Gigabit LTE Networks May 2020: GSA Report
Gigabit LTE Networks May 2020
A full list of Gigabit LTE Operators with published download speed and UE Cat device support can be found in Annex 1: in the Member and Associate version of this report.
Analysis of Developments Worldwide
Although the eyes of the press have been firmly fixed on 5G developments, operators have been continuing to invest in their LTE networks. They have been deploying technologies designed to improve the capabilities of their LTE networks and, in particular, to improve peak downlink (DL) throughput speeds.
Operators have been focusing mainly on three technologies from the LTE-Advanced tool-kit – carrier aggregation, 4×4 MIMO and 256QAM modulation in the downlink – that if used together and with sufficient aggregated bandwidth, can deliver maximum peak downlink speeds approaching, and even exceeding, 1 Gbps. Such networks are often described as ‘Gigabit LTE networks’ mirroring a term that is also used in the fixed broadband industry.
Drawing on information collected by GSA about operator deployments of LTE-Advanced features for its comprehensive database on operator networks, technologies and spectrum (NTS), this report identifies operators investing at a technology level in Gigabit LTE (defined as carrier aggregation plus 4×4 MIMO [or above] plus 256QAM DL). Note that ‘4×4 MIMO or above’ includes 4×4 MIMO and all higher-order MIMO technologies such as 8T8R MIMO and Massive MIMO.
- 315 operators have deployed/launched LTE-Advanced networks in 142 countries/territories.
- 327 operators in 138 countries/territories are investing in at least one of the three key Gigabit LTE component technologies.
- 117 operators in 70 countries/territories are identified as investing in all three key Gigabit LTE component technologies.
- Of those, sixty-four operators in 46 countries/territories have deployed all three technologies.
- Thirty-seven operators (representing nearly 12% of all the deployed/launched LTE-Advanced networks) can support UE Cat-16 peak theoretical DL speeds (>750 Mbps) or above.
- Thirty-two of those have announced Gigabit (or very near at 979 Mbps) peak theoretical throughput, or better, in the downlink in their deployed/commercial networks.
- Twelve of them have pockets of LTE network capable of delivering the maximum DL speeds supported by Cat-18 devices, i.e. peak theoretical throughput of up to 1.2 Gbps. Five of those have announced parts of their network can deliver a maximum rate in its commercial LTE network of between 1.2 Gbps and 1.6 Gbps (Cat-19).
We expect many other networks to achieve Gigabit speeds on their LTE networks very soon, as they refarm or acquire new spectrum resources, invest in higher orders of MIMO technology and implement new carrier aggregation combinations. Operators are still investing in improving their LTE networks, even as they begin to deploy 5G technologies.
While there are many features in the LTE-Advanced tool-kit, the three of interest in this report are:
- Carrier aggregation (CA) – the process of aggregating the bandwidths of multiple component carriers to increase bit-rate; it is generally used on the downlink, but can also be used on the uplink. Carriers may be in licensed or unlicensed spectrum and may be of varying bandwidths. Varying numbers of carriers may be aggregated. Currently, commercial networks typically aggregate two, three or four carriers.
- 4×4 MIMO – the use of multiple antennas creating four transmit and four receive radio paths (4T4R) to increase the capacity of a link. Higher-order MIMO is also being used in trials and live networks, including 8T8R and Massive MIMO. (In current commercial equipment, Massive MIMO can include up to 64 transmit and 64 receive paths. Even higher orders still – such as 128T128R – are being developed and used for trials and pilots projects, but are not yet being deployed in commercial networks.) There is a lot of investment in 4×4 MIMO as equipment and devices that can make use of it are becoming widespread. Massive MIMO is being investigated by operators planning their migration paths from LTE to 5G and is being deployed by some operators in selected locations. In this report, we count all networks using 4×4 MIMO or higher-order versions of MIMO.
- 256QAM in the downlink – a modulation scheme specified in 3GPP Release 12 and increasingly used in commercial networks. It increases the number of bits that can be carried per symbol, though the approach is more susceptible to noise than lower-order modulation schemes.
Gigabit LTE Networks May 2020