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There’s More Life In 4G As EE, Qualcomm & Sony Show Off Commercial Gigabit LTE

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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Commercial gigabit LTE is now live in the UK in Cardiff and London’s Tech City as the foundations of 5G arrive on current generation networks

The world of telecoms has spent the past few years preparing for the arrival of 5G – next generation networks that offer faster speeds, lower latency and an impression of ‘infinite capacity’, supporting new applications and an ever growing number of connected devices.

But operators and equipment manufacturers believe there is much life left in 4G and that many of the 5G technologies will make their way into current generation networks.

Gigabit LTE is one of these technologies, offering a theoretical maximum of 1Gbps and improving the capacity and efficiency of existing LTE networks. It is being tested in 37 countries and launched in Australia in January.

Wembley EE 4

Gigabit LTE

EE is the first European operator to offer Gigabit LTE, having switched on the service in Cardiff for the UEFA Champions League final last month and in London’s Tech City.

In the Welsh capital, EE achieved real world rates of 429Mbps and today at demos at London’s Wembley Stadium, Silicon saw the network achieve 698Mbps. This is done through three carrier aggregation (the use of three different types of spectrum), 4×4 MIMO and 256QAM.

 “Gigabit LTE is definitely a stepping stone to 5G,” said Roberto Di Pietro from Qualcomm, which has been working on creating chipsets (or platform as it likes to call them now) for compatible handsets. “We need to talk about it as a teaser for 5G.

“In the next few years we’ll take [the features that gigabit LTE enables] for granted.”

EE plans to rollout gigabit LTE to 4GEE Max customers in other parts of the country in 2017 and 2018, in areas where the operator is deploying high range 2.6GHz spectrum. The first commercial 5G networks are expected in 2020, and EE anticipates a 4G-5G “tipping point” later in the decade.

It promises a better signal even at the edge of a cell or in a rural area and a more reliable connection in a crowded location. Network resources are used more efficiently for activities such as streaming, and the cost of per bit for mobile operators is much lower.

Although all users should benefit from the network-side improvements, there is only one device that can benefit – the Sony Xperia XZ Premium. But more should arrive in the future, powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835 chips.

“We’ve heard what 5G will bring in the future but what about today?” said Warren Saunders, Sony Mobile’s UK chief. “[The Xperia XZ] device is futureproofed but not at the expense of today’s features.”

At Mobile World Congress (MWC) earlier this year, Qualcomm showcased new modems that enable even faster speeds of up 1.2Gbps, powered by Cat 18 LTE – an even more advanced version of 4G.

Quiz: What do you know about 4G?