LTE-A will make your phone go faster

Tech news has exploded with stories, and information, relating to the next big thing, the new Generation (G) of mobile data transmission – 5GMWC – Mobile World Congress, the global ‘fair’ for telco technology staff, has been filled this year, with applications for the new network capability. The ideas presented range from flying drones which monitor the coast for sharks, to internet connected livestock.

The impacts, when 5G is released, will be global in magnitude. Networks in the USA are making the most noise about 5G at the moment but it’s actually in Australia where phone companies are putting rubber on road with many of the most cutting edge LTE and 5G implementations are being undertaken.

And, as Australia shows us, before 5G gets here, LTE will be adapted dramatically. LTE – Long Term Evolution, the technology standard for 4G was not as limited as it’s predecessor, 3G. Long after 4G phones started going mainstream, 4G phones and cell equipment are still evolving. LTE has a feature which 3G didn’t – LTE-A. And It’s going to make your phone go faster.

How they’re making 4G phones faster

If your phone and the network are built correctly, the speed with which data is downloaded can be made much, much faster. The speed increase (for data downloads) is achieved through a process known as Frequency Division Multiplexing or more colloquially as ‘Carrier Aggregation.

When your 4G phone connects to the cellular network, it acts, in some senses, as multiple phones connecting at once. Using different frequencies accessed from cell towers, the phone draws down the data it needs, over multiple connections at once, reconstructing the flow in to a single data connection on the device.

When first launched, LTE-A allowed two connections simultaneously (obviously, doubling the download speed) but the number of frequencies LTE-A can use at the same time keeps growing. They’re up to 5 already which means data can be up and downloaded at 5 times regular LTE speeds. Think of the amount of data you get with standard LTE as a single track road. LTE-A, with 5 channels, is like a 5 lane freeway of data traffic, all at once.

At the moment, the best performer in this category is the new Samsung Galaxy S9 which can ‘pretend’ to be 4 different phones at once. Theoretical speed maximums (in the laboratory, which don’t often manifest in real life) are 2Gbps – faster than the speeds we’ve been promised from 5G – which is supposed to supersede it!

This sort of carrier aggregation is good for everyone on the network, not just those with the latest and greatest phones. When you get on and off the network more quickly, there’s more network capacity for everyone else to share. LTE-A in devices like the S9 helps us all get more data.
Bringing it all together

There are a couple of extremely important uses for LTE-A.

First, it’s obviously cheaper to build wireless infrastructure than fixed. Getting a fiber connection to your premises for a fixed line connection might involve digging up hundreds of Km of road between you and your ISP, laying pipe in it and dragging some thin glass through every inch. With wireless cellular connections, the opposite is possible. Simple relay stations above ground take a weak signal, amplify it and send it on. It could be that first, LTE-A,is the technology we use to break in to more rural areas of countries, which currently don’t have service.

Secondly, it takes a long, long time to build a new network. Phone companies begin a rollout using small towns in test geographies, where they can trial the ‘new’ technology in real life circumstances before going national. Cities and other high population density areas are next. Putting fast networks where lots of people are helps the business case for new networks and makes it more likely that people with the phones required to use it (for example, those compatible with 5G networks) will be new and of the type required. LTE-A offers phone companies the ability to stretch out the use of their 4G networks and keep their existing customers happy with faster speeds with a coverage footprint that has taken many years to build.

We can expect LTE and LTE-A to be around for many years and to carry the burden of a lot of network traffic, while 5G networks are built out around the world.

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