Asian power players speed up LTE evolution

Caroline Gabriel/Wireless Watch
02 Jul 2012

Of course industry bodies are already starting to look at 3GPP Release 11 and beyond, and DoCoMo is well known for being in the vanguard of any new RAN standards, but with carriers just wrestling with the implications of introducing LTE-A from 2013, few had the appetite to be considering future upgrades just yet.

However, the presentation emphasized, once again, how the big Asian operators are increasingly setting the agenda for LTE, in terms of technology advances and commercial models. The approaches of cellcos like DoCoMo and Korea's SKT reveal a more profound rethink of RAN norms than has yet been seen in the west, and the region's leaders are leading the way in key trends like metrocells and LTE roaming.

Last week, SKT outlined the next stage of its 4G plans, which are sufficiently radical to be dubbed “LTE 2.0.” Like some US frontrunners like Verizon, the Korean mobile leader plans to introduce voice over LTE and LTE-Advanced next year, but it has more dramatic changes to come too. It says it is already the world's second largest LTE provider after Verizon, with 3.4 million customers just a year after turning on its network in July 2011.

It raised its forecast for its LTE base at the end of this year to 7 million, from a previous estimate of 6 million, and plans to achieve 99% population coverage this month.

Among the techniques the operator is pioneering are multicarrier (MC) technology. It will be the first carrier in the world to do this, enabling its network to harness its 800-MHz spectrum and the 1.8-GHz frequencies it acquired last year. This will double its spectrum for LTE services to 40 MHz. SK Telecom kicked off an MC pilot in the Gangnam Station area at the end of May, and will cover the whole Seoul area in 2012 and 23 other major cities by early 2013.

The company also plans the world's first commercialization of a Hybrid Network Integrated Solution (HIS), which enables simultaneous use of LTE and Wi-Fi networks, in the fourth quarter of this year. This promises data rates of up to 127Mbps (LTE 75Mbps + Wi-Fi 52Mbps), which is 70% faster than the current LTE network, says SKT.

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