SK Telecom, Samsung Turn on Tri-Band LTE-A

Samsung and SK Telecom are making significant strides on the road to 5G, closing out the year with the first tri-mode LTE-Advanced network commercially available and a smartphone to support it.

SK Telecom (Nasdaq: SKM) began offering commercial tri-band LTE-Advanced service today, marking a world's first deployment. At the same time, Samsung Corp. has launched what it is calling the "world’s first commercially available LTE Advanced (LTE-A) Tri-Band Carrier Aggregation smartphone" in the Galaxy Note 4, which will be available to SK Telecom customers beta testing the new network.

LTE-Advanced is an important step in network evolution as carriers begin to work towards 5G, an evolution that will include a laundry list of network upgrades such as carrier aggregation, multiple input multiple output (MIMO) antennas and support for heterogeneous networks, among other upgrades. Carrier aggregation -- bonding together disparate spectrum bands for faster speeds and capacity -- is typically the most common initial LTE-Advanced upgrade carriers make. Features of the next-generation network are already deployed by 21 operators across the globe. (See LTE-A Now Live on More Than 20 Networks and Why You Should Care About LTE-Advanced (Eventually).)

Results of a recent Light Reading poll suggest that consumers aren't feeling the affects of LTE-Advanced upgrades yet, but that could be due to a lack of compatible handsets and base stations and the fact that upgrades have been done on a market-by-market basis. Samsung and SK Telecom are taking the first big steps to change that too, at least in South Korea. (See Poll: LTE-Advanced Not Yet Having an Impact .)

For more on the road to 5G, peruse the dedicated 5G content section on Light Reading.

SK Telecom, ever the first mover in wireless advances, says its tri-band LTE-Advanced service combines frequency bands of 20MHz in the 1.8GHz band, 10MHz in 800MHz and 10MHz in 2.1GHz, offering peak speeds of 300Mbps. Previously, SK Telecom had launched service on two aggregated frequency bands -- 1.8GHz and 800MHz -- but this is the first time it has combined three. (See SK Telecom, Samsung Team Up on 5G R&D, SK Telecom Boosts LTE-Advanced to 225 Mbit/s and SKT Preps Superfast LTE Demo for MWC.)

The network is four times faster than LTE and 21 times faster than 3G, SK Telecom says. Put another way, a 1GB movie can be downloaded in 28 seconds. The carrier plans to add 2.1GHz to 26,000 of its base stations that already support 800MHz and 1.8GHz within the first quarter to support the tri-band LTE. (See SK Telecom Preps 3-Band LTE-Advanced.)

Meanwhile, SK Telecom partner Samsung is doing its part to help the push towards 5G by offering the first tri-band LTE-Advanced capable device. The handset maker says the Galaxy Note 4 S-LTE will be sold to a limited group of SK Telecom customers who will beta test the network as well as yet-to-be detailed services custom built for it. (See AT&T: LTE-A Devices Go Mainstream in 2015.)

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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