While the 3GPP has designated all things from Releases 13 and 14 of its standards as Long Term Evolution-Advanced Pro (LTE-A Pro), the term does not seem to have excited industry marketeers. It is not as catchy as LTE-A, it is not as advanced as 5G and it is not easy to understand conceptually, as the features covered by Release 13 and (soon) Release 14 cover a variety of types of service and technology improvements.
Industry players are more interested in pushing their Gigabit LTE (which, make no mistake, is a big advance for the industry) or promoting their "nearly 5G" and Internet of Things (IoT) solutions. Where new network features are being introduced (for instance, 64 QAM in the uplink or License Assisted Access, LAA) these are either bundled up in operator and vendor announcements about next-generation network improvements or discussed in their own right without reference to LTE-A Pro.
But this does not mean nothing is happening. On the contrary, vendors and operators have been involved in dozens of field and commercial trials of technologies that will have a big impact on service delivery, such as LAA, aggregation of more than five carriers, new modulation techniques, improved beamforming and multiple input multiple output (MIMO) techniques and new IoT networks. Some commercial services have also begun to appear. The IoT standards enshrined in Release 13 (NB-IoT and LTE Cat-M1) are now both being deployed in live networks; a handful are now operational and many more are on the way. Selected operators have begun to introduce the technologies to enable advanced mobile broadband. The current state of the art is around 1Gbit/s downstream, but this will improve further as new end-user devices become available with the capability to cope with higher download and upload speeds.
2017 will be the year of LTE-A Pro. We expect many live network deployments of both IoT and advanced broadband technologies this year as vendors race to migrate their operator customers toward 5G and as operators both strive to stay one step ahead of their rivals in terms of the headline speeds they can promise to customers and strive to open up new enterprise and public sector market opportunities.
Heavy Reading's latest report, "LTE-Advanced Pro: Deployment Progress," reviews the state of LTE-A Pro technology development and deployment. It highlights the key networking features encapsulated by LTE-A Pro, and shows how far vendors and operators have got in terms of developing, trialing and, in some cases, deploying the technologies. It also profiles leading vendors, showing how far along they are with implementing Release 13 standard features in their technologies.
— Simon Sherrington, Contributing Analyst, Heavy Reading