What Is Gigabit LTE? Exploring a Steppingstone to 5G Speeds
By Safi Khan
July 2, 2020
By Safi Khan
July 2, 2020
Gigabit LTE is an essential steppingstone on the path to 5G mobile data connectivity. It commercialized some critical new technologies that are also the building blocks for 5G New Radio (NR). Gigabit LTE is available now on most smartphones and mobile networks in the United States.
As the worldwide rollout of commercial 5G reaches a reasonable scale this year, Gigabit LTE is how consumers and devices can get 5G-like speeds from the nearly ubiquitous LTE networks. LTE-Advanced Pro is already designated as a 5G technology.
Furthermore, when 5G NR is deployed in non-standalone (NSA) mode, it requires an LTE anchor to manage many of the network functions for the new 5G radio. Many initial deployments of 5G NR (e.g., North America) are opting for the NSA mode; therefore, LTE will be an essential part of the 5G evolution for some time in the future.
For years, standards bodies and technology leaders like Qualcomm® experimented with this technology and eventually reached 1.2 Gbps downlink speed on the Snapdragon® SDX20 LTE Cat 18 modem. Qualcomm went on to introduce LTE Cat 20 on Snapdragon SDX24 modem — rolled out on the Samsung Galaxy S10 — which can reach peak downlink speeds of up to 2 Gbps.
The recipe for Gigabit LTE requires smartphones with the modems mentioned above and cellular networks with the broad enough spectrum and fast backhaul infrastructure to sustain such speeds. When these two ingredients are available, then consumers enjoy gigabit speeds on their devices regularly.
Experiencing gigabit peak speeds is highly dependent on a scheme known as carrier aggregation (CA). CA is the process that allows devices to access multiple radio carrier bands and combine their signals to send and receive aggregated data between the device and the cell tower.
Some of the additional radio spectrum for CA comes from unlicensed spectrum (LAA) and shared spectrum (CBRS). CA effectively widens bandwidth, allowing the cellular device to pick up speed with each additional carrier aggregated.
CA is critical, but Gigabit LTE performance requires an orchestration of other key developments, each of which is an LTE component that evolves into the complete 5G recipe:
256-QAM allows a higher data rate when accessing a smartphone from the cell tower, thus relieving network congestion because the transmission gets done in 33% less time than before (64-QAM).
Consider how Qualcomm explains this technology with the following highway analogy: “If all trucks are carrying the same load (6 bits per symbol, in the current instance), you can speed up traffic by reducing the number of trucks and adding a greater load to each (8 bits per symbol with 256-QAM in Gigabit LTE). This improves network speeds for everyone.”
With 4 x 4 MIMO, consider the highway analogy again: Carrier aggregation widens the highway with extra lanes. 4 x 4 MIMO stacks new lanes on top. It also doubles the antennas on every individual LTE-enabled device on the network, providing smartphones with the ability to access the best signal.
Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X16 LTE was the first modem to make Gigabit LTE possible on the device side. The X16 provided the capability to reach 1 Gbps via Cat 16 LTE. By late 2017, the X20 modem extended that to Cat 18 LTE, which maxes out at 1.2 Gbps.
Smartphones are addressing the consumer appetite for Gigabit LTE, but what about enterprise applications? Many industries that require mission-critical applications (military technologies), industrial applications ( smart grids and other network-enabled utility systems) or life-saving applications (remote healthcare and telehealth) want 5G’s super-fast speeds and low latency.
5G will extend technologies for smart cities, with applications such as ubiquitous high-resolution and high refresh rate video (FPS) surveillance. Still, it won’t happen until carriers broadly roll out 5G in sub-6 GHz spectrum. As 5G based on mmWave has difficulties penetrating walls, windows, people and even foliage, Gigabit LTE does the heavy lifting for faster download speeds for enterprise applications in indoor situations.
Gigabit LTE offers more than enough speed for unified communications, video and VoIP/videoconferencing concurrently with enough other types of data for most applications known for being data intensive. For multisite businesses, Gigabit LTE helps where 5G coverage does not reach every office and branch. It enables a location-agnostic primary or failover network that will keep businesses running in most situations.
What about massive corporations that are data-driven and rely almost entirely on ultrafast network speeds? For businesses of this size, Gigabit LTE can enhance agility. Large companies tend to reorganize frequently. This process often involves extending the corporate network to new sites or changing the capacity of network branches.
Doing this by installing cables or fibers can take months, whereas a wireless Gigabit LTE network router can be installed and operational in a matter of hours. On a large corporate scale, this flexibility translates into millions either saved or earned.
Alphr.com notes, “This goes double for companies investing in data-driven business intelligence and cognitive computing strategies, in which the ability to access and query substantial datasets could be critical. Gigabit LTE could help larger businesses deliver better customer experience and more powerful line-of-business mobile apps.”
For the largest of enterprises, Gigabit LTE can handle the large amount of data those companies need. It is the groundwork for 5G networks, and as Alphr notes, is “technology with a future and a clear, predictable upgrade path.”
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