AT&T flicks the switch on LTE-A carrier aggregation, but you’ll have to wait to use it

by: Robert TriggsMarch 7, 2014

We’ve been hearing about LTE-Advanced networking for a little while now, and whilst the option is slowly gaining momentum all across the globe, AT&T appears to be the first company in the US to roll-out its LTE-A service, or at least the carrier aggregation part of it anyway.

AT&T SVP of Network Technologies Kris Rinne told Gigaom in a recent interview, that the new network configuration has just been activated in several regions across the US, but only confirmed one city in which the service is currently live – Chicago.

So why the silence about the network upgrade, especially considering that AT&T will be the first to offer this service in the US? Well, it’s likely due to the fact that only a handful of the company’s customers can actually take advantage of it, AT&T hasn’t officially announced any smartphones that can make use of the service.

Although handset and chip manufacturers have been gearing up for faster data speeds for a while, the vast majority of these handsets are being sold in areas like South Korea, where LTE-A connections are more readily available. AT&T only recently announced its Unite hotspot carrier-aggregation device, which is currently the only device certified by the company to make use of these new speeds. The first smartphone that we are likely to see make use of AT&T’s upgraded network could be the new Samsung Galaxy S5. At Mobile World Congress, Samsung confirmed that the S5 would support carrier aggregation on some US networks, of which AT&T could be one.

samsung galaxy s5 x aa 3

The Samsung Galaxy S5 comes with Cat 4 LTE support, offering data speeds up to 150Mbps.

It’s also worth noting that there are other AT&T devices which, on paper, also already support carrier aggregation, such as the Snapdragon 800 powered LG G2. But before you get too excited, it’s likely that existing devices will require a firmware update before they could even potentially begin to work with multiple AT&T frequency bands. Hopefully we’ll hear more about new and existing handsets when AT&T is ready to announce its network update officially.

In case you’ve missed out on the all marketing buzz, LTE-A carrier aggregation essentially opens up two bands of traffic for your device to use for downloads, rather than operating on a single band, to increase your maximum data speeds. In other words, LTE-A gives customers access to more of the network to use at once.

For example, in Chicago, AT&T is running its fastest data speeds on two LTE bands, its 700 MHz and the 2100 MHz Advanced Wireless Services (AWS) frequencies. By aggregating those two channels together, AT&T will be able to send data over a 15 MHz-wide downlink, increasing theoretical download speeds to around 110 Mbps.

LTE Advanced Carrier Aggregation Qualcomm

So far, AT&T has only confirmed its new LTE-A service in Chicago, but other areas are set to follow suite, possibly including Baltimore, Dallas, New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Washington D.C., all of which are currently undergoing 2G/3G to LTE transformations. There are also many other cities, like Chicago, where AT&T owns the AWS spectrum.

AT&T may well be the first U.S. provider to make use of LTE carrier aggregation, but all of the major operators have the technology in their roadmaps too. Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint have all been buying up the necessary spectrums, and should also be switching on their services in the not too distant future.

Are you looking forward to the LTE-A data revolution?

  • Tahir Bashir

    Another great reason that i live in Chicago!

    • Cole Raney

      And another reason I want to move to Chicago for grad school.

      • Tahir Bashir

        You should! Our city is the greatest in the world!

        • Cole Raney

          The only thing that will keep from doing so is if I don’t get in to Uchicago.

  • Phil Rigby

    Anyone else find it weird/ironic that South Korea has better LTE services than the US?

    • Cole Raney

      Not at all. They have an advantage since they are much smaller in area and much more densely populated. I think Japan has more advanved LTE and those factors benefit them as well. They don’t have to spend as much time expanding the network, so they can spend that time and money on the next step forward in wireless technology.

      • Phil Rigby

        Point taken, however it still seems strange to me. Yes it’s a smaller country, but I wouldn’t think they have the same kind of money to invest in infrastructure as the US does. All the telcos over here make billions (due to the fact the bleed the consumer dry and the consumer allows it) yet we still have areas where 3G is a luxury, never mind 4G.

        • Cole Raney

          I have no real answer for that. However, I did learn in a class that Japanese CEOs take smaller cuts of company profits. An example is Toyota makes more money than any car manufacturer, yet the CEO makes much less than many CEOs of car companies in the U.S. It could be a similar situation with Telephone companies, and maybe the South Koreans are like the Japanese in that respect. That could leave a larger portion of their income available for R&D in South Korean telephone companies.

          This is all just some speculation, as I don’t have any data to really back it up. I’m just going off of something I know to be true in one market.

          • smokebomb

            In the U.S. a CEO of a large corporation like Verizon or Comcast makes 400x what the lowest paid worker does.

        • smokebomb

          The problem is lack of regulation. There are no laws requiring these companies to cover the country in one stage before moving to the next. That’s why there still exists place where you can’t get 3G.

    • jeff

      And about a third of the cost !!

    • smokebomb

      No. Their country is finite in size compared to the U.S. and their density is higher which means more people utilizing the spectrum at once.

  • mercado79

    Sounds kinda like Sprint Spark. Is that not a form of carrier aggregation?

  • apianist16

    Yet we only get a couple of gigs of data total. :/

  • smokebomb

    Useless if carriers impose data caps.

  • Ryan

    Already have this in canada with Rogers

  • Michael

    Does the Note 3 have the ability to get that connection?