Today’s LTE, LTE-A (advanced), and LTE-A Pro are all part of the 4G LTE ecosystem that will serve as a stepping stone to 5G. According to a June 2017 “State of LTE” report from OpenSignal, although the industry is turning its attention toward the 5G network, there is still plenty of activity surrounding LTE. In fact, 5G will rely on LTE variants as the new standard gradually comes into prominence.
LTE-A, LTE-A Pro — and Gigabit LTE in particular — will likely work in conjunction with 5G. LTE-A is available now on a number of devices, supported by such carriers as AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon. LTE-A Pro, an evolution from LTE-A, began to make gigabit mobile broadband a reality, and Gigabit LTE foreshadows the kind of performance and functionality that the industry is waiting for in 5G—including multiple input, multiple output (MIMO) antenna and small cell technology.
On the Way to the 5G Network, LTE Reigns
Today’s LTE will lay the foundation for 5G networks, which are expected to deliver speeds of up to 10-Gb/s. The increasing speeds associated with evolving 4G LTE variants will give consumers valuable experience with very-high-throughput applications before the 5G network becomes a reality. The Internet of Things (IoT) market, for example, is already on its way to fruition — years before 5G — thanks to LTE.
Additionally, LTE is setting itself up as a viable alternative to 5G until that standard is more available. The availability of gigabit-level speeds in this realm will offer a comparable networking experience on existing technology:
- LTE-A. LTE-A uses carrier aggregation to achieve higher speeds. By using multiple LTE bands at the same time, an LTE-A device experiences greater bandwidth, enhanced capacity, and increased speed. LTE-A also includes ongoing improvements in interference, cell coverage, and system throughput. LTE-A also introduced the use of low-complexity user equipment for IoT applications.
- LTE-A Pro. LTE-A Pro takes advantage of unlicensed spectrum and common Wi-Fi networks to increase speed even further. Carriers can use unlicensed spectrum either standalone or aggregated with licensed spectrum, thereby more effectively using cellular resources. A key capability of LTE-A Pro is enabling Gigabit LTE, which finally leads the way for futuristic use cases such as augmented reality (AR)/virtual reality (VR).
- LTE-U. LTE-U refers to LTE technology that specifically takes advantage of unlicensed 5GHz frequencies used by WiFi.
The 5G-LTE Future
Advances in 4G LTE — in particular, LTE-A Pro — are allowing operators to continue upgrading their networks while they test the 5G waters. Only through incremental investment will many of these operators be able to make 5G a reality.