LTE deployment continues: All the world is not 5G

-July 13, 2017

Hardly a day goes by that I don't hear hype relating to 5G. Indeed, the theme of this year's IEEE Microwave Symposium was "5G: Catch the wave" and 5G summits seem to take place monthly. Much of the 5G technology and technical standards are still in development, but that doesn't mean that wireless carriers are sitting around waiting for it. There's plenty of activity on the 4G/LTE front. Carriers are still bringing flavors of LTE online and the test industry is responding.

Although LTE deployment began in 2011, it's far from complete. LTE-Advanced and now LTE-Advanced Pro are maximizing speed and connectivity in LTE networks.

Recently, I've run across new products aimed at testing LTE and have even been personally disrupted when my wireless carrier changed its U1900 band from 4G to LTE. The result: my data rates dropped to 2G speed (about 80 kb/s), forcing me to upgrade my iPhone 4S. Fortunately, my carrier gave me 50% off the cost of an iPhone SE. The 4G-to-LTE transition is part of T-Mobile's $51-billion upgrade to keep the carrier competitive.

On July 3, GL Communications—a manufacturer of wired and wireless telecom testers—announced that it had upgraded its software for the company's LTE tester to test the LTE X2-AP application interface (Figure 1). The X2 interface handles communications between adjacent eNodeBs. The X2-AP interface is used for handing calls from one eNodeB to another.

LTE map GL Communications
Figure 1. The X2-AP application interface lets LTE nodes communicate with each other. Source: GL Communications.

This week, Anritsu announced new hardware and software for its MD8475B base-station simulator (Figure 2). Aimed at the physical layer, this instrument tests 4x4 MIMO with 256QAM high-order modulation and four-component carrier aggregation.

Anritsu MD8475B cellular base-station simulator

Figure 2. The Anritsu MD8475B tests 4x4 MIMO using 256 QAM modulation. Source, Anritsu.

Because the so-called Internet of Things (more hype) is coming, engineers, developers, and even makers are adding wireless modules that bring connectivity to many devices. To serve that market, Telit in June made two announcements for LTE modules.

On June 3, the company announced the LE910-NA1, which the company says is certified by T-Mobile to operate on its LTE network. The module adds low-speed (64 kbps) data connectivity to embedded devices on the T-Mobile network for $20/month. As with cell phones, the LE910-NA1 will also operate on AT&T's network, though Telit did not mention any such certification in its announcement. LTE-M has a 1.4 MHz bandwidth with peak data rate of 1 Mbps.

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Figure 3. The LE910 from Telit adds LTE capability to any device. Source: Telit.

On June 27, Telit announced the LE940A9, an addition to its family of automotive-grade modules. The LE940A9 adds 450 Mbps download and 50 Mbps upload speeds with "extremely low latency and advanced security," which is needed for vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications. The company doesn't define "extremely low" in the release nor on it's website. You must personally request a data sheet for this module.

Because those developing connected devices won't wait for 5G, Verizon and AT&T announced the launching of their Long-term Evolution for Machines (LTE-M) networks. LTE-M—part of 3GPP Release 13—adds low speed, low power connectivity to devices.

Now that I have an LTE-capable phone (two if you count my iPhone 6 work phone), do I really need LTE? Not really, for I keep LTE disabled (Figure 4). After all, 4G without LTE is fast enough for watching any streaming video, so why shorten battery life.

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Figure 4. Disabling LTE results in longer battery life.

Martin Rowe covers test and measurement for EDN and EE Times. Contact him at martin.rowe@aspencore.com Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn page

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