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Now that LTE is here, what's next?

Matt Hamblen | July 1, 2013
Coming some day to a network near you: LTE-Advanced and LTE with voice.

In the case of Verizon, carrier aggregation would mean combining its 700 MHz spectrum holdings with AWS spectrum (which itself is over 1700 MHz for uplinks and 2100 MHz for downlinks).

Today, phones primary rely on on a single radio channel to communicate. But Qualcomm has developed a smartphone processor, the Snapdragon 800, which incorporates the ability to work with carrier aggregation across two or more LTE radio channels.

That chip is being used in the special Samsung Galaxy S4 smartphone for LTE-Advanced, being rolled out in South Korea. SK Telecom said it had launched its LTE-Advanced network this week in Seoul with theoretical top speeds of 150Mbps.

Qualcomm said the Galaxy S4 with LTE-Advanced will also launch on KT and LGU+ in South Korea. A Qualcomm spokesman said carrier aggregation technologies "could be" launched by U.S. operators by early 2014, although none of the U.S. carriers has committed to a schedule. Qualcomm could not say when Samsung plans to make the Galaxy S4 with LTE-Advanced available in the U.S. Samsung declined to comment.

Palmer also refused to say when Verizon will have LTE-Advanced capabilities in place and at what speeds, but said there has been a lot of "hype" about it. "LTE-Advanced is really a set of enhancement and features that can be added to a network," she said. "You will see us leading in LTE-Advanced, however we will deploy things like carrier aggregation where we need it and small cells..., strategically applying features where and when customers need it."

Analysts divided on timing
Roger Entner, an analyst at Recon Analytics said that Verizon, Sprint and AT&T all seem to be aggressively moving to LTE-Advanced, while AT&T should be able to implement it in 2014.

But Phillip Redman, an analyst at Gartner, was less optimistic. LTE-Advanced in the U.S. "will be expensive and a long time coming" for the carriers, he said.

Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates, concurred. " I don't think we'll see wide-scale deployments of LTE-Advanced in the U.S. for at least two to three years," he said.

One reason Gold said it will take so long is that carriers are still recovering from the costs of rolling out LTE. And he expects that customers will probably be ambivalent about getting the LTE-Advanced speeds, once available.


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