Clearwire to roll out a 168Mbps LTE-A network in 2014

May 16, 2012
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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!

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