The mobile news is full of stories tracking the drive to 5G. Vendors, service providers, and the rest of the ecosystem are gearing up for testing, standards development and eventual deployments.
At the same time, the current dominant platform, LTE, is experiencing an evolution of its own. The point has been proven before: No standard remains static even if it is on the way to being superseded. The goal is for the earlier standard to evolve until crossing the line from one to the other – in this case, from LTE to 5G – is a logical step, not a dramatic jump.
Yesterday, Verizon announced that it has taken one of those incremental steps by moving from LTE to LTE-Advanced across 461 cities with a cumulative population of more than 288 million people. The carrier says that the technology enables the channels to be used in unison when necessary. This increases peak data speeds by half when necessary. LTE-A can be used on 39 phones and tablets supported by Verizon.
LTE has three main variants: LTE, LTE-Advanced (LTE-A) and LTE Advanced Pro. Android Authority recently posted a very good story on the evolution of LTE. One of the wildcards is that 5G is a set of performance metrics that hasn’t yet been codified into a standard. That uncertainty is a factor on the evolutionary path of LTE.
The versions of LTE are laid out in releases from the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP). LTE-A, which is common worldwide, is represented by releases 10, 11 and 12. The next step is LTE-Advanced Pro, delineated in Releases 13 and 14.
The tutorial explains that the assignment of more bandwidth as necessary (carrier aggregation) is a big step in LTE-A. The Verizon press release validated this. LTE-Advanced Pro will increase the carriers and bands that can be used in this way by more than a factor of six. LTE-A Pro will also expand the types of spectrum and technologies to which aggregation can be applied. For instance, it will support use of the approach in unlicensed spectrum.
The piece lays out a timeline and subtly makes the point that this is not a small project:
We have already seen trials and modems offering support for some of the components of LTE Advanced Pro, but major roll-outs aren’t expected to begin hitting markets for a year or more yet. Even then, different countries and carriers will begin rolling out their own services in their own time, so the road to 5G is going to be very gradual. Still, now we know what’s heading our way.
BGR noted that in a “conveniently timed press release” on the same day as the Verizon announcement, Sprint announced that it and Samsung had demonstrated the first three-channel carrier aggregation on its network in the United States. There were few details, however.
The specifics of LTE, LTE-A and LTE-A Pro are important. The biggest point, though, is that the migration to 5G is a gradual process. This is good news because it means that the carriers see the need to continually improve their networks.
Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at [email protected] and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.