While 5G was everywhere at Mobile World Congress, we still don’t have a standard, and it will take even longer before we have phones that support it. On the other hand, phones which support a gigabit connection over the existing LTE standard were unveiled at the show, promising faster connections.
One thing to understand about Gigabit LTE connections is that they require two things—a phone with a modem that supports an advanced amount of Carrier Aggregation or CA (the ability to use multiple groups of spectrum at the same time)—and a network that supports these connections, meaning that it has the spectrum available. Of course, your data plan will likely limit how many high-speed connections you can use. But the idea isn’t really to be downloading content at a gigabit per second for an extended period of time, but rather to get the content you need very quickly and then get
This technology includes support for what is known as 256-QAM digital signal processing, meaning it can pack more bits per transmission; support for 4X4 MIMO, so it can receive data
Technically, it also supports LTE-Advanced, specifically LTE Category 16 for downloads, with a theoretical peak of 1 gigabit per second, and Category 13 for uploads, with a theoretical peak of 150 megabits per second. (Note that the current Snapdragon 820/821 used in many of today’s top phones uses the company’s X12 modem, which has a theoretical capability of downloads at 600Mbps. In the real world, congestion and spectrum get in the way.)
A couple of companies demonstrated phones using the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 at the show, including Sony, which showed its Xperia XZ premium, due out in June. Qualcomm demonstrated this on the show floor, with downloads of just less than 1Gbps.
ZTE also had its own speed tests on the show floor. Still, it is widely expected that the first phone that will widely ship with this processor is the upcoming Samsung Galaxy S8.
Meanwhile, the big networking providers to the telecom industry are also pushing this technology, and both Nokia and Ericsson talked it up at the show.
Last week, Sprint said it was actually debuting a network that supports Gigabit LTE in New Orleans, using three-channel carrier aggregation and 60MHz of Sprint’s 2.5GHz spectrum; they demonstrated this with an unannounced phone from Motorola Mobility that uses a Snapdragon 835. T-Mobile has also said it plans to roll out a gigabit-capable network in the U.S. later this year, and AT&T has said it expects that some of its sites will also be able to reach that speed sometime this year.
Qualcomm is no longer alone in the space. The Samsung Exynos 8895, which is now being marketed as the Exynos 9, also includes its own gigabit modem that supports Category 16 downloads with a theoretical maximum of 1 Gbps using 5 carrier aggregation and Category 13 uploads of up to 150Mbps uplink using 2CA (Cat 13). Again, this is manufactured
In addition, in the run-up to this year’s show, Intel announced its XMM 7560 modem, which supports Category 16 for downloads with a peak theoretical speed of 1Gbps, and Category 13 for uploads with speeds up to 225Mbps. The first modem to be built on Intel’s 14nm technology, it enables 5x 20MHz CA for downloads, 3x 20 MHz CA for uploads, 4X4 MIMO and 256-QAM, and works on both licensed spectrum and unlicensed spectrum, where it coexists with Wi-Fi using a technology called License Assisted Access (LAA), which is primarily used by carriers in Europe and Japan. Intel expects samples in the first half of this year and a move into production soon afterward.
Not to be outdone, Qualcomm showed off its X20 modem, which is even faster, with a theoretical peak speed of 1.2Gbps, support for LTE Category 18 and 5 x 20MHz CA across licensed and unlicensed spectrum using both LAA and LTE-U. The X20 also supports the 3.5GHz Citizens Broadband Radio Service in the U.S. This
You may not need all this speed right now, but it seems necessary to support higher resolution video and VR applications. In the meantime, if it helps deliver content more quickly and can improve the networks, that’s a win for everyone.
Michael J. Miller is chief information officer at Ziff Brothers Investments, a private investment firm. Miller, who was editor-in-chief of PC Magazine from 1991 to 2005, authors this blog for PCMag.com to share his thoughts on PC-related products. No investment advice is offered in this blog. All duties are disclaimed. Miller works separately for a private investment firm which may at any time invest in companies whose products are discussed in this blog, and no disclosure of securities transactions will be made.