Gigabit wireless begins to take hold
Separate from Verizon’s announcement, several other carriers around the world recently announced LTE services that they call gigabit LTE. Most of these don’t quite reach 1 Gbps, but they’re all very close.
Part of the impetus to evolve to 5G wireless technology is the requirement to boost throughputs from the hundreds of megabits per second (Mbps) that are becoming characteristic of 4G networks to multiple gigabits per second (Gbps). The thing is that 4G technologies are still being refined, and some of those refinements are enabling throughputs approaching and just exceeding 1 Gbps.
Equipment vendors in 2016 began introducing products that would enable gigabit LTE, also called LTE Advanced Pro and 4.5G.
The introduction of gigabit 4G is not going to forestall 5G, nor was ever meant to. If anything, gigabit 4G will give carriers the ability to evolve their networks in a step-by-step fashion toward 5G. If there’s a technology issue associated with the existence of gigabit LTE, it’s how long any carrier will decide to rest at that step.
There’s certainly an issue with how the evolution is being marketed. Recall that 5G standards are still being worked on. Verizon, for one, has been calling its imminent fixed wireless service based on 4G gigabit technology both pre-5G and 5G. And if that’s confusing, Verizon isn’t working hard to allay the confusion.
With its recent 1 Gbps 4G demo, Verizon used Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon X20 LTE Modem (upon which they based a mobile test device) and Ericsson’s Radio System and LTE software. The demo relied on 4×4 MIMO (multiple input, multiple output) technology and 256 QAM (quadrature amplitude modulation) carriers. Twelve of these LTE streams were ganged to reach an aggregate speed of 1.07 Gbps. According to Verizon, said this technology would “allow for up to 20 percent increase in peak data rates and capacity with a corresponding improvement in average speeds.”
Regarding the spectrum used, Verizon said only that the trial used three bands of 20 MHz FDD spectrum, and that all spectrum was in licensed bands.
Earlier in August, the same three partners said they’d managed 953 Mbps using another variation on the LTE theme called Licensed Assisted Access (LAA), designed specifically for use in unlicensed bands. That test involved part of Ericsson’s Radio System portfolio designed specifically for LAA, a different Snapdragon device from Qualcomm (the 835), but similarly relied on 4×4 MIMO, 256 QAM, and bundling multiple channels.
At the end of last week, China Unicom commercially launched its gigabit LTE network. The launch included a ceremony that passengers on the Hainan Island high-speed train could watch by streaming it through the network itself. The carrier and its key supplier, Ericsson, note that peak speeds are only 979 Mbps. No one seems to be quibbling over the two-tenths of a percent shy of gigabit.
In Belgium, Proximus is serving parts of seven cities with gigabit 4G, and earlier this month reported it intends to begin expanding coverage significantly. Proximus is using infrastructure from Huawei, and phones based on Qualcomm Snapdragon processors.
Also earlier this month, Liberty Global property C&W Communications, which operates in Central and South America, including in the Caribbean, said it has trialed gigabit LTE in Antigua and Barbuda using equipment from Ericsson.
Brian Santo has been writing about science and technology for over 30 years, covering cable networks, broadband, wireless, the Internet of things, T&M, semiconductors, consumer electronics, and more.