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LTE makes headway on global roaming, speed and voice

The first operators are now rolling out LTE-Advanced functionality, while Swisscom has showed global roaming is possible

By Mikael Rickna$?s, IDG News Service
June 28, 2013 06:50 AM ET

IDG News Service - LTE is simultaneously being pushed forward on several fronts, and the result for users will be faster networks, better coverage and the ability to access networks while travelling abroad.

LTE has now become a mainstream technology with major deployments in every geographical area. But the abbreviation stands for Long-Term Evolution and what has been available so far in terms of speeds and features is only the beginning, a fact highlighted over the last week as operators and vendors have announced the groundwork for new improvements.

There are commercial LTE networks in 70 countries, and by the end of the year that number will have increased to 87, according to the Global Mobile Suppliers Association (GSA). Most of those LTE customers cannot yet use their LTE-enabled devices abroad, but that is slowly starting to change. The rise in the number of networks, and the availability of smartphones with up to six LTE spectrum bands, is making it viable.

Swisscom's LTE subscribers have, for example, been able to surf when visiting South Korea since June 21. The coverage is expected to be expanded to Canada and Hong Kong at the beginning of next month, and become available in some European countries late this summer. More countries will then be added on an ongoing basis, the Swiss operator said.

The global nature of Swisscom's LTE roaming offering makes it an important step, according to Ericsson, which has provided the underlying equipment. It shows that Diameter, the signalling protocol that makes LTE roaming possible, has become more mature, and roaming is now more about operators sitting down and signing agreements. Other operators that offer roaming on a more regional basis include TeliaSonera and Telstra.

While many operators are busy rolling out first generation LTE, SK Telecom on Wednesday bragged that it had launched the world's first publicly available LTE-Advanced network with the world's first compatible phone, Samsung Electronics' Galaxy S4 LTE-A. Another Korean operator, LG U+, will start offering LTE-Advanced in July, it said on Thursday.

LTE-Advanced includes a number of new technologies, and of those SK has decided to implement two elements, Coordinated Multi-Point (CoMP) and Carrier Aggregation. The latter will soon become available in other parts of the world, as well.

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Carrier Aggregation allows networks to devote more resources to some users by treating two channels in the same or different frequency bands as if they were one. That technique will allow SK Telecom to offer speeds of up to 150Mbps by combining two 10MHz channels. That speed can be achieved without Carrier Aggregation by operators who have 20MHz of continuous spectrum in one band, which is kinder on smartphone and tablet batteries.

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