20MHz stand-alone bands. This helps to increase network speed and capacity and has been a popular method for US carriers to increase network performance already. (See Sprint to Bring 540 Jobs, LTE-A to Chicago .)
The new Ericsson system also uses a digital modulation scheme called 256-QAM (Quadrature amplitude modulation), which has previously been deployed in on 802.11ac WiFi and some cable systems: It enables higher system throughputs by packing up to a third more data packets into the same radio transmission stream. (See Docsis 3.1 Targets 10-Gig Downstream.)
Ericsson says that when the new radio systems are developed they -- like LTE-Advanced -- will provide a performance boost for existing users. "Current handsets will benefit broadly from the enhancements that allow gigabit LTE, namely 256-QAM and 4x4 operation, limited to the capability of the device," an Ericsson spokesperson told Light Reading Wednesday after the new radio system was unveiled. What this typically means is that older handsets will see less improvement in performance than newer MIMO-capable devices.
Don't be expecting to get a gigabit download on your iPhone 6S or Galaxy anytime soon though. To get the full benefits, you'll need a new handset with a new, compatible chipset, the vendor confirmed. Such devices are expected to become available this year.
Ericsson, however, is by no means the only vendor trying to squeeze greater speeds out of 4G, whether you call it "gigabit LTE," LTE-Advanced Pro, "4.5G" or "Pre-5G": Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. has been very vocal about delivering 4.5G in 2016. (See Huawei Targets 4.5G Mobile by 2016 .)
In the meantime, using LTE to deliver gigabit-per-second speeds has probably a whiff of déjà vu about it to many seasoned industry watchers. 1GB/s downloads -- when the user was stationary -- was an original requirement for 4G systems, a fact that got lost as carriers flocked to market advanced 3G as "4G." Will history repeat itself with "gigabit LTE" and 5G? Could be! (See The Battle of FauxG and Verizon CEO: US Commercial 5G Starts in 2017.)
— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading