Swedish firm Ericsson is expecting to be able to dramatically increase download speeds for 4G smartphones later this year, it has revealed ahead of CES 2015. It plans to use wireless spectrum usually used by Wi-Fi to enable 4G users to download data three times faster than they do now.
Ericsson sells network equipment to 4G networks such as Vodafone, who use LTE, or Long Term Evolution technology to connect mobile devices to the internet. A recent innovation in LTE has been carrier aggregation, often known as 4.5G, which improves network speeds and coverage by allowing carriers to transmit data on different licenced frequencies at the same time. Ericsson are proposing to take this one step further later this year by expanding LTE so it can send data over unlicensed spectrum open for anybody’s use. By using the unlicensed open frequency 5GHz band, usually used by Wi-Fi network technology, Ericsson plans to increase download speeds using License Assisted Access (LAA), a technology that is not unique to Ericsson.
Talking about the new technology, Håkan Andersson, head of Ericsson’s 5G product strategy in its radio business unit says “It gives operators the opportunity to improve coverage in indoor areas and to bring better speed and better performance. This is the first step on a 4.5G-type system [and] part of the journey to 5G. We are combining the possibility to do carrier aggregation by carrier-licensed spectrum with unlicensed spectrum to drive higher data rates. Adding one channel doubles LTE peak download speeds from 150Mbps (megabits per second) to 300Mbps; adding two channels triples it to 450Mbps.”
This new technology is a response to increased network traffic, which will have a negative impact on download speeds. According to the Ericsson’s Mobility Report, 3.2 exabytes of data are being consumed globally per month as people increasingly use mobile devices to stream movies and use video chat. This figure is growing at a rate of 40% per year, and current network capacity just can’t keep up with the growing demand.
There are some possible pitfalls to using the 5GHz spectrum however:
- Using the 5GHz spectrum can cause interference with other devices using Wi-Fi networks. According to research by Intel LAA technology could cause complications for homes and businesses that are using traditional Wi-Fi.
- Radio waves at higher frequencies don’t travel as far as those on lower frequencies, and their transmission power is also regulated, meaning that this technology is more suited to small areas and indoor use than to providing coverage over larger areas.
- The unlicensed 5GHz spectrum isn’t as reliable as the licensed spectrum, according to Qualcomm, so can only really be used to supplement it. LAA uses the 5GHz spectrum as a boost, sending important data over the licenced spectrum and using the unlicensed spectrum to add capacity when it is available.
With technologies such as carrier aggregation and LAA, we are certainly likely to see a significant increase in 4G speeds during 2015, and will be taking steps in the direction of 5G.