We won’t see it until 2013, but the test in Sweden shows what’s coming for the fourth generatio wireless technology

Ericsson’s LTE Advanced demo hits almost 1Gbps

FRAMINGHAM, Mass. — If you’re impressed with the current generation of LTE (Long Term Evolution) services offered in several countries and soom coming to Canada, wait until you get a load of LTE Advanced.

Ericsson LM announced Tuesday that it has conducted a demonstration of LTE Advanced technology in Sweden that saw speeds peak at just under 1Gbps. That marks a tenfold increase over the peak speeds of current LTE networks. Ericsson says that the first commercial LTE Advanced services will up and running in 2013.

The current version of LTE is essentially a bridge from 3G technologies such as HSPA [offered here by BCE Inc.'s Bell Canada, Rogers Communications, Telus Corp., Wind Mobile, Videotron, Mobilicity, MTS Allstream and SaskTel]  to the 4G IMT-Advanced technologies that the International Telecommunications Union has said will support average speeds up to 100Mbps. LTE Advanced gained final approval for use from major handset manufacturers this past winter at the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) conference in Taiwan. Japanese carrier NTT DoCoMo also tested out LTE Advanced earlier this year and similarly achieved peak data rates in the 1Gbps range.

Verizon Wireless became the first American carrier to commercially deploy the first generation of LTE technology last year when it launched services in 38 major markets covering roughly one-third of the U.S. population. This year, Verizon has expanded its LTE network to several markets in the South, Midwest and the West Coast. The carrier plans to have its entire current 3G footprint upgraded to LTE by the end of 2013.

AT&T plans to start offering its own LTE services commercially this summer, although its initial launch will be smaller than Verizon’s as it will only cover Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio. AT&T plans on covering at least 10 additional major markets by the end of the year, thus creating an LTE network that the company claims will cover 70 million Americans.

Meanwhile Bell and Rogers plan to start LTE service in select Canadian cities by the end of the year, with Telus joining them early next year. AT&T so far has waited patiently to get its LTE network up and running, as the carrier has consistently tried to get more mileage through upgrading its current HSPA+ network. But while HSPA+ does deliver significantly higher speeds than legacy HSPA or EV-DO Rev. A 3G networks, it is simply no match for LTE as a mobile broadband technology.

A test released this year by PC World showed that Verizon’s LTE laptop air cards provided average download speeds of 6.5Mbps and average upload speeds of 5Mbps, while HSPA+ networks such as those used by AT&T and T-Mobile delivered download speeds in the 2Mbps to 4Mbps range.

Mikael Ricknäs of  IDG News Service reported from Stockholm that the demonstration for regulators there was the first time Ericsson showcased LTE Advanced functionality such as carrier aggregation over the air, using spectrum it had borrowed from the Swedish regulator PTS, in a mobile environment, the company said.

The easiest way to increase mobile broadband speeds is to use wider channels, Ricknais writes. But spectrum is a limited resource, so the telecom industry has had to come up with a solution that circumvents that reality, and that is carrier aggregation. The technology allows operators to bunch together spectrum in different bands and use them as one data link.

The Ericsson demonstration used three channels at 20MHz each and recorded download speeds at up to about 940M bps (bits per second). That is three times as much spectrum as the current generation of LTE needs to perform at its best, which is about 80M bps. A recent test of TeliaSonera’s network in Stockholm topped out at 84.5M bps.

Ericsson invited regulators to show what is possible when enough spectrum is made available and also to highlight the need for spectrum harmonization, the company said.

Swedish regulator PTS wants to encourage local operators to use carrier aggregation, which it has done by making spectrum licenses neutral, according to Urban Landmark, head of its spectrum department and one of the attendees at Ericsson’s demonstration. The Swedish government wants 85 percent to 90 percent of all households and businesses to have access to at least 100M bps by 2020 and that won’t be possible unless operators can use technologies such as carrier aggregations, Landmark said.

However, just using carrier aggregation isn’t enough to get mobile network download speeds close to 1,000M bps. The Ericsson demonstration also used multiple-input, multiple-output (MIMO) functionality, a technology that increases download speeds by sending data using multiple antenna — in this case, eight antennas in both the base station and on the user equipment. To what extent vendors are able to implement that on devices remains to be seen, but it will be easier on tablets and laptops compared to smartphones because of the increased real estate.
 
(With adds from Network World Canada)
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