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"If you ain't first, you're last." -- Ricky Bobby

The UK's largest mobile network, Everything Everywhere Limited. (EE), will be switching on this month in London, England.  This network is expected to be six times as fast at downloads as the fastest current U.S. LTE network.

Initially, the 4G "Advanced" LTE network will only be available to businesses as LTE-served 802.11ac hotspots, but by mid-2014 EE hopes to make available to its 28 million UK subscribers compatible smartphones and tablets from its OEM partners.

I. The Promise

The transition to 4G has been a story of a simple concept turned confusing by technological struggles.  In mid-2010 the industry's top players from around the global worked together to develop a faster, "fourth generation" (4G) technology to replace the aging third generation (3G) technologies, which were largely dominated by GSM and CDMA.

The industry published [PDF] a plan for a Long Term Evolution (LTE) network -- a network which would deliver 300 Mbps (Megabits per second), uplink peak rates of 75 Mbps, and transfer latencies of less than 5 ms. Precise implementations of what was to be defined as "LTE" diverged slightly from there with the U.S. carriers building network on a hodgepodge of 20 MHz bands of spectrum around 700, 800, 1900, 1700, and 2100 MHz which were collectively dubbed "advanced wireless spectrum" (AWS) by marketing types.  Overseas most adopted 2.5 GHz (e.g. South America) or 2.6 GHz (Canada, EU).

But at the end of the day, spectrum differences aside, all 4G LTE operates on more or less the same technology and the same underlying E-UTRAN spec -- a big reason why LTE devices are much more compatible (newer modems can cover virtually every LTE band in use worldwide).

You promised us fast! [Image Source: Android Authority]

While foreign LTE networks began popping up by 2011, Verizon Communications, Inc.'s (VZ) subsidiary Verizon Wireless (then co-owned by Vodafone Group plc (LON:VOD), a top UK telecom) was among the earliest adopters of "LTE" in the world, flipping on its own network in 2010.

Since then Verizon -- the largest U.S. carrier -- has adopted a deliberate, plodding rollout, to its current coverage levels, where most Americans have access to LTE.

II. Close, But No Cigar

But during this process there was just a minor caveat -- Verizon wasn't debuting full speed LTE (because it likely could not due so from a technical and cost perspective).  Recent tests have shown that Verizon's network today at best delivers around 200 ms (at best) first byte response times, 10-15 Mbps average (50-60 Mbps peak) download speeds, and 4-8 Mbps average upload speeds.  In short, after three years of deployment, Verizon has strong LTE coverage, but only about a sixth of the [maximum possible] spec (or forty times as slow, when it comes to the latency) [due to technical limitations -- see below].

[Ed. -- As Belegost kindly points out, Verizon did not have the available spectrum to deploy "full speed" LTE (even if devices had the antennas -- which current phones lack.  Verizon has 10 MHz of spectrum that it can operate on for LTE in a 13 MHz LTE-compatible spectrum band [PDF] it owns -- and is thus limited to under 100 Mbps (I'm unsure exactly which scheme its devices use, but speeds for 10 MHz are listed here.]

When it comes to latency, maybe this was [likely not noticeable] forgivable.  After all, 200 ms isn't that much longer of a perceived wait than 5 ms to the human brain, which typically perceives the world in the double-digit hertz range (10-1000 ms per event).  But the speed difference when it came to large size content like larger apps or streaming video the download speeds are a bit more noticeable.

Also noticeable was Verizon's decision to not initially adopt voice-over-LTE (VoLTE) -- a part of the promised LTE spec that no American LTE carriers currently provide.  Verizon (and later others) opted to only let data fly across its 3G network, relegating voice traffic to its legacy 3G network.

Verizon LTE
Verizon's LTE coverage is good, but slow. [Image Source: Android Spin]

Verizon took a lot of fire for advertising its below-spec implementation (which was even worse in earlier days) as "4G LTE".  Some carriers argued it would be better to brand so-called 3.5G (mature 3G) technologies like HSPA+ as "4G" as they were nearly as fast as Verizon's try at LTE, while having better coverage.  

This approach is pretty egregious from a technical standpoint, as 4G refers to a set of standards, and while slower than promised Verizon's LTE was at least based on those standards.  But the 3.5G/4G muddled mess embraced at the time by AT&T, Inc. (T) and T-Mobile USA (a Deutsche Telekom subsidiary) was somewhat understandable from a usability perspective.

When 3G is 4G. [Image Source: AT&T]

To be fair, many foreign carriers faced similar struggles, though a number of early foreign LTE networks proved closer to the ambitious [maximum] spec than Verizon, a somewhat surprising outcome given the supposed American "technical dominance" in the telecommunications industry.

III. Full-Fledged LTE (FINALLY)

With Advanced LTE (not to be confused with VoLTE) "5G" fast approaching with faster promised speeds and new technical implementation details, there's a lot of pressure for carriers worldwide to step up their game.  While it's increasing looking that the new spec will arrive in the U.S. without even a full-fledge first-generation LTE network in place, in Europe some carriers -- most notably Orange and Deutsche Telekom -- are heeding the call.

London 4G LTE
London, UK, the largest city in the EU will be the site of the new trial. [Image Source: Unknown]

For Orange and Deutsche Telekom, London -- the most populous city in the EU – appears to be the ideal trial site for a mature first generation LTE network.  The new network will use two bands of spectrum -- 20 MHz in the 1.8 GHz range, and 20 MHz in the 2.6 GHz range.  This so-called "carrier aggregation" is enabled by carriers sharing unused spectrum in different bands to boost aggregate throughput.  In the U.S. this technology is expected to arrive -- eventually -- but spectrum hoarding and an opposition to inter-carrier cooperation has stalled its arrival.

Deployment will begin in East London's "Tech City" region.  The first devices on the network will be CAT6 hotspot routers from Huawei Technologies Comp. (SHE:002502) which supports the latest 802.11ac wireless spec and connections to up to twenty devices.  The modem will have peak downloads speeds of 300 Mbps (the full rate promised by the LTE spec), while the hotspot connected devices should receive data at around 200 Mbps (peak rate).

Huawei router
A Huawei router. [Image Source: The Hacker News]

Those rates should be a boon for business and open new opportunities as before the only way to get that fast data rates was to try to find faster wired connections or use a satellite truck and 802.11ac.  Traders at the London Stock Exchange are salivating at the prospect of pulling down data on the go at these faster rates.

EE CEO Olaf Swantee proclaims:

Today we are introducing the next age of 4G mobile technology to the UK.  Our existing 4G network delivers incredible mobile data speeds and covers millions of people across the country, but we never stand still. We know that mobile data usage is going to keep increasing, and rapidly so.

Our analysts predict that data usage will grow significantly over the next three years. In fact, our trend-mapping shows that data usage is set to rise by 750 per cent in that period, as consumers and companies conduct more of their business and lives on-line.

The network we’re switching on today in Tech City uses the spectrum that we acquired in the Ofcom spectrum auction earlier this year, and is the first part of an infrastructure that can meet the future demands of an increasingly data-hungry nation, enabling us to stay one-step ahead of the demand.

The new network will go live to consumers in H1 2014, with mobile hotspots, and in H2 2014 with smartphones/tablets.  In preparation for that rollout many top UK content providers are already working to leverage this new speed.  The BBC plans to bump its mobile video player (iPlayer) from the current rate 5 Mbps to 20 Mbps.

Aside from slower rates, the additional bad news for Americans is that more market confusion is likely in store.  U.S. carriers already appear to be confusing VoLTE as "Advanced LTE"; it wouldn't be surprising for them to call full LTE "5G" or some equally misleading title.  Prepare yourselves.

Source: EE [press release]

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More LTE ignorance...
By Belegost on 11/6/2013 10:58:26 AM , Rating: 5
I swear people continue to talk about LTE who seem to have no clue what the spec is at all.

LTE is designed at it's core to be a much more flexible specification than any previous, this allows for greater interoperability, and better deployment as it can adapt to different spectrum holdings. This means that any talk about the "full speed" of LTE is a little disingenuous. Different deployments will have different throughput limits.

When VZW began deployment in 2010 release 9 of the spec was the most up-to-date it supported 5 categories, category 5 did list 300Mbps as peak rate supported, but category 5 requires 4 layer operation, which means that all user equipment (UEs) must have at least 4 receive antennas (Rx). Dedicating 4 Rx to LTE in a phone form factor is difficult, and it is still a few years away from happening. To date no one has deployed category 5, on the network or phone side, and it's unlikely anyone ever will. It was a category that worked on paper but never made it to practical use.

Stepping down from cat. 5, cat. 4 allowed for up to 150Mbps on 2 layers. Separately LTE allows for a wide range of deployment spectrum bandwidth, with 1.4Mhz at the smallest, going up through 3,5,10,15 and ending with 20MHz.

The 150Mbps is when 20MHz of contiguous DL and 20MHz of contiguous UL spectrum is available in the band for LTE. VZW did not have spectrum with a 20MHz allowed band, band 13 that VZW had was licensed for 10MHz operation - 10MHz has a maximum physical layer throughput of roughly 72Mbps.

So the measured throughput at TCP layer of 60Mbps is peak throughput for the deployment - what's the issue?

Next, the new UK deployment is using carrier aggregation (CA) to reach the cat. 6 throughput levels (which was not even defined when VZW rolled out in 2010). But if you're going to base the "full speed" of LTE off CA then you should be honest, the current max is cat. 8 which is defined for 8 layer operation on 5 20MHz carriers and gives 3Gbps. So the new London deployment is 10x slower than the "full speed" of LTE...

Of course, currently no UEs or network vendors support 8 layers or aggregating 5 carriers, but you know, that's the "full speed."

Also, in your silly tirade against VZW, you should probably also point out that 10MHz FDD deployments are the most common, ATT and TMO also use it, as well as most European and Japanese deployments...

RE: More LTE ignorance...
By Samus on 11/6/2013 4:04:33 PM , Rating: 2

RE: More LTE ignorance...
By SAN-Man on 11/6/2013 5:25:48 PM , Rating: 2
Stop giving Daily Tech free content.

They write these trash articles and someone comes and corrects them, FOR FREE.

I say let them pay up, or let this site die.

RE: More LTE ignorance...
By JasonMick on 11/6/2013 8:27:24 PM , Rating: 1

Well I learned something new. I will be sure to incorporate that in future articles, I appreciate the clear explanation.

Do you know which of these categories LTE devices on Verizon's 10 MHz band utilize?

I would assume one of the 64QAM entries??

Also, why do you say TDD is bad? Isn't that the technology that China Mobile is using for its LTE?? In a way wouldn't offering compatibility with the world's largest telecom be better than offering compatibility with Europe's FDD carriers?

RE: More LTE ignorance...
By Belegost on 11/6/2013 9:09:42 PM , Rating: 2
So looking at that link, VZW phones right now will support 2x2 MIMO at 64QAM. Though the derivations on that page don't account for granularity of the block size computation - if you look in section of the 36.213 document you can see the table of available sizes - due to that granularity some of those maximums are not quite attained. But the last table is fairly close to achievable.

I didn't intend to imply anything bad about TDD, it actually has some advantages as far as spectrum use and asymmetrical connections because it allows for flexibility in assigning the ratio of UL to DL, and since most traffic is DL that can be prioritized.

Most modems available should be capable of supporting both, but a lot of it comes down to RF compatibility, the TDD bands are separate from FDD bands, so the RF components are sometimes not compatible (whether for technical or business/political reasons.)

I think the key point to take away from LTE is that it is fundamentally meant to be a flexible spec. By being highly flexible it won out against competing specs, and it enables networks to be deployed easier, and devices to be more capable, one device can connect to networks with different bandwidths, different capabilities and still function. This is an overall win for the consumer.

RE: More LTE ignorance...
By Belegost on 11/6/2013 9:15:47 PM , Rating: 2
Just to add to my first paragraph, if you look in the table I mentioned in the 36.213, a 10MHz bandwidth will support N_PRB = 50, and I_TBS = 26 - this gives a transport block size of 36696 bits, with 2x2 MIMO 2 of these blocks can be sent in 1ms. So 36696*2*1000 = 73.4Mbps, a certain amount of this is actually bits for CRC checking, so around 73Mbps.

RE: More LTE ignorance...
By RU482 on 11/7/2013 2:03:47 PM , Rating: 2
I threw up in my mouth a little when the article mentioned "5G"

A bit sensationalist
By JohnThacker on 11/6/2013 11:00:41 AM , Rating: 2
I can't say I'm thrilled with the sensationalist tone of this article.

The original LTE spec did not meet the original 4G requirements hoped for and set forth in the original definition by the 3GPP.

But it's not as though "Verizon refused to implement the full version of the spec." Original definition 4G compliant LTE Advanced was not even finished as a specification until mid 2011. There's no way that Verizon could be implemented it in 2010 (or even 2011) since the network gear did not exist yet. In fact, test gear for manufacturers to create the network gear didn't exist until early 2011 when Agilent introduced it against the then not quite finalized spec. It's only very recently that it's even been possible for network operators to deploy LTE Advanced.

Because of that, the ITU changed the definition of "4G." The original definition was only a hoped for target.

It's certainly true that operators in much of Europe decided to concentrate on upgrading to the latest releases and speeds of HSPA+ rather the implement the initial LTE release, and that wasn't an option for Verizon. (It was LTE or the now discontinued UMB plan of Qualcomm.)

If Verizon and other US operators never upgrade to LTE Advanced compliant networks, then, sure, Americans should be upset. But it's not like it's some scandal that in 2010 Verizon did a build out of the best network technology available at the time, instead of doing nothing and waiting for 3 years to do LTE Advanced.

Leapfrogs sometimes happen, since not every one installs every release of every possible hardware upgrade. (Whether consumers or network operators.)

RE: A bit sensationalist
By JohnThacker on 11/6/2013 11:04:53 AM , Rating: 3
And consider that these are trials in London. Well, guess what? Verizon is doing LTE Advanced trials in New York City (and possibly a few other places) right now on their AWS spectrum.

It's not really that different. I don't want to say that Verizon was way ahead for deploying LTE when UK operators were deploying the latest HSPA+ releases, since they're comparable, but Verizon's LTE Advanced trials on AWS are comparable to EE and Vodaphone's LTE trials in London.

By DailyMess on 11/6/2013 11:25:35 AM , Rating: 1
Holy crap. I created an account just to say this article was the worst butchering of the English language I have ever read on this site, and that's saying a lot.

RE: Horrible
By iamkyle on 11/7/2013 1:14:02 AM , Rating: 2
We call these "Mick articles".

Oh Wow....
By sorry dog on 11/6/2013 2:56:33 PM , Rating: 2
That means customers can reach their 5 gig cap for the month in like 60 seconds instead of 5 minutes.

I'm not sure if I need that more or the next Iphone release.... Can somebody help make up my mind for me....

EE - Excrement Everywhere
By speedfriend on 11/7/2013 6:25:55 AM , Rating: 2
As an EE 3G client, I would take anything they say with a pinch of salt. Their 3G service is pathetic, with speeds worse than most third world countries and coverage that vanishes as soon as you go into many shops. I'm sure they will get fantastic speeds in a small area, but don't expect them to roll it out anywhere useful.I can't wait for my contract to end.

Signal Saturation
By deltaend on 11/8/2013 10:03:34 AM , Rating: 2
It almost doesn't matter what the spec is due to the amount of signal saturation in large areas. Even with massive bandwidth and large amounts of spectrum, if you add enough people onto it, suddenly your speeds mean nothing. In order to overcome that obstacle, we need better and more advanced ways of dealing with ever increasing amounts of devices in large areas, all talking on the same frequencies.

"I modded down, down, down, and the flames went higher." -- Sven Olsen

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