What is LTE-Advanced?

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Tuesday, 24 October 2017

What is LTE-Advanced?

With the recent influx of LTE-Advanced products on the market and the hype around upcoming 5G networks, we thought it would be helpful to clarify what this all means for you and your cellular connections.

LTE (Long term evolution) is a rather broad term, as it extends to several different types of services. It is also technically different than 4G (also known as 4G HSPA+ and only used by carriers like AT&T and T-Mobile). Verizon Wireless for example, has something they call XLTE, which is just a term they use to indicate LTE service over a different, faster, LTE frequency than the standard frequency they started with. LTE will likely remain the foundation for future networks, but time of course will tell. In order to differentiate between these several LTE types, the mobile broadband industry is using different LTE Categories (or UE - user equipment - Categories) to describe the LTE network capabilities. Typically, the higher the category number, the faster the speeds. Currently, we’re aware of at least 8 different categories that have been defined (see chart below for reference).


You’ll notice the major difference is the speeds and those listed here are maximum theoretical numbers. This is the maximum speed at which the technology is capable of under ideal conditions. Keep in mind there are several variables that can affect your connection speeds. Even with a good signal strength level, if your signal quality (typically represented by SINR and RSRQ) is poor, it can negatively impact your speeds. If you’re in a heavily congested area, you must share the available bandwidth with other users and the more users connected, the slower the speeds are. There’s also the matter of throttling that cellular carriers may implement at times where towers are heavily congested.

In the case of LTE-Advanced, you’ll only benefit if you’re in an area with coverage and you’re using a device that supports the technology. LTE-Advanced works by combining/ aggregating multiple cellular frequency bands. In comparison, standard LTE service only allows for connection to a single band. If you’re looking for a cellular device, standard LTE will likely be enough for most users and shouldn’t have a big impact on your decision. After all, most LTE-Advanced products do have some limitations. The LTE-Advanced routers we carry from Peplink and Cradlepoint for example, are not backwards compatible with Verizon and Sprint 3G networks. In fact, the Peplink/ Pepwave hardware is not even certified with Verizon yet. Not having 3G compatibility may be okay for some, but it’s typically not ideal for those who plan on traveling with the device. If that’s not a factor for you and you don’t currently have LTE-Advanced coverage, it’s still something to consider. The technology is continuing to evolve and a Cat6/ LTE-A device would certainly be the most future proof option.

Most of our embedded cellular routers with standard LTE support are going to be within Category 3 (e.g. Cradlepoint IBR600, Pepwave Max BR1 Mini) or Category 4 (e.g. Cradlepoint IBR600B). All products that support LTE-Advanced you see will be within Category 6 and at this time, that’s the highest available. Cat 6 devices usually have a latency around 50ms or less, support MIMO 2x2 and/or 4x4 and have the ability to get up to 300mbps on download.

You can check out a few of our LTE-Advanced products below:

  • Cradlepoint AER1600 - Appropriate for home or small business use.
  • Cradlepoint IBR900 - A small ruggedized router typically for in-vehicle use.
  • Pepwave Max BR1 Mini - One of the smallest M2M solutions that can also be used for home, travel, or business use.
  • Pepwave Max HD2 / HD4 - Typically for larger applications or any application needing multiple cellular WAN links along with load balancing and bonding support.

Here’s some details/ comments on LTE-Advanced and 5G technology that we’ve gathered from some cellular carriers:

Sprint says it uses two-channel carrier aggregation to deliver peak speeds of more than 100 Mbps in 237 LTE Plus markets across the country using 40 MHz of 2.5 GHz spectrum on the company’s LTE Plus cell sites. With three-channel carrier aggregation Sprint will utilize 60 MHz of spectrum in the 2.5 GHz band to provide peak download speeds of more than 200 Mbps on compatible devices.

Verizon notes that "typical" LTE speeds operate between 5 and 12 Mbps, but upgraded LTE Advanced markets (congestion and local spectrum constraints permitting) can see peak speeds up to 300 Mbps. Verizon LTE Advanced uses software to combine two or three bandwidth channels into one larger channel to send data sessions over the most efficient route to completion. This technology is called carrier aggregation and uses a combination of 700 MHz, AWS, and PCS spectrum.

AT&T recently announced “5G”, but the 5G standard has not even been created yet and all other carriers have mentioned that users won’t actually see anything until 2020. As with everything else of course, the major carriers are battling to be the first to have 5G rolled out to their customers. According to AT&T however, they claim that they’ll have this next gen with faster speeds out to over 20 major cities by the end of 2017. To clarify, they are just using 4x4 MIMO antennas and 256 QAM technology over the 4G LTE network (something T-Mobile has been doing since last fall). Furthermore, testing was only done in a couple cities and future deployment would still only be to a handful of cities. They’re also only going to be available on 2 devices to start - the Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus.

For more on how LTE-Advanced technology works, we located this white paper from the International electronics group, Rohde & Schwarz. The paper provides an intro to LTE-A, but also dives into technical information about how it’s implemented and used for those wanting more specific information.

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 24 October 2017 )
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