Gigabit LTE will ensure continuous quality of experience outside early 5G hot spots

At the same time operators are investing heavily in gigabit LTE, they are also setting the stage for the commercialization of services based on the recently adopted non-standalone 5G New Radio specification, as well as the standalone 5G NR specification, due out of 3GPP mid-2018. The non-standalone variant uses the LTE core network and parts of the air interface while the standalone variant will use a new core architecture and air interface.

But, as with any major network deployment, in its early days 5G will provide limited coverage likely in key areas of major metropolitan cities. So what’s the role of gigabit LTE networks in supporting the rollout of 5G?

“Gig LTE is very fundamental to the rollout of 5G because of how spotty the 5G service is going to be,” CritComm Insights Founder and Principal Analyst Ken Rehbehn said. “To have any sort of consistency in the user experience, there’ll have to be a pretty robust gigabit LTE surround, which kind of raises the question for an operator that decides to go to market with a mobile version of 5G, to what extent are they going to have to provide a broader reach of gigabit LTE? Presumably the initial 5G will be islands. So just how far beyond that will they have to have LTE at gigabit rates? It’ll be an expanding circle of gigabit LTE coverage to ensure it’s not a jolt when you go from 5G to LTE as you’re going through their network. It’s going to have to be enough a surround to give credibility for the basic 5G story.”

Matt Branda, director of 5G technical marketing, Qualcomm Technologies, described gigabit LTE as “the anchor of the 5G mobile experience.”

Prayerna Raina and Dimitris Mavrakis of ABI Research note that gigabit LTE “forms a foundational support for the launch of 5G. 5G networks deployed in the non-standalone mode (LTE network as the anchor) will require interworking with the LTE radio access network to maintain service continuity. For a ubiquitous high-speed service, gigabit LTE would seem very suitable to provide a consistent blanket of high-speed connectivity, augmented by ultra-fast 5G connectivity in areas that need it.”

During a recent panel discussion at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada, Qualcomm Incorporated President Cristiano Amon said the transition from gigabit LTE to 5G will be marked by a combination of existing LTE spectrum and new millimeter wave spectrum. “5G is not about a millimeter wave choice or a (low-frequency) choice,” he said. “It’s about all of it. It’s a gigabit LTE foundation, overlaid with a more dense millimeter wave…all these systems working as one.”

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