Gigabit LTE, a 5G stopgap, is now live

Super-fast mobile data has launched in some Australian business districts. It promises to proliferate the U.S. and will be a stand-in for 5G until that service becomes available.

Gigabit LTE, a 5G stopgap, is now live
Credit: Thinkstock

Groundbreaking peak download speeds of 930 Mbps were obtained last week at the operational launch of Telstra’s Gigabit LTE network. Peak upload speeds of 127 Mbps were obtained at the same event.

The ultra-fast service has now rolled out in major Australian Central Business Districts (CBDs), Qualcomm says in a blog post. That includes the CBDs of Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney, according to Android Central.

Those speeds are significantly faster than average existing 4G (LTE) download speeds. The two fastest carriers in the U.S. (T-Mobile and Verizon) average slightly under 17 Mbps nationally, according to Open Signal’s February 2017 survey of network speed comparisons. OpenSignal used measurements obtained from 169,000 smartphone users in the fourth quarter of 2016 to get this year’s results.

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The Australian Mobile Network Operator (MNO) Telstra, which runs the new network along with Qualcomm, Ericsson and NETGEAR will make hardware available at the end of this month. A Gigabit LTE-specific router called the NETGEAR Nighthawk M1 is used.

The service, termed Gigabit LTE—which incorporates the Nighthawk M1 modem and contains the Snapdragon X16 LTE modem, along with ac Wi-Fi—is being pitched at future multimedia applications by Qualcomm in its marketing materials.

Live 360-degree, 4K streaming video running in virtual reality (VR) headsets without frame drops was part of a demonstration at the launch event. Large offline movies, those that experts increasingly believe will be downloaded more frequently at airports before plane boarding, will benefit from these kinds of speeds. Qualcomm demonstrated a 32-minute, HD film download in 15 seconds on the mobile network. Uploading 4K video files of about 300 MB took 30 seconds, the company claims.

Gigabit-class LTE

“Peak download speeds that are nearly ten times as fast as those first-generation 4G LTE devices” are obtainable with the Snapdragon X16 LTE modem, writes Sherif Hanna of Qualcomm in the mobile technology company’s blog.

The X16 modem derives from Qualcomm’s 2014 LTE modem, monickered the X10. That device aggregated three, 20-MHz-wide LTE carriers to obtain 450 Mbps at 60 MHz. The X16 uses the same amount of spectrum to grab 1 Gbps throughput—in other words, around 100 percent faster.

They’re doing it by using more antennas and more-sophisticated digital signal processing. The new modem “can receive 10 streams of LTE data simultaneously.” It uses four MIMO antennas, says Hanna. Usually two are used.

The modem utilizes “better signal processing to extract more bits out of every LTE transmission,” he says. The boosting of the throughput of each of the 10 spatial streams creates around 100 Mbps. More streams means more data can be sent by the LTE network.

With 256-QAM, a newer form of digital processing for decoding LTE, a third more bits can be encoded. Thus each spatial stream increases from 75 Mbps to 100 Mbps.

“Gigabit LTE is also an important step on our journey to 5G,” Qualcomm says in a press release. Unreleased, and as yet unratified, 5G will likely be commercially available in the U.S. in 2020.

Fifteen MNOs through 11 countries “intend to launch or trial Gigabit LTE” in 2017. That includes AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile in the U.S., Qualcomm says.

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