LTE-Advanced and beyond

02 September 2013 |


Long Term Evolution Advanced, or LTE-A, is the latest standard in 4G mobile network technology, designed to offer 4G customers faster and more advanced data download and upload speeds.

Despite the fact that many countries worldwide are only just rolling out 4G services, LTE-A is the bigger and better next-generation technology waiting in the wings.

This speed of LTE-A is said to be obtained through a combination of processor technology – which brings together bandwidths from a number of different broadcast frequencies – and the use of several extra antennae.

These extra antennae deliver greater power and enable mobile devices to cope with the extra streams they are receiving. Consequently, in the same way that 4G LTE uses more power than 3G, LTE-A technology will cause an even greater drain on batteries.

The 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) – the global custodian of mobile telephony standards up to and including LTE-A – began investigating LTE-A back in 2010, and released a report called "Requirements for Further Advancements for E-UTRA (LTE-Advanced)", which revealed key elements of the technology.

The report suggested that LTE-A should work alongside LTE, and each should be able to function on the other's network. It was also noted that LTE-A should accommodate geographically available spectrum for channels above 20MHz.

Where has it been rolled out?
SK Telecom has been making rapid progress with LTE-A, and in June launched what it claimed was the world's first LTE-A network.

The services were designed to offer network speeds of up to 150Mbps, and SK Telecom believes LTE-A has the capability to deliver services at twice the speed of existing 4G systems.

The highest speed estimated for 4G is thought to be 100Mbps, which is yet to have been reached on many networks, including those in the UK. Although it is unlikely that subscribers will initially experience 150Mbps speeds, SK Telecom believes the service will be fast enough to carry out full HD streaming, as well as group video chats with enhanced video and audio quality.

Existing smartphones do not have the capability to host 4G LTE-A, but in South Korea, Samsung has launched a dedicated version of its Galaxy S4 smartphone that includes a chip offering access to the 4G LTE-A network. SK Telecom expects another six 4G LTE-A-enabled phones to emerge before the end of 2013.

SK Telecom extended its 4G services via LTE-A to Canada and Switzerland in August this year, and has plans for further growth in several regions worldwide.

Which markets will be the next to adopt LTE-A?
Until August 29 2013, when Vodafone and O2 are set to launch rival 4G services, EE stands as the only UK operator running an LTE network.

Local reports have said that EE-installed equipment in East London is designed to equal the speeds being offered by SK Telecom’s LTE-A network.

Another player entering the LTE-A arena is Telstra, who partnered with Swedish vendor Ericsson in August, and later reported a successful LTE-A trial.

The trial was completed on combined 1800MHz and 900MHz spectrum bands but, unlike SK Telecom's LTE-A network, the trial was conducted on a commercial network, which Telstra claimed to be a world first.

Telstra used LTE-A carrier aggregation technology – earmarked by Ericsson as the next step for high-speed mobile broadband – to transfer data across its live network on a number of sites in the region.

Mike Wright, executive director of networks at Telstra said: "The capacity, higher data speeds and efficiencies provided by LTE-A will help manage growth in data traffic."

How will LTE-A develop?
How LTE-A will develop in the future looks uncertain. The 3GPP released a statement earlier this year attempting to clarify the meaning of LTE-A.

"3GPP recognises that in the marketplace a number of differing terms related to LTE are appearing. 3GPP reaffirms that the naming for the technology family and its evolution continues to be covered by the term LTE-Advanced," the group said.

                  


Market watchers have scoffed at the term LTE-B – which is emerging as the next logical step for LTE-A – stating that there is no official recognised LTE-B standard, and that it is simply "marketing blurb".

Ericsson, however, has a different opinion. Earlier this year, in a statement on the importance of LTE, it said: "The further evolution of LTE... is sometimes referred to as LTE-B. Work on [this] has now started."