So what is LTE-A?
Well, in the simplest of terms, it’s the latest advancement in radio technology that will put one Gigabits/s bandwidth (or 1000 megabits/s) to your mobile device of choice, whether it’s a laptop, dongle, tablet or smartphone (and eventually feature phone). Network rollouts will occur once the technology is proven in trials and compatible devices are available.
For comparison, you can get up to 100 megabits/s through LTE technology and up to 24 megabits/s with ADSL technology. The bandwidth that LTE-A enables is similar to the fastest speeds from Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) technology and about three times faster than that of cable. It is also approved by the International Telecommunications Union as the true 4G technology irrespective of what industry marketing and some communications service providers (CSPs) are saying about LTE and DC-HSPA. Globally, we are just deploying LTE infrastructure, and thus, LTE-A will have its first major deployments sometime in the future.
While the maximum speed will most likely be very theoretical, at least in the beginning, the technology promises to provide all of the bandwidth we need without wiring everything together physically, allowing for true mobility. To put that bandwidth into perspective, one HD quality video stream can consume up to tens of megabits per second depending on the encoding/decoding technology used. This would then decide how much of the CPU and graphics chip on your device would be used and how much battery life they consume on decoding the video feed. The less bandwidth that is consumed (and hence tighter compression used in video encoding), the more work the CPU and graphics chip will have to do, and more battery will be consumed. In theory, you would not need much video compression with LTE-A, as there is plenty of capacity and hence less demand on battery, CPUs and other chip development needs. Think about several HD video channels being streamed to your device and having the ability to use other services in parallel. It would also enable higher upload speeds, so your multi-megapixel DSLR pictures could be streamed to your cloud storage or photostream of choice in near real time.
Is there really a need for this much bandwidth?
I’ve witnessed first-hand that once more bandwidth is available, it will get used. Remember the times of MS-DOS and the famous statement that 640 kB of memory is enough for everything? I’m feeling a bit old here, but seriously, we are masters of consuming 97% of our hard drives, for example, no matter what the capacity is—and the same applies to bandwidth. With recent advancements in HD displays in relatively small form factor (e.g. retina display in the new Apple iPad), it’s almost guaranteed we will consume available bandwidth. I’d think, however, that with such bandwidth, the need for large local storage on devices becomes less important, especially as cloud storage is becoming more affordable. Hence, we will see more video-enabled devices with minimal, built-in storage capacity.
LTE-A sounds promising, right? In my next post, I’ll discuss this technology further and highlight some areas where there’s room for improvement.