Commercial LTE-Advanced is fast hitting the telecoms market. The next major step in LTE networks, LTE-Advanced is said to help assuage the massive increase in demand for mobile data as well as deliver much higher data speeds for all. That means better coverage, stability and speed.
Telecom infrastructure vendors are claiming the difference between LTE and its new, faster sibling is astronomical and that users of LTE-Advanced will experience mobile technology in a whole new way. However, with the roll out of 4G technologies that fell short a few years ago, consumers are reasonably sceptical.
Smartphone usage has visibly increased in the past few years, particularly in the Middle East, which has a high penetration in the market. Of course, users in the Middle East market are known for demanding the latest and greatest in technology, however, the increase in usage is also correlated to the improvements made to mobile broadband connectivity.
As technologies improve, users rely more heavily on their smartphones for everyday transactions and communication. The Middle East is one of the fastest adopters of next-generation mobile broadband networks.
According to an Ericsson “Mobility Report,” mobile data traffic will grow ten fold between 2013 and 2019. This rapid increase in usage is driven by data-hungry applications such as video during the coming few years, which is challenging even for current, non-advanced, LTE tehcnology. This makes LTE-Advanced an imminent solution to the forecasted capacity demand.
As technology continues to improve, smartphones that are 4G LTE and LTE-Advanced compatible are proving to be popular among heavy smartphone users who want faster, more responsive devices. LTE-Advanced offers advanced standards and technologies that are able to satisfy the demands of so-called power users.
“While many consumers are getting their first taste of speedy 4G LTE connections, carriers around the globe have begun pouring resources into building LTE-Advanced networks, which promise even faster and more reliable mobile access,” says Vick Mamlouk, Vice President of Wireless Sales, Middle East and Africa, Commscope.
When analysing the new technology, one must first determine how it differs from its predecessor. “LTE is the main building block of LTE-Advanced, which introduces significant technological enhancement and features to LTE,” explains Ala Jarrar, Mobile Broadband Manager, Ericsson, Region Middle East.
Operators can select from a group of functionalities to that come with the LTE-Advanced technology. These upcoming benefits include carrier aggregation where two or more carriers are combined for more speed and capacity, multi antennas, spatial multiplexing, and relaying where radios with low power are located at a cell edge as well as heterogeneous network deployment.
This evolved version of LTE is being developed by 3GPP to meet or exceed the requirements of the International Telecommunication Union. The new technology will deliver a true fourth generation radio-communication standard – a welcome change from previously promised, but unachieved, 4G speeds.
LTE-Advanced is focused on higher capacity with increased peak data rate, higher spectral efficiency, increased number of simultaneously active subscribers, and improved performance at cell edges.
In theory, LTE-Advanced will provide around 3Gbps in downlink and 1.5 Gbps in uplink. The new technology will address next generation service requirements and will operate with existing networks.
LTE-Advanced will provide better management of microcells and interwork with macro cells. Advanced relays, multi-point operation and enhanced solutions for robust services are set to improve the customer’s quality of service.
Carrier aggregation is particularly attractive to network operators. “On every operator’s list of what to implement is carrier aggregation, a feature that enables bundling of diverse frequencies into a larger, single-channel bandwidth to achieve significantly higher data rates,” says Mamlouk.
“This feature could be a game-changer for operators with limited spectrum and no new allotments on the horizon,” Mamlouk explains.
“The bottom line is that LTE-Advanced promises to deliver actual 4G speeds, unlike some current LTE networks. LTE-Advanced will be a whopping three times faster than current technologies, with few dropped connections.”
As the technology inevitably grows and matures, there are more and more frequency bands being used for LTE. “There are growing numbers of LTE frequency bands that are being designated as possibilities for use with LTE. Many of the LTE frequency bands are already in use for other cellular systems, whereas other LTE bands are new and being introduced as other users are re-allocated spectrum elsewhere,” explains Naveen Sharma, Principal Solution Architect, Tech Mahindra.
Though LTE-Advanced will surely bring faster speeds and more robust connectivity to the market, like any technology in its infancy, there are still technical issues to be addressed. Potential bumps in the road may cause users to wait to invest in LTE-Advanced technology.
These challenges will no doubt be met and addressed in the coming months, however, new users still need to be made aware of LTE-Advanced potential pitfalls, at least in the short term.
LTE-Advanced is still facing challenges around service coverage, mainly because of fragmented and higher frequency bands allocated to it.
“Support for voice services is provided through various options including carrying voice over LTE infrastructure or using existing 2G and 3G networks,” explains Sriram Vaithamanithi, Vice President, Communications Practice, Cognizant. “But these have certain quality concerns such as circuit switched fallback, and the return time may not provide good customer experience.”
“Most people in the critical communications industry see LTE and LTE-Advanced as the logical next steps to providing enhanced capabilities to a host of operators, such as public safety, mining and utilities. But LTE’s more advanced features bring with them a number of challenges,” warns Mamlouk.
Challenges with the new LTE-Advanced technology include handing interference that may come with the interactions of multiple layers of cells and other devices sharing the same frequency, maximising power efficiency and bringing products to the market ahead of official authentication testing.
Regardless of potential challenges, operators and users alike are looking forward to the benefits that come with LTE-Advanced and developers are confident that any challenges can be met head on.
The effect that LTE-Advanced will have on the market is not limited to pushing mobile phones and devices. There are many ways that operators can leverage LTE-Advanced technology to monetise on its increasing popularity, particularly in the emerging Middle East market.
LTE-Advanced is rapidly gaining momentum in the Middle East region as well as worldwide and the telecommunications industry is abuzz with its evolution.
The advent of LTE-Advanced has brought the technology into new arenas, including direct-to-device services and terrestrial broadcast television that are ripe for monetisation in the region.