With spectrum and data speed equating to customer retention, channel aggregation must seem like manna from heaven to carriers. Speeds have always been restricted in part by the amount of contiguous spectrum available.
Alex Jinsung Choi, head of ICT R&D Division at SK Telecom, said in a press release that LTE can only offer up to 150 Mbps of speed using a maximum of 20 megahertz of continuous spectrum in one band, while LTE-Advanced can support speeds over 150 Mbps by combining different bands through carrier aggregation.
However, the roll out of Release 10 of the 3rd Generation Partnership Project’s LTE standard changes all that. Now, intra-band, inter-band and non-contiguous spectrum can be aggregated into one virtual pipe, allowing efficient use of fragmented spectrum, and it can be used for both FDD and TDD.
LTE-Advanced, specified in Release 10 of the LTE standard, supports up to five carriers up to total aggregate bandwidth of 100 megahertz of spectrum. Now that’s a big pipe!
SK Telecom Develops LTE-Advanced 3-band Carrier Aggregation
Uber-cutting-edge carrier SK Telecom plans to demonstrate LTE-Advanced by aggregating three bands at Mobile World Congress 2014, Feb. 24-27, in Barcelona, Spain. The carrier aggregation technology demonstration will combine three 20-megahertz channels to offer speeds of up to 450 Mbps.
The Barcelona demonstration is only the latest in a rapid-fire string of new LTE-Advanced features at SK Telecom since last June. On Jan. 20, a wireless system was unveiled by the carrier that aggregates a 20-megahertz band and two 10-megahertz bands and supports speeds of up to 300 Mbps. Once the related chipset and devices are developed, the technology is expected to go commercial by the end of 2014.
In November 2013, SK Telecom demonstrated an LTE-Advanced service that offered up to 225 Mbps by aggregating a bandwidth of 20 megahertz in 1.8 GHz band and a 10-megahertz channel at 800 MHz. It expects to launch a commercial 20+10 system in the second half of 2014.
In August 2013, the carrier was authorized to operate a system using a 20-megahertz downlink and a 15- megahertz uplink in the 1.8 GHz band; and in June, it launched an LTE-Advanced service using a 10-megahertz channel in the 1.8 GHz band and a 10-megahertz channel in the 800 MHz band.
By Ernest Worthman…
LTE usage is picking up speed in some places but not others and the mobile data reports point out some interesting discrepancies.
For example, in South Korea, today, one out of every two mobile subscribers now has an LTE device, according to a report from GSMA Intelligence. However, there is an interesting anomaly in this data. As it turns out, only 4G phones are showing an uptick in data usage. In this same report, Korean 4G users have doubled the data usage but 3G data users remain static. This is an interesting statistic. South Korea has 100 percent of its population is under the 4G umbrella. So, why is 3G data flat and not decreasing?
The answer may surprise you. 3G data services do not have nearly the data speed and efficiency of 4G and LTE. 4G is much better at steaming video and other high-bandwidth applications, for example, than 3G. 4G also integrates the latest compression technologies which are much more data friendly and bandwidth efficient, which translates into a much more satisfying customer experience when it comes to data. Some analyst think that the still cumbersome issue of not having seamless, ubiquitous Wi-Fi roaming and slower 3G data rates has 4G users opting for the simpler and seamless data roaming on the 4G network. Similar results are being seen in other countries as well.
That makes sense, but there are some glitches. For example, the U.K and some other European countries aren’t seeing the data rate skyrocket on with 4G devices on their LTE networks. No one is quite sure why, but there seems to be a correlation between data plans and price points. Not every country is in free fall with data plan rates and it seems that some users are choosing to put up with older data plans and some of their short comings to keep the costs down.
But there is traction. In more established markets, LTE operators are starting to reduce the price for existing LTE services to jump start the transition, and start to recover costs. France is leading the charge by pricing its LTE services at the same level as 3G data. Additionally a number of operators, worldwide, have introduced selective price discounts or bundles as part of a LTE promotion.
Examples of LTE promotions include: Paraguay – a 50 percent price reduction in LTE tariffs; Telefonica (Germany) – a 40 percent price reduction for entry level pricing (for the first 12 months of a 24 month contract term); Telekom (Germany) – a discount off the monthly fee plus a three month free period for the music streaming option; Vodafone (UK) – an option to subscribe to either Spotify Premium or Sky Sports Mobile with a 4G contract, with a free period ranging from six months up to 24 months (depending on the 4G package subscription).
The Q4-13 Global LTE Pricing Tariff Tracker also segments LTE pricing (for Post Pay LTE for PC or laptop connectivity) into six main geographical regions around the world. It finds that average LTE pricing in the EU is now USD $34.89 per month (with an average monthly data allowance of almost 20 GB) and is the lowest of the six regions surveyed by TCL.
Pricing for LTE services continues to develop rapidly. And operators are now experimenting with the bundling of additional content (e.g. music or mobile TV) with LTE 4G services in order to attract new users as an alternative to price discounting into 2014.
This was the most dynamic year that T-Mobile has had in a long time, Jim Alling, T-Mobile COO, told the UBS 41st Annual Global Media and Communications Conference, Dec. 11, in New York City.
T-Mobile now covers 203 million pops with LTE, which is an immense change from the start of the year when it could not even be measured.
“We moved from not having a presence in 4G LTE to nationwide coverage by the end of the third quarter,” Alling said. “That was well ahead of our plans. We did not think we could achieve that until the end of this year. We are continuing to build upon that footprint.”
A lot of work was done in 2012 on the quality of T-Mobile’s backhaul, which allowed T-Mobile to move more rapidly with its LTE build out.
“We put ourselves in the position to take advantage of some of the spectrum that we have picked up, as well as pair up the contiguous spectrum that MetroPCS brought to the party,” Alling said.
As 2013 comes to a close, T-Mobile will be operating on 10 megahertz by 10 megahertz spectrum blocks in more than 40 major markets, including New York and Los Angeles. Additionally, more than 250 metro areas will be operational with T-Mobile’s LTE equipment at yearend.
On top of that, T-Mobile has launched 20 megahertz by 20 megahertz LTE on more than 100 sites in North Dallas, portending the roll out of more systems in 2014.
“Customers in this area are seeing fantastic performance, and all LTE devices in customers’ hands today can benefit as we continue to expand 20 megahertz by 20 megahertz LTE,” Alling said. “It’s not like we have covered the market, but where we do have it, we are seeing download speeds of 150 Mbps and uplink speeds of 47 Mbps.”
T-Mobile will be rolling out 20 megahertz by 20 megahertz in 2014, but it must first refarm some of its existing spectrum and some frequencies that it obtained in the MetroPCS deal. Alling expects the carrier to complete the 20 megahertz by 20 megahertz deployment in 2015.
Athena Wireless Communications has launched Pixie, an LTE small cell platform complete with field-proven, fully-functional eNodeB software. The Athena Pixie enables OEMs and system integrators to create differentiated LTE small cell solutions in a shorter time and at a lower cost.
Pixie is available in a 6 inch by 6 inch indoor ceiling-mount package, a rugged 8 inch by 8 inch outdoor case with optional integrated backhaul, or as a 5.4 inch by 5.4 inch by 1.5 inch PCB assembly for integration into OEM products and solutions. The design incorporates independent, pluggable RF modules, providing for output power options from 50 mW to 2 watt, FDD or TDD duplexing, and frequency bands ranging from 700 MHz to 2600 MHz, all with full MIMO support. Ultra low power consumption enables power-over-Ethernet for Enterprise applications, and battery-powered man-packs, vehicles or aircraft for tactical Military applications.
In addition to a complete, fully-functional eNodeB software stack, Pixie also includes well-defined APIs that enable OEMs to easily integrate their existing algorithms, parameters and proprietary interfaces onto the platform. Pixie APIs include interfaces for management (OAM) and self-organizing networks (SON) servers, as well as for customizing key eNodeB parameters such as admission control, scheduler, handovers, quality-of-service (QoS) and more. The result is a differentiated LTE small cell solution that has feature parity and full compatibility with existing OEM macro cell solutions.
Athena has made available a Pilot version of Pixie to several OEM and System Integrator partners since June 2013. The company has also demonstrated over-the-air interoperability with dozens of LTE devices and S1/X2 interoperability, including handovers, with several major Enhanced Packet Core (EPC) vendors.
It hasn’t been easy, but Sprint believes it has turned the corner in its efforts to modernize its network. The carrier is now on track to achieve 200 million LTE-covered pops by the end of the year, officials said during the third quarter earnings call. The carrier currently has more than 26,000 Network Vision sites on air compared with more than 20,000 reported in second quarter results.
Dan Hesse, Sprint CEO, joked that the Network Vision project is like the last pig’s brick house in the “Three Little Pigs” fable.
“It has been a very complex undertaking,” he said. “It has been very hard work to take down the Nextel network and rip out and replace the entire Sprint 3G network. We are finally turning the corner on this massive project and can see the light at the end of the tunnel.” Hesse added that the carrier will experience Network Vision construction pressures until mid-2014.
Network Vision is a flexible platform that is capable of running LTE in three spectrum bands with the network architecture to add more frequencies in the future.
Steve Elfman, Sprint president, network, technology and operations, said that construction is complete or underway on more than 35,000 sites, which is 90 percent of the carrier’s sites. LTE has been launched in 230 markets so far.
Sprint’s plan to build a multi-band LTE network includes the 1.9 GHz band, overlaid by 800 MHz and 2.5 GHz frequencies. Modernization of the 1.9 GHz network is expected to be completed by mid-2014.
“We expect to use a capital efficient mix of various bands depending on geography and capacity needs,” Elfman said.
Sprint continues to free up 800 MHz frequencies following the Nextel shutdown, which improves network performance. The carrier began voice service on the 800 MHz band in the first quarter and now has sites on the air in two-thirds of its markets.
“We also have 40 percent of our customer base using 800 MHz voice-capable handsets,” Elfman said. “We are starting to turn up 800 MHz LTE radios in markets where we have spectrum rebanding complete.”
The third layer of the network will be 2.5 GHz spectrum, which Sprint acquired from Clearwire. It will be deployed in urban markets initially. Sprint expects to cover 100 million pops with 2.5 GHz by the end of 2014.
“Our approach will be to densify the urban markets first to get the speed and capacity in those areas, eventually moving nationwide,” Elfman said. “We plan to be very aggressive next year in our [2.5 GHz] deployment, not only with our Clearwire build but with our own sites, macro and smaller.”
Sprint Spark Springs Forward
Late in October, Hesse announced the future rollout of “Sprint Spark,” which will be capable 50-60 megabits per second peak speeds today with the potential of more than 2 gigabits per second per sector of over-the-air speed.
Sprint plans to deploy Sprint Spark in about 100 of top metro areas during the next three years, with initial availability are New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Tampa and Miami. Sprint expects to cover 100 million pops with Sprint Spark by the end of 2014.
Sprint Spark achieves its speed by combining 4G FDD1-LTE at 800 MHz and 1.9 GHz and TDD1-LTE at 2.5 GHz spectrum, TDD-LTE technology (2.5GHz), and carrier aggregation in the 2.5GHz band. These spectrum assets, technology and architecture are designed to deliver a seamless customer experience via tri-band wireless devices. The tri-band devices will support active hand offs between 800 MHz, 1.9 GHz and 2.5 GHz, allowing data session continuity as the device moves between spectrum bands.
The first smartphones with Sprint Spark capability are scheduled for customer availability this month.