Telefónica Plots 5G Route Via 375Mbit/s 4G

BARCELONA -- Mobile World Congress -- Telefónica has unveiled plans to launch superfast 4G services by combining spectrum in three separate frequency bands as an interim step towards the development of a 5G standard.

Speaking to Light Reading at this week's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Telefónica Chief Technology Officer Enrique Blanco said the Spanish operator cannot wait for the emergence of 5G to solve various 4G problems, such as boosting throughput and reducing latency.

By combining 20MHz of 2.6GHz spectrum with another 20MHz of 1800MHz and 10MHz in the 800MHz band, Telefónica claims to have achieved peak download speeds of 375 Mbit/s over its "live" network in Barcelona, as well as peak upload speeds of 50 Mbit/s.

The announcement came just days after UK mobile operator EE made similar boasts about headline 4G speeds after aggregating two spectrum carriers in the 2.6GHz band with one at 1800MHz during trials carried out at London's Wembley Stadium. (See EE to Trial 400 Mbit/s 4G, eMBMS at Wembley.)

Carrier aggregation represents one of several LTE-Advanced technologies that operators are deploying to improve the capabilities of their 4G networks. Along with various other European players, Telefónica has already rolled out dual-band carrier aggregation, but services based on the use of three spectrum channels have yet to see commercial launch.

Telefónica has been trying out the three-band carrier-aggregation technology using Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. (Korea: SEC)'s Galaxy Note 4, one of the first of the "Cat 9" devices able to support such high connection speeds. It hopes to introduce the technology on a commercial basis pending the availability of spectrum and as other Cat 9 devices arrive in the market.

In Spain, that will mean using all of the frequencies it controls across the 800MHz, 1800MHz and 2.6GHz bands. In Barcelona and Madrid, Telefónica already claims to be able to offer speeds of up to 225 Mbit/s, having combined 20MHz of 2.6GHz spectrum with 10MHz in the 1800MHz band, but it is still working on the rollout of 4G in the 800MHz band.

Besides bringing 800MHz fully into use, it expects to extend its dual-band carrier-aggregation services into Spain's other major cities this year.

Unlike the UK's EE, however, Telefónica does not enjoy an airwaves advantage over its chief rivals. Both Orange Spain and Vodafone España S.A. control the same amount of spectrum in the 800MHz, 1800MHz and 2.6GHz bands and are likely to have similar ambitions on three-band carrier aggregation.

Table 1: Spectrum Holdings of Major Spanish Operators

800MHz 900MHz 1800MHz 2.1GHz 2.1GHz unpaired 2.6GHz 2.6GHz unpaired
Orange 2x10MHz 2x10MHz 2x20MHz 2x15MHz 5MHz 2x20MHz 10MHz
Telefónica 2x10MHz 2x14.8MHz 2x20MHz 2x14.8MHz 5MHz 2x20MHz
Vodafone 2x10MHz 2x11MHz 2x20MHz 2x14.8MHz 5MHz 2x20MHz 20MHz
Yoigo 2x15.8MHz 2x14.8MHz 5MHz
Source: European Communications Office

Even so, Blanco regards carrier aggregation as one of several means of making critical improvements to 4G while Telefónica works with other operators and vendors on the development of 5G technology. He expects to begin testing new 5G radio systems in 2017 and 2018 and reckons 5G could see commercial deployment as soon as 2019 or 2020.

Want to know more about 5G? Check out our 5G content channel here on Light Reading.

By that stage, virtualization of the radio access network will be a "fact," says Blanco, allowing Telefónica to allocate network resources far more efficiently than is currently possible.

Telefónica has emerged as something of a pioneer in the field of NFV and SDN and at last year's MWC set an objective of virtualizing 30% of all new platforms by 2016. (See Telefónica Unveils Aggressive NFV Plans.)

"We are moving a little bit faster than in the initial plan, and we are a little bit more ambitious," he said. "We are developing a virtual RAN with Alcatel-Lucent, and we think we can send a clear message to the industry about the benefits."

— Iain Morris, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, News Editor, Light Reading

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