My first experience of a real 4G network was more than five years ago (December 2010), driving through the streets of Oslo, Norway, in a minibus packed with network operators, regulators and vendor staff to test what at the time was still a pre-commercial service.
It was a breakthrough moment for me, because I could see for the first time that the end-user performance I'd observed in labs, and in carefully managed trial networks, would actually be delivered in the real world. I wrote up the experience here: Road Testing LTE.
In that wintry drive through Oslo, on a grey, rainy day, the network hit the heady heights of 74 Mbit/s downlink. Now the same operator -- Netcom, a division of Telia Company -- has demonstrated 1 Gbit/s on its LTE network using four-carrier aggregation. This is, frankly, amazing performance.
Enhanced carrier aggregation is one of the headline features of a big new LTE release known as "LTE-Advanced Pro," which is based on the 3GPP Release 13 specifications and is sometimes known as "4.5G." The "Pro" moniker signals an advance on LTE-Advanced (geddit?) and positions it as a key bridging technology to 5G deployments in the 2020 timeframe.
A large part of LTE-Advanced Pro is about brute force and efficiency -- simply put, to drive higher downlink data rates, to pull down more video, at greater resolution, to more users -- and this is why the 1Gbit/s headline data rate is symbolically important. Other technologies that will drive system performance in LTE-Advanced Pro networks include LTE-LAA (using unlicensed 5 GHz spectrum), LTE-WiFi Link Aggregation (LWA), small cell dual-connectivity and 3D (or full dimension) MIMO.
LTE-Advanced Pro is also about new services and use cases. The most obvious examples are moves to optimize 4G for the Internet of Things (sometimes known as Cellular IoT, or Machine-Type Communications in 3GPP parlance), using LTE-M. The "Pro" release also incorporates a raft of critical enhancements for public protection and disaster relief, improvements to LTE Broadcast, the emergence of peer-to-peer and proximity services using LTE Direct, and the introduction of LTE V2X for vehicle communications.
How widely deployed each of these enhancements will be in practice remains to be seen, but taken together under the LTE-Advanced Pro umbrella, they will be important to maximizing revenue generation from 4G-LTE as it enters what I believe will be the most productive part of its lifecycle.
This blog is sponsored by Huawei.
— Gabriel Brown, Senior Analyst, Heavy Reading