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FAQ: How is LTE-Advanced different from regular LTE?

Evan Dashevsky | Jan. 22, 2014
LTE-Advanced will be coming in a big way soon. What does that mean for you?

Am I at least getting something near true 4G speeds?
Today, a mobile user in North America on a 4G LTE network can expect top download speeds of 13 mbps around large-population areas, as we discovered in our recent barrage of cross-continental network tests.

Wow. 13 mbps is a lot less than 100 mbps, huh?
Indeed. The good news is that for most people's mobile tasks, such performance is more than sufficient.

Unless you're streaming 4K Ultra HD video, current networks will easily handle all your Instagram-uploading, Spotify-streaming, and Snapchat-sending needs.

Besides, the 100-mbps minimum requirement is sort of a best-case scenario in the lab. Real-world LTE-A speeds are more likely to be in the range of 30 to 40 mbps on average. That's not nearly 100, but it's still a lot faster than what we have today.

Is LTE-A really that much better?
It promises to deliver download speeds of up to 3 gbps for fixed wireless installations. That's a theoretical maximum, though.

LTE-A's benefits are about more than just speed. LTE-A will enable smoother "handoffs" when traveling between cells, so you won't lose your connection so much.  And it packs more speed into the same amount of spectrum, which should allow more people to access the network at once.

We're going to need that extra capacity, too, as everything from cars to slow cookers becomes connected.

So, how does LTE-A work?
LTE-A incorporates of a number of techniques and technologies (hardware and software) that work in concert to meet higher network-performance standards. For all the in-depth techno-details, check out a list of the techniques involved. 

Many technologies make up LTE-A. It's not just one thing. But common themes include the ability to squeeze more bits into each megahertz of frequency, to bind together separate frequency bands, to make better use of multiple antennas, and to make better use of radio base stations and cells to provide broader coverage.

Although Sprint (the carrier that came in dead last in our most recent round of nationwide speed tests) is not using the LTE-A label, it is rolling out a new service called Sprint Spark that will allow devices to access three separate bandwidths of LTE at the same time. This stitching together of LTE bands, known as "carrier aggregation," is one of the techniques that LTE-A encompasses.

Sprint claims that its new technology will offer speeds as fast as 50 to 60 mbps, and the carrier has even seen peak speeds of 1.3 gbps under lab conditions.

It's important to note that a full LTE-A network won't just appear magically one day--companies will have to implement it over time, in stages.


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