Why You Should Care About LTE-Advanced (Eventually)
It's Sunday night, Feb. 1, 2015; you're in the Ding Dong Lounge in New York City.
All around you people are hunched over their smartphones and tablets sending out videos, tweets and texts about that Superbowl-winning touchdown. The same scene is playing out in bars and restaurants down the street and across the city.
The 4G network you are connected to, however, doesn't slow down much or fall over with all the additional data being sent over the air.
That is the real promise of LTE-Advanced for carriers and -- eventually -- users too: the ability to offer a more reliable and consistent experience over 4G. It won't come quickly, easily or cheaply though.
The LTE-Advanced specification was fully defined by the 3GPP in April 2011 as part of Release 10 of the 4G spec. Along with WiMAX 2, LTE-Advanced was originally considered the first true fourth generation (4G) by the ITU because, in theory anyway, it met the conditions of maximum downlink speeds of 100Mbit/s when a user is on the move and up to 1Gbit/s for stationary downloads.
Carriers around the world are unlikely to achieve those kinds of speeds even when all the hardware and software pieces are actually in place. This is because achieving these speeds could require up to 100MHz in linked channels, which is just not feasible for many operators round the world.
LTE-Advanced will offer a data speed increase over current LTE networks by deploying upgrades at the radio access network (RAN) and handset. These include:
- Carrier aggregation techniques that bond together two or more separate radio channels for more speed and capacity
- Multiple input, multiple output (MIMO) antenna arrays of 2x2 or more on the devices and infrastructure for faster uplink and downlinks
- Relay nodes, low power radios that will provide improved coverage and capacity at the cell edge of the network
As the 3GPP says LTE-Advanced is about supporting an "increased number of simultaneously active subscribers" on the network as well.
This is important -- consider that IDC predicts that LTE traffic will grow 207 percent in 2013. Factor in all the new smartphones, tablets and machine-to-machine devices coming and you can see that planning ahead for capacity and coverage density is just as important as speed, if not more so.
Hence, carriers like T-Mobile USA are getting in on the ground floor with networks that might be considered LTE-Advanced ready rather than full-blown LTE-Advanced right now.
Vendors like Broadcom Corp. have started to unveil LTE-Advanced modems for phones that support features like carrier aggregation in the last month or so that will go into commercial production in 2014. Though 2x2 MIMO antenna arrays are not uncommon on devices, larger arrays and bigger modems all start to become device size and battery concerns. So like LTE, laptops and data dongles are likely to be the first to get LTE-Advanced capabilities.
As you see, it will likely be sometime next year -- at the earliest -- before we get many affordable devices that can support LTE-Advanced and operators will need to build out network density as part of the march toward Advanced.
This should clue you in to something else as well. LTE-Advanced makes sense in a city where operators are supporting large and sometimes unpredictable flows of users and traffic. It may not make much financial sense to add more density to rural parts of the network.
So, LTE-Advanced probably won't be trickling down to Monowi, Neb. any time soon.
— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Light Reading Mobile