Chip vendors and device makers are readying the smartphones, hotspots and cars that will let users eventually enjoy higher download speeds with LTE-Advanced.
New smartphones got most of the attention at Mobile World Congress. However, show visitors could also find displays of many technologies that users will have to wait longer for, but in the end might enjoy more.
One of these is LTE-Advanced, which consists of a number of different technologies designed to help improve performance, the most important of which is carrier aggregation. It allows networks to devote more resources to some users by treating two or more channels in the same or different frequency bands as if they were one.
Qualcomm is the dominant vendor of the modems that will power devices used to access LTE-Advanced networks, and working with a number of different vendors the company showed what its products can do in Barcelona.
For example, in cooperation with Samsung Electronics and Korean operators SK Telecom and KT, Qualcomm conducted demonstrations of LTE-Advanced connectivity with download speeds of up to a theoretical 300Mbps (bits per second) on a specially modified Samsung Galaxy Note 3 smartphone.
The Galaxy Note 3 had been customized with a Snapdragon 805 processor and Qualcomm's Gobi 9x35 modem.
Another product that uses one of Qualcomm's Gobi modems is ZTE's Flare mobile hotspot, which was announced on Tuesday and will start shipping during the second half of the year. It can also achieve download speeds at up to 300Mbps. To make the most out of the fast uplink, the hotspot also has integrated support for 802.11ac with MIMO antenna technology.
Qualcomm also wants car makers to integrate carrier aggregation into their vehicles, and this week announced a version of the Gobi family for that sector, which is currently available in small volumes to potential customers. But the company didn't elaborate on when the first cars with LTE-Advanced would arrive.
Intel also wants its modems used in upcoming LTE-Advanced products. On Monday the chip maker announced the XMM 7260 platform, which will be used in products by the end of June. At Mobile World Congress, the company demonstrated an unmarked carrier aggregation smartphone.
The speed offered by carrier aggregation depends on how much spectrum mobile operators use. Two channels with 20MHz channels each are needed to reach 300Mbps, but Intel expects operators will implement 20MHz plus 10MHz before then, to get download speeds of up to 225Mbps.
Current LTE networks use one channel with 10MHz or 20MHz of spectrum.
SK Telecom and LG Uplus in South Korea are already offering commercial carrier aggregation services with speeds of up to 150Mbps. That speed can also be achieved with 20MHz of continuous spectrum in one band, which is kinder on batteries. But for the many operators that don't have that, the Korean configuration of two times 10MHz is a big step forward.
Larger network operators such as AT&T, Sprint, TelefA3nica, Verizon Wireless and Vodafone, as well as operators holding multiple spectrum positions such as EE, T-Mobile, Telstra, will be early implementers of carrier aggregation, according to market research company Analysys Mason.
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