Gigabit LTE is not 5G. It is a stepping stone on the way to bringing 5G to the masses. Gigabit LTE and LTE Advanced Pro introduce a number of new key technologies into the LTE system that will be relevant even with the arrival of 5G, while building on current 4G networks.

The growing push behind advances to the current LTE standard, designed to bolster network capacity and throughput towards the gigabit LTE territory, indicates that the industry is not ready to sit back and wait for 5G, and instead looks set to continue striving for higher-performing networks.

The numbers of subscribers to gigabit-capable LTE-Advanced Pro wireless services are estimated by ABI Research to reach 641 million in 2021. "LTE-Advanced Pro continues to bring substantial enhancements to the wireless network. Gigabit Class LTE, one of the high-speed downlink throughputs of LTE-Advanced Pro, changes the way mobile users interact with their devices. End users can now access cloud-based applications and stream 2K and 4K videos on the go. And operators can also benefit through better network utilization," said Lian Jye Su, senior analyst at ABI.

When these data speeds begin to arrive for a larger number of consumers, there will certainly be a lot more that we can do with our devices. Live 4K video streaming is an obvious enhancement, while 360-degree and virtual-reality video streaming also become realistic prospects while on the go. A 300-MB 4K video can be uploaded in just 30 seconds on this type of network, and a 32-minute 1080p video can be downloaded in its entirety in just 15 seconds with gigabit LTE. 60fps 1080p video calling also becomes a reality.

Gigabit LTE is not only about high peak speeds but also delivers more network capacity, which benefits all users. A Gigabit LTE mobile device gets the job done faster with the ability to allow more network resources to be available for
other users. In addition, the utilization of 4x4 MIMO within the mobile router Gigabit device, equipped with the modem, allows 4-way receive diversity. The 4-way receive diversity capability works to support improved data throughput throughout all areas of the LTE network including both the Gigabit-enabled areas as well as the other remaining LTE network areas.

One of the other interesting benefits of faster wireless networks is cloud storage that acts as a more meaningful extension of the device's physical storage. As well as consumer applications, the rollout of faster networks and these new technologies should also result in more reliable experiences. Additional capacity means that general browsing will be faster in heavily populated areas and connections should remain steady even during peak hours and mass gatherings.

There are approximately 120 LTE-Advanced Pro trials or commercial deployments. Australia's Telstra launched its Gigabit Class LTE service in January. Other deployments include AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile in the United States, NTT DoCoMo in Japan, and SK Telecom in South Korea. Although current smartphones do not yet support Gigabit LTE speed, mass device production is expected to occur later this year, as evident through the early Gigabit LTE smartphone announcements from several OEMs at Mobile World Congress 2017 in Barcelona at the end of February and beginning of March.

Australia Switches on the First Mobile Gigabit LTE Network in the World

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On January 31, 2017, Telstra previewed the future of mobile connectivity in Australia at an event with its technology partners Qualcomm, Netgear, and Ericsson. The service provider showcased the incredible customer experience a Gigabit Class LTE mobile device and network can deliver. A decade ago, Gigabit Class speeds on mobile networks could scarcely be imagined. They are soon becoming a reality with Telstra's Nighthawk M1 mobile broadband hotspot, which is the fastest mobile device in the world. It is going to help people further embrace a new breed of mobile applications and experiences including immersive virtual reality, connected cloud computing, and rich entertainment. And it brings the CSP one step closer to introducing 5G in Australia.

With Nighthawk M1, customers in select Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane CBD locations can download a typical 3.5-MB song in a fraction of a second, a 20-MB PowerPoint presentation in as little as one second, a 300-MB one-hour TV episode in as little as sixteen seconds, and a 3-GB HD movie in as little as 3 minutes.

Not only is this hotspot pushing mobile broadband technology to the limit in terms of speed, but it is also pushing the envelope when it comes to features. It can charge smartphones on the go and doubles as a media server for watching movies or storing large files. Business customers, who demand office-like bandwidth on the go to power increasingly mobile workforces and sophisticated cloud-based applications, would now not be disappointed.

March 8, 2017 – Sprint's Gigabit Class LTE in New Orleans Debuts

While NBA basketball fans filled Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, Sprint, Qualcomm, and Motorola Mobility debuted the first US deployment of Gigabit Class LTE live on a commercial network with a forthcoming flagship premium tier smartphone.

The Gigabit Class LTE service utilizes three-channel carrier aggregation and 60 MHz of Sprint's 2.5 GHz spectrum in combination with 4x4 MIMO (Multiple Input Multiple Output) and 256-QAM higher order modulation to achieve incredible Category 16 LTE download data speeds on a TDD network.

Motorola showcased the blazing-fast, high-bandwidth capability of a forthcoming flagship smartphone based on the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 mobile platform with an integrated Snapdragon X16 LTE modem, supporting Gigabit Class LTE.

"The lightning speeds of Gigabit Class LTE in the Snapdragon 835 mobile platform with X16 LTE can open up new applications and deliver new experiences to your mobile devices," said Mike Finley, senior vice president and president, Qualcomm North America, Qualcomm Technologies, Inc.

Sprint plans to use its 2.5 GHz spectrum to offer Gigabit Class LTE service in high-traffic locations across the country. This is part of Sprint's strategy to build a strong foundation for 5G by densifying its network with the addition of small cells and smart antennas. This will enable Sprint to offer 5G-like throughput experiences with Gigabit Class performance on the Sprint LTE Plus network, and meet future mobile broadband demand for higher data rates per person across a given geographic location. With Gigabit Class performance, Sprint customers may experience the latest generation of connectivity experiences, such as immersive 360-degree video and virtual reality, connected cloud computing, rich entertainment, and instant apps on the Sprint LTE Plus network.

"Only Sprint has enough licensed spectrum to deliver this level of capacity and performance in major markets across the country," said Dr John Saw, Sprint CTO, "Our high-band 2.5 GHz TDD LTE spectrum is uniquely suited for Gigabit Class LTE, and we fully intend to maximize our deep spectrum holdings to provide customers with more immersive and connected mobile experiences."

The roll-out of Gigabit Class LTE on the Sprint LTE Plus network requires a series of incremental upgrades beginning with three-channel carrier aggregation already available today in more than 100 markets. Next needed is Category 16 devices that support 4x4 MIMO and 256 QAM. Sprint plans to also utilize Massive MIMO, a key element of 5G, to further enhance capacity and coverage of its 2.5 GHz TDD-LTE spectrum. With Massive MIMO radios using 64T64R, Sprint has the ability to push capacity well beyond the 1Gbps barrier, reaching 3–6 Gbps per sector.

T-Mobile Launch across the US throughout the Course of 2017

T-Mobile at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona announced that they will be bringing Gigabit-capable 4G LTE across the United States during 2017. The nation will see network enhancements outlined in 3GPP Release 13 implemented.

T-Mobile has rolled out a nationwide 4G network over the last 18 months using Ericsson's Antenna-Integrated Radio (AIR), 4x4 MIMO, and 256 and 64 Quadrature Amplitude Modulation (QAM). Ericsson also provided T-Mobile with 700-MHz tuning and optimization.

T-Mobile will now combine these technologies with carrier aggregation in order to enable gigabit speeds across its LTE network during 2017, as well as utilising LTE-U – a mobile technology using unlicensed LTE spectrum to boost data speeds – to take those 1Gbps speeds to more areas.

"T-Mobile's LTE network is the most advanced in the US, and we'll continue to deploy the latest, global-leading technologies that will create the foundation of a powerful 5G network built for mobility," said T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray. The use of 4x4 MIMO increases peak rates twofold without needing additional spectrum, with QAM also increasing peak data rates.

Fifteen MNOs through 11 countries intend to launch or trial Gigabit LTE in 2017. It includes AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile in the US, and carriers such as KT and SK Telecom in South Korea. Telstra is definitely ahead of the curve having launched 600 MB speeds in 2015 and GB LTE rollout in February 2017.

What Gigabit LTE Means for the Telecom Industry

Gigabit LTE promises to bring many improvements to the telecom industry. A plethora of new GB LTE-ready hardware will be launching throughout 2017. Today, there are very few 44 MIMO smartphones in the market. Two of them are the Samsung GS7 and the Sony Xperia. Not just within smartphones, the industry will see seeding of GB LTE within drones, mobile routers, tablets, wearables, and much more. Look for GB LTE to change usage patterns and go much further than keeping up with increases within data and video consumption.
The technology will accelerate usage and applications within 4k 360-degree live streaming, AR, connected cars, and other applications still to be developed. Most importantly, Gigabit LTE will be the needed and robust fallback for 5G and its new applications and rollout.

Specifically, needed is:

  • 3-way Carrier Aggregation (3xCA). Since many carriers have a patchwork of spectrum, the ability to utilize multiple spectrum bands simultaneously is imperative.
  • 4x4 MIMO devices. MIMO refers to the transmission of multiple data signals simultaneously over the same channel via multipath propagation – difficult in small form factors where antennas are so close in proximity, but look for numerous 44 MIMO devices to launch in 2H17 in various form factors, the most important being smart phones.
  • 256-QAM.
  • lLean carrier. Increased throughput seen by subscribers as network interference caused by reference signaling across an LTE network.

To bring true Gigabit data transmission, it takes a great deal of cooperation and many, many months of collaboration amongst network infrastructure vendors, carriers, equipment OEMs, and chip vendors.

Forecasts by Telstra and Ericsson project that between today and full rollout of 5G, data usage averages are expected to grow from about
1 GB per month to 11 GB per
month – driven by the massive amounts of video being transmitted. This is 10 growth of mobile traffic over next 5 years. Past pure data consumption and speed, new use cases within IoT, smart cities, and assisted driving cars will provide ample pull for GB LTE.

What Gigabit LTE Means for the Carriers

From a carriers' perspective, Gigabit LTE is vital once 5G and its new applications begin to rollout. A strong performing LTE network will be vital as a robust fallback network or key experiences offered by 5G will be dreadful. Gigabit LTE has the potential to accelerate 5G rollout as it is a true stepping stone to 5G. 5G will probably witness an even quicker transition than that of 4G because carriers will be able to take advantage of both 4G and 5G networks with a layer of Gigabit coverage everywhere. For carriers, this means a more economical road to 5G. It will also not only bring out top speeds, but also bring up overall average speeds. In addition, as downloads will be able to peak, it will more quickly free up spectrum for other users. Less visible to subscribers but very important to carriers are other evolutions, which will be optimized with GB LTE including: video-over-LTE, voice-over-Wi-Fi, LTE broadcast, RCS, and better in-building coverage. And finally, with each generational network upgrade, carriers reap the benefits of lower cost of transmission per GB.

VR, the Cloud, and Reliability

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Virtual reality (VR) is tipped as the next big thing for mobile, and faster LTE is critical to bringing this type of data-heavy content to mobile devices. As well as allowing for faster downloads without wires, the lower latency of Gigabit LTE could allow for real-time VR content streaming and perhaps even the offloading of some processing into the cloud. Without a wired connection to high performance graphics hardware, this blazing-fast LTE could be used to bring PC-quality VR experiences to mobile over the air.

Flip of the Coin

Roughly, a million and a half homes could support a 1Gbps fixed line service on the NBN Co. Limited, Australia, but retail service providers (RSPs) are yet to launch commercial services. The network builder has offered a wholesale 1Gbps product since 2013. Several RSPs – Telstra, Optus, and TPG – have been trialing 1Gbps services over the past year.

The number of test services fluctuates each quarter. In the last quarter ended December 31, there were 17 test services operating, including two with a new unknown entrant.

NBN Co. CEO Bill Morrow said he could only presume there still isn't enough demand among consumers to make a 1Gbps service commercially attractive. "We have a product that we can offer the retailers should they want to sell it. A couple of retailers have signed up to our trial base where they're looking at what a 1Gbps service might look like but they have chosen not to offer it to consumers. I presume there isn't that big a demand out there for them to actually develop a product to sell to those end users," he maintains.

Morrow said NBN Co. had "scoured the planet" to talk to other carriers that had successfully launched 1Gbps products into the market, and that had secured end-customer sales. "We asked the question has anyone actually used that amount of bandwidth?' and the answer was unanimously no," Morrow said, "There aren't that many applications that warrant much above the products that are being sold at NBN today. We know there are things on the horizon that are going to increase the need for demand. All of these could drive up consumer need, but we haven't seen it as yet!"


 

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