Before 5G: Carriers bring flavours of LTE online

Article By : Martin Rowe

Much of the 5G technology and technical standards are still in development, but that doesn't mean that wireless carriers are sitting around waiting for it.

There's not a day that goes by that one doesn’t hear hype relating to 5G. This year, the theme of IEEE Microwave Symposium was "5G: Catch the wave" and 5G summits seem to take place monthly.

Much of the 5G technology and technical standards are still in development, but that doesn't mean that wireless carriers are sitting around waiting for it. There's plenty of activity on the 4G/LTE front. Carriers are still bringing flavours of LTE online and the test industry is responding.

Although LTE deployment began in 2011, it's far from complete. LTE-Advanced and now LTE-Advanced Pro are maximising speed and connectivity in LTE networks.

Recently, I've run across new products aimed at testing LTE and have even been personally disrupted when my wireless carrier changed its U1900 band from 4G to LTE. The result: my data rates dropped to 2G speed (about 80kb/s), forcing me to upgrade my iPhone 4S. Fortunately, my carrier gave me 50% off the cost of an iPhone SE. The 4G-to-LTE transition is part of T-Mobile's $51 billion upgrade to keep the carrier competitive.

GL Communications—a manufacturer of wired and wireless telecom testers—recently announced that it had upgraded its software for the company's LTE tester to test the LTE X2-AP application interface (Figure 1). The X2 interface handles communications between adjacent eNodeBs. The X2-AP interface is used for handing calls from one eNodeB to another.

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Figure 1: The X2-AP application interface lets LTE nodes communicate with each other. (Source: GL Communications)

Anritsu also announced new hardware and software for its MD8475B base-station simulator (Figure 2). Aimed at the physical layer, this instrument tests 4×4 MIMO with 256QAM high-order modulation and four-component carrier aggregation.

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Figure 2: The Anritsu MD8475B tests 4×4 MIMO using 256 QAM modulation. (Source: Anritsu)

Because the so-called Internet of Things (more hype) is coming, engineers, developers and even makers are adding wireless modules that bring connectivity to many devices. To serve that market, Telit in June made two announcements for LTE modules.

The company announced the LE910-NA1, which the company says is certified by T-Mobile to operate on its LTE network. The module adds low-speed (64kbps) data connectivity to embedded devices on the T-Mobile network for $20/month. As with cell phones, the LE910-NA1 will also operate on AT&T's network, though Telit did not mention any such certification in its announcement. LTE-M has a 1.4MHz bandwidth with peak data rate of 1Mbps.

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Figure 3: The LE910 from Telit adds LTE capability to any device. (Source: Telit)

Telit announced the LE940A9, an addition to its family of automotive-grade modules. The LE940A9 adds 450Mbps download and 50Mbps upload speeds with "extremely low latency and advanced security," which is needed for vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications. The company doesn't define "extremely low" in the release nor on its website. You must personally request a data sheet for this module.

Because those developing connected devices won't wait for 5G, Verizon and AT&T announced the launch of their Long-term Evolution for Machines (LTE-M) networks. LTE-M—part of 3GPP Release 13—adds low speed, low power connectivity to devices.

Now that I have an LTE-capable phone (two if you count my iPhone 6 work phone), do I really need LTE? Not really, for I keep LTE disabled (Figure 4). After all, 4G without LTE is fast enough for watching any streaming video, so why shorten battery life.

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Figure 4: Disabling LTE results in longer battery life.

First published by EDN.

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