Cell Tower ExtremeTech

It has become sort of a tradition lately for the biggest four carriers in the US to take jabs at each other, via different ads and statements. All of them argue on who delivers the fastest data speeds of them all. Given that Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint are the largest carriers in the US by subscribers number, you would expect them to be on top of the game when it comes to data speeds, right?

Wrong, as Clearwire’s CTO John Shaw has announced that the Bellevue, Washington based carrier will be rolling out its own 4G (LTE Advanced) network in 2014, one that will allow for peak rates of 168Mbps.

Clearwire, a carrier controlled by Sprint Nextel (owning 51% of the shares), plans to reach these peak rates through the use of a technology called carrier aggregation. What carrier aggregation does is fairly simple: it basically welds two 20MHz carriers (LTE pipes) together to create a 40MHz carrier, twice the size of AT&T’s and Verizon’s largest carrier.

T-Mobile’s 42Mbps HSPA+ network already uses carrier aggregation technology, but hardware that can perform carrier aggregation on LTE networks has yet to become commercially available. One reason for that is because Verizon and T-Mobile will be unable to use this technology until some point in the future. Their licensed frequency spectrum is not continuous, but rather scattered across the electromagnetic spectrum.

This setback will surely be ironed out in the more distant future, as LTE Advanced technology is already pegged to evolve to a point where it can aggregate carriers that do not sit next to each other in the frequency spectrum. This kind of long-term planning is why they call it Long Term Evolution technology, got it?

As it turns out, carrier aggregation is not limited to a couple of LTE pipes. In fact, you can continue to add carriers for as long as you want, granted you have enough spectrum to play with. But according to John Saw, using an aggregated carrier wider than 80MHz would be “overkill”.

Unfortunately for Clearwire’s future customers, the frequency spectrum that they have managed to license is also not without faults, as it is situated north of 2.5GHz, not the best place in the electromagnetic spectrum if you want to cover a lot of land. In simple terms, coverage will most likely be limited to a few big cities. Not exactly a massive threat to Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint if you think about it.

What are your thoughts on this? Is LTE carrier aggregation a technology with the potential to solve our thirst for data? Isn’t coverage a lot more important? Let us know in the comment section below!

Mike Andrici
Growing up in my father's PC store, I was surrounded by and developed a passion for technology ever since I was in kindergarten. However, advancements made in the technology world continue to amaze me on a daily basis! I've been writing about the Android OS since back in October 2008, when Google and HTC launched the first Android smartphone ever, the T-Mobile G1 / HTC Dream. Although I'm no company's fanboy, Android is the mobile OS I devoutly support.
  • mikhael firaz

    Simply SUPERB!!!!

  • Sprint will be able to use Clear to augment Sprint’s LTE rollout. That is, Sprint is using 1900Mhz for LTe today, will start 800Mhz next year (better building penetration) and can start using Clear’s spectrum in 2014. So if Clear’s 2.5Ghz signal is not available, Sprint can roll back to 1900Mhz, if 1900 not available, roll back to 800.

    • Technically Sprint is using a sliver band of the 1900Mhz block they own (D-Block). They are going to also use 800Mhz as well as eventually open up the entire 1900Mhz spectrum they own (not just D-Block), as well as augment their network in major traffic areas in major cities with Clearwire 2.5Ghz. Ultimately in the middle of 2013, Sprint is going to launch 800/1900/2500 capable LTE phones, and by the end of the year, their plan is to launch phones that will aggregate these frequencies in anticipation of LTE-Advanced launch in 2014-2015. They still have a few more revisions to go, but within 2 years Sprint will have a clean, strong network. At no point is Sprint looking to, nor will they “roll back” to any one frequency. They have intent to deploy for sure in their own native frequencies and depending how Softbank and Sprint handle their merger and if Sprint outbids Dish for Clearwire and they gain 100% control, they will use all three bands, but if not, Sprint has more than enough 800/1900 to last a while, but they also own a very small portion of 2.5Ghz spectrum that will also be used in the areas they have it.

  • Guest

    How fast are the speeds to you live in 1 of the countless cities in the USA that doesn’t have *ANY* Clearwire LTE towers at all (and never will)?

    Speed == nothing…. unless: towers == many.
    Many towers == nothing… unless: towers near you == some.

    Without the massive, widespread coverage (like Verizon already has)… low price means nothing… super high speed means nothing… unlimited/limited data means nothing… great customer service means nothing… a great phone means nothing.

  • analyzethis

    So Clear will have adequate back haul to allow for this?