Come together: Networks and devices now singing the Gigabit song
For tech-savvy fans and consumers, September’s Apple event became another global event for the introduction of a new line up of iPhones and Apple Watches. But for those who listened carefully, they may have noticed Apple’s Worldwide Marketing President, Phil Schiller, bringing a welcome and noteworthy enhancement to the table: the addition of Gigabit class LTE speed capabilities into the next iPhone generation.
The announcement means that most major device vendors in the world now offer a smartphone that has the theoretical peak rate capability of 1 Gigabit per second (or more) in the downlink. Apple is the latest manufacturer that has jumped aboard the Gigabit LTE train, which certainly is picking up speed. To date, we have identified more than 50 different smartphone models that have what 3GPP classifies as a Category 16 or higher device, i.e. a Gigabit LTE phone.
Making the case for Gigabit LTE
Having a Gigabit smartphone in your hand won’t give you instant time-to-content in your Instagram feed, because the service provider also plays a key role: it needs to have enough frequency spectrum available, and should have the spectrum and network planned in a way that matches the capabilities of your smartphone. The consumer is usually completely unaware of these details, but this is where other benefits of Gigabit class LTE ecosystems come in handy.
To achieve Gigabit speeds, ten LTE data layers, with each layer supporting 100 Mbps, need to reach your device. Typically, this is possible when 60 MHz of spectrum is available, and 4×4 MIMO and 256 QAM are in place, both within the network and within the device. When they are, the benefits are clear for both the consumer and the operator: consumers will enjoy better coverage overall, and in particular at the cell edge, while operators gain increased capacity, lowering the cost per bit.
Device manufacturers beginning to sing from the same song sheet
All flagship smartphones launched nowadays have quite wide frequency band support, especially as LTE is mature enough to be deployed in any legacy frequency band. This means that devices are already prepped for most networks, as long as the operators are partnered well with the device vendors and cooperate with them on what the networks need in local markets.
That said, the chipset and smartphone manufacturers really are on a roll. With the liberation of the unlicensed – free of charge – spectrum, License Assisted Access has made Gigabit LTE become more feasible from an investment perspective. This is likely one of the reasons why the devices manufacturers are shipping Gigabit LTE models like never before.
Since the release of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835 chipset in December 2017, the Gigabit speed capability has been up for grabs for device vendors – and they’re taking action. The innovators at Apple Park were no exception: new iPhone models have Gigabit LTE support as well as LAA when it’s available in the network.
So how does 5G fit in the picture?
Gigabit LTE is stirring up our appetites for 5G – and, all sources say that future 5G devices will have full backward compatibility, meaning they’ll have one more G while still supporting the legacy Gigabit 4G capability. At the same time, networks are likely to offer new breath-taking speeds that we will soon become used to. The new normal will be next-to-nothing delays via 5G in city hot spots, while providing wider 5G coverage overlaying with LTE in rural areas. This benefit applies particularly to 5G deployments, where 4G and 5G run together. Eventually, 5G will become a natural extension of Gigabit LTE and will live in both current and new frequency bands.
Should you sing the Gigabit song?
Yes – but don’t just take it from us. It won’t only make subscribers happy, it’ll be easier to implement than you think. The radio access software that makes Gigabit LTE happen was already available a couple of years ago, but the device support wasn’t anywhere near ready.
Today, the situation has changed dramatically, for everyone’s benefit. As an operator, the subscribers will thank you, and the possibility of having established Gigabit LTE devices on the market is now more than just a spot on the horizon.