UK switches on up-to-150 Mbps mobile data

LTE Advanced aggregates multiple bands across spectrum to deliver higher data speeds. Mobile Network Operator EE in the UK has just gone live with it.

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Credit: EE

For those of us in the U.S. used to lumbering, lethargic data speeds on our cellphones, get jealous, because EE, a mobile network in the UK, has just switched on LTE Advanced in some parts.

EE’s LTE-A promises regular download speeds of up to 90 Mbps. Peak speeds will be around 150 Mbps, according to the company.

For comparison, I just ran a few mobile device speed tests on AT&T's LTE network here in suburban Los Angeles this morning and obtained a best download speed of 22 Mbps. And that’s considered good here.

Crowd-sourced data from Opensignal.com shows that as of February, 2014, LTE speeds in the U.S. are usually well below 10 Mbps.

What is LTE-A?

Phones with certain LTE modems designated with a certain “Cat” number can receive data from multiple bands at the same time. It’s called Carrier Aggregation. In this case it uses Cat 6.

The new 4G+ service from EE utilizes two chunks of spectrum instead of the usual one. In EE’s case, it’s using 20 MHz in both 1.8 GHz and 2.6 GHz. Combining carriers makes more bandwidth available for more data, essentially speeding up rates for users across the cell.

EE says its maximum speed using a Cat 6 modem-enabled phone with two 20 MHz carriers will be 150 Mbps.

Qualcomm, who makes the fourth-generation Gobi LTE 9x35 Cat 6 modem, says its peak data rate is 300 Mbps. LTE Advanced technology can ultimately aggregate up to five carriers with a maximum of 100 MHz of spectrum.

Upload speed is not affected by LTE-A.

Uses

The Carrier Aggregation speed-up is particularly useful for bursty applications. Bursty applications are those where the traffic demand changes over a period of time, like a web browsing session. Those sessions are characterized by short traffic demands, followed by longer, silent periods.

Qualcomm says trunking efficiencies in carrier aggregation can make overall capacity “much more than the sum total” of the capacity of the individual carriers.

In other words, making fatter pipes that are more efficient too. 

Added benefits

Another advantage of carrier aggregation is that it lets MNOs, or Mobile Network Operators, maximize their spectrum. Spectrum owned by an MNO can be fragmented and spread out from 700 MHz to 2.6 MHz, for example.

Low bands tend to have better coverage than high, but mobile networks need to use high bands too—there’s more available spectrum there, for one thing.

Carrier aggregation helps the network make efficient use of all its available spectrum across the different bands—there’s more mix and match of resources to be had.

Without getting into too much detail: in wireless, certain frequencies and techniques are good for certain-sized cells and applications. So the more flexibility, the better.

Handsets

Cat 6 phones support two bands at speeds up to 300 Mbps. Not all handsets have the required Cat 6 modem. Samsung’s Galaxy Note 4, Galaxy Alpha, and LG’s G3 do.  

News source Recombu says EE will be selling a "tweaked" Cat 6 version of the Samsung Galaxy S5.

EE says that just the addition of the extra frequencies, creating roominess, will let many with older modems obtain speed gains where LTE-A is switched on, even if they don’t have a Cat 6-enabled phone. There will be more of a spread-out overall by users across bands.

Where

EE’s 4G+ is now flowing in parts of central London. Areas covered are hipster neighborhoods Shoreditch and Old Street, media-base Soho, retail-heavy Westminster and chichi Kensington.

4GEE Extra and Corporate 4GEE subscribers are eligible to receive the enhanced service.

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