Asia’s turbo-charged LTE networks show what’s in store for the U.S., Europe

Australia’s Telstra and its mobile network supplier Ericsson(s eric) have completed a live network trial of a new LTE technology that essentially splices two entirely different parts of the electromagnetic spectrum together, creating a kind of super-connection to the mobile network.
Telstra isn’t the first to the use the technology, an LTE-Advanced technique called carrier aggregation. That honor goes to SK Telecom(s sku), which was able to boost its LTE network to 150 Mbps theoretical speeds in June by combining its 800 MHz and 1800 MHz spectrum, the same selection of airwaves held by European operators such as Everything Everywhere(s oran) in the U.K. and Deutsche Telekom in Germany. South Korea’s LG U+ followed SK’s lead in July with its own souped-up LTE systems.
LTE graphic logo Telstra combined its 900 MHz and 1800 MHz airwaves over its commercial LTE systems in Queensland, though it didn’t give any details on the network speeds that resulted. The company, however, did reveal it would use carrier aggregation to splice more frequencies in different bands into its network until it reaches the 300 Mbps ceiling.
That’s a powerful network. To put it in perspective, it’s about four times as fast as anything we have today in the U.S. and two or three times faster than networks in Europe or Canada. But North America and the old world aren’t too far behind. Verizon(s vz)(s vod) and T-Mobile(s tmus) will likely launch their first 150 Mbps networks in the coming months (though they’ll be both be using contiguous spectrum). And in the next two to three years, all of the major U.S. operators will use carrier aggregation to duct tape their disparate frequency holdings into a powerful unified connections.
Though Europe is further behind North America and Asia when it comes getting its LTE services out the door, it could catch up rather quickly in terms of technology, speed and capacity. European operators hold big chunks of spectrum, often in swathes as large as 40 MHz. By aggregating two of those big bands together, European operators could get a lot more benefit out of these LTE-Advanced techniques than most.
As for the technology’s practical use, the obvious advantage is speed, though at certain point there’s not much difference between a 15 Mbps connection and a 50 Mbps connection on a smartphone.
But as global operators progress through the LTE-Advanced standard, they will be able to deliver a lot more than just raw speed (SK Telecom has already started that journey). They’ll be able to provide more resilient links and more consistent connection speeds. The overall spectral efficiency of the network will increase as well, which hopefully translates into cheaper mobile data pricing.
LTE image courtesy of Shutterstock user Inq