LTE-Advanced Pro was ratified in March 2016, making it possible to achieve gigabit download speed theoretically. Gigabit LTE with its three defining technologies of 4X4MIMO, 256QAM, and 3+ carrier aggregation (CA) with a minimum aggregated bandwidth of 60 MHz addresses many of the pressing issues facing mobile operators today. This is because, even though theoretical speeds are never realized in real-world conditions, peak speeds of 300 Mbps have been reported compared with the 10 Mbps on LTE networks today. Increased speeds alone ease network congestion. Add to that the spectral efficiency of MIMO technology and the software upgrade to 256 QAM, and operators can gain substantial improvement in usage of resources and managing network congestion. As consumers continue to use more mobile broadband data for a variety of services, such as live streaming of high-quality video or the use of augmented reality (AR)/virtual reality (VR) devices, upgrading the RAN to support these services will be essential. One of the main reasons that network congestion is a concern for operators is that competition is driving them to offer unlimited data plans in mature telco economies. In other regions, and especially in developing economies, few operators can offer unlimited data, although many are taking steps in this direction by increasing the current data caps.
Even though Gigabit LTE requires a minimum of 60 MHz bandwidth, operators that are unable to use licensed spectrum can also leverage unlicensed spectrum via Licensed-Assisted Access (LAA) technology ratified in the same 3GPP release. LAA is currently based on the 5 GHz unlicensed spectrum, but the availability of unlicensed spectrum above 6 GHz makes this solution viable in the long term. The wide availability of unlicensed spectrum can make gigabit LTE deployable over the next year by 90% of the world’s operators with just 10 MHz of licensed spectrum.
Developments in the vendor ecosystem are critical to support the proliferation of Gigabit LTE services and devices because successful devices drive network commercialization. A Gigabit LTE service requires Gigabit LTE and a Gigabit LTE device. Today, there are approximately 16 Gigabit LTE devices, including 11 flagship smartphones, commercially available. However, because Gigabit LTE devices contain a 4X4 MIMO antenna as well, there is an overall improvement in network performance when Gigabit LTE devices are used, even if the network does not support all three technologies, and enhancements trickle down to all users.
Gigabit LTE devices today include smartphones and cellular hotspot router modems, and the list is expanding to include VR gear and computing devices, such as tablets, in the near future. Most major smartphone manufacturers have launched Gigabit LTE smartphones, including Sony, Samsung, HTC, LH, Sharp, and Huawei. There are three Gigabit LTE mobile system-on-chip (SoC) vendors today: Qualcomm with its Snapdragon 835, HiSilicon’s Kirin 970, and Samsung’s Exynos 8895. To support the proliferation of Gigabit LTE globally, however, chipsets from other vendors, such as Intel, MediaTek, and Spreadtrum Communications, are essential to drive adoption among high-end and mid-tier phones.
Finally, the option to deploy 5G in a non-standalone mode with LTE as an anchor will be an essential and the most favorable deployment scenario for the launch of 5G networks in the 2019 to 2020 time-frame. To support this scenario, Gigabit LTE would be essential for a consistent blanket of high-speed connectivity in areas outside of 5G coverage. Gigabit LTE is, therefore, essential to meet network challenges today, as well as support 5G opportunities in the future.
ABI Research’s article, Gigabit LTE: Creating a consistent mobile broadband fabric before 5G, provides a brief overview of key advantages of Gigabit LTE, Gigabit LTE subscription forecasts, and the higher data caps enabled by Gigabit LTE.