10 Things You Need to Know About LTE-Advanced

Yesterday Japan’s DoCoMo said it would test an LTE-Advanced network that would accelerate bandwidth of currently deployed 4G Long Term Evolution networks to speeds of 1 Gigabit per second. This is fab, but LTE-Advanced, which would actually be an acceptable 4G wireless standard under the original ITU definition of 4G, has far more features than just speed. Here are 10 things you need to know about this emerging standard.

Unlike the original Long Term Evolution networks, which brought a 10x boost in mobile broadband speeds (actually, more if we’re getting technical), LTE-Advanced won’t be so much about speed (although it can deliver the goods if optimized), it’s about saving money. Yeah, I can hear the speed freaks groaning already, but wait, there’s more!

  1. LTE-Advanced is the next iteration of the Long Term Evolution Standard and can offer up to 1 Gbps speeds over a wireless signal for fixed mobile broadband on the download side and 100 Mbps for actual mobile broadband (like when you’re in your car or on a train.)
  2. On the uplink side it can offer up to 200 Mbps for fixed mobile broadband. this is good for sending your content and videos back up to the web.
  3. These theoretical speeds aren’t likely in the real world, because to deliver 1 Gbps speeds an operator would need 40 MHz of spectrum and 8×8 MIMO antenna solution, or about 100 MHz of spectrum without using MIMO, which is a lot of spectrum and eight antennas that would have to be crammed on both the base station and inside the device. However, because MIMO increases the capacity of the airwaves, it’s a question of when, not if operators will use it.
  4. MIMO, or Multiple-Input, Multiple-Output, is an antenna technology by which LTE-Advanced will boost its capacity. MIMO is a way operators can use multiple antennas to enable more users to share a network because MIMO provides a more granular way for carriers to slice up and allocate spectrum between devices and the base station.
  5. The future iterations of LTE will also be self optimizing and self-healing, meaning they will have the means to determine when a cell site goes down and be able to adapt to such a disruption. They will also be able to respond to changes in demand by taking corrective action such as adding power to a base stations or decreasing their radius of coverage.
  6. LTE-Advanced will also include support for operators that want to use multiple bands of spectrum in their network. For example, for faster 3G networks Ericsson (s eric) is helping T-Mobile and others use chunks of spectrum that aren’t next to one another to deliver the service. LTE-Advanced bakes that capability right into the spectrum. That’s a good thing, because for true gigabit wireless, operators will need lots of spectrum as I noted.
  7. The standard won’t only support spectrum diversity, it is also likely to support easier handoffs between different networks in later iterations, such as a seamless transition between 3G, 4G and even Wi-Fi. That helps operators offload traffic for users and provide better quality of service.
  8. LTE-Advanced will also boost capacity. The standard has the features mentioned above and others that will cram more bits into each hertz of spectrum, much like some Container Store associate can shove a truckload of goods into a $2,000 set of plastic shelves. That kind of cramming means it’s cheaper to send your emails, videos, photos and whatnot over mobile broadband networks and will enable carriers to keep up with growing data demand without going into the red.
  9. On the backhaul side, the standard allows for some over-the-air backhaul via a macrocell or other base station, which doesn’t improve speeds or the number of bits one can cram into a megahertz, but should help operators reduce the cost of laying additional fiber or other circuits for backhaul.
  10. The standard should be approved this year in March. By the end of 2013 through 2015 gear makers will start adding LTE-Advanced features to their products. But it will be 2017 or 2018 before operators will start deploying it widely in end-user devices according to telecommunications equipment makers. There will also be continual upgrades to the standard which adds new features.

So there’s more than speed under the hood, and for operators facing more users and straining to keep profits up, this is good news.

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