Will I need to buy a new LTE-A phone?
LTE-A hasn't been deployed at all yet beyond a few test locations in other countries. But once the technology is in place, you will need a new device to get those high speeds.
Fortunately LTE-A is both backward- and forward-compatible, so a regular LTE phone such as the one you have now will be able to access an LTE-A network. You just won't get all the LTE-A benefits of enhanced speed and better coverage.
Think of LTE-A as a set of upgrades to LTE. Carriers are likely to improve their existing LTE networks one technology at a time, and the decision on when to start calling the result "LTE Advanced" or "5G" will probably fall to the marketing department.
But don't start thinking about ditching your current phone quite yet. We still have a while until LTE-A phones are ready on a mass scale. Most people get a new phone only every couple of years anyway.
Where will LTE-A be available first?
Several European and Asian carriers are already implementing test launches of LTE-A networks. In conjunction, some limited overseas releases of LTE-Advanced phones have already begun to pop up.
The big carriers are all scrambling to acquire unused wireless bandwidth. These additional patches of spectrum can help to beef up existing LTE networks, but theoretically they might also serve in a future LTE-A infrastructure.
Okay, sounds good. Sign me up. When will LTE-A be available here?
We'd be lucky to see even a test rollout in a few markets this year, honestly. Small-scale rollouts might happen in 2015. ABI Research predicts that there will be 500 million LTE-A subscriptions by 2018.
It's hard to pin down a date because the carriers are adding features to their LTE networks bit by bit. Phones and networks will continue to improve, though, and sometime in the next two or three years you'll probably buy one with "5G" or "LTE-Advanced" imprinted on it.
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