LTE-Advanced Testing Gets Underway
Anritsu Corp. is introducing two new test instruments -- a signal generator for LTE-Advanced and a handheld analyzer for field use at the CTIA show this week, and Spirent Communications plc says it's already testing certain LTE-Advanced features like carrier aggregation and enhanced multiple-input and multiple-output (MIMO) with the hardware makers. (See Anritsu Analyzes LTE Advanced.)
LTE-Advanced is the network defined in the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) Release 10 specs by downlink speeds of 100Mbit/s when a user is on the move and 1Gbit/s for stationary downloads. It's not a strict list of criteria but a mix of 50 to 60 technologies that operators can pick from. RF carrier aggregation is the most talked about feature today, because most of the operators are working with fragmented spectrum.
Nigel Wright, VP of wireless marketing for Spirent, says testing is going on in the labs rather than the fields today. Spirent is primarily working with the network equipment manufacturers, work which can proceed the device side by as much as two years.
"We expect to be working with several chipset vendors later this year, first on our solutions and then on some significant changes that come from carrier aggregation," Wright says. "If you're talking to two or three different cells, which is the primary one? Which one do you do measurements on? We'll have new scenarios there to reflect that."
Putting the long-term in LTE-A
Of course, not everyone is ready to commit to an LTE-Advanced timetable yet. Fellow testing vendor Ixia (Nasdaq: XXIA) wouldn’t speak to the subject, and most of the wireless operators have only promised deployments by the end of 2013. According to Heavy Reading , the network won't be mainstream until 2015 or later. (See Verizon Working on LTE-Advanced Standards.)
Most of the talk this year is around "LTE-Advance readiness," says Heavy Reading analyst Tim Kridel. Clearwire LLC (Nasdaq: CLWR) started that trend last year. But being "ready" for the network doesn't mean much, because all base stations are upgradable to LTE-Advanced. (See Clearwire's LTE TDD Buddy System.)
"The infrastructure part is not so difficult," adds Mike Barrick, business development manager for Anritsu's wireless portfolio. "Building carrier aggregation into chipsets and devices is much more difficult."
One of the biggest holdups there is that Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM) is currently the only chipset vendor to have publically announced a chip that supports carrier aggregation, the Gobi platform, and it won't start sampling until the end of the year. Other chipset vendors are scrambling to have their own offerings by that point as well. (See Qualcomm's New LTE Chip Supports Multiple Bands.)
Right now the operators are just taking baby steps to get ready when the devices are. Features of the network will be rolled out at very different rates depending on the needs of each particular operator, Wright says. Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S), for example, has specific spectrum holding challenges with its various networks and will need to adopt carrier aggregation early on. (See Sprint Plans LTE-Advanced Launch in 2013 and Sprint Sets Due Date for iDEN's LTE Rebirth .)
"But that doesn’t mean they’ll have a category 8 device that supports 3 gigabytes per second," Wright says of Sprint. "You'll see bits and pieces rolling out over the next few years, and the marketing people making the most of LTE-Advanced, talking about throughput numbers and so on that have very little to do with what's going on with real-world deployments."
Smartphones will be a stretch for LTE-Advanced, at least in the early going. That's primarily because more than 1GB speeds just aren't necessary on phones, Wright says, regardless of what marketing may suggest. Devices that get 300 Mbit/s max on the downlink and 50- to 100Mbit/s on uplink will be far more common. The first LTE-A devices won't debut until 2014 either, Heavy Reading's Kridel adds, but operators will be talking up the feeds and speeds long before then. (See HR: LTE-A Will Add to Mobile Broadband Confusion and What We Mean When We Say '4G'.)
"[LTE-Advanced] is an arms race," Kridel says. "It's one of those things where everyone will do it eventually, and if you're first to market, maybe you can grab people you may not otherwise get as customers, or lock up existing customers."
— Sarah Reedy, Senior Reporter, Light Reading Mobile