What is LTE Advanced?

by: Robert TriggsOctober 16, 2016

4G LTE is without a doubt the de facto standard for most carriers across the globe at this stage, and 5G is already in pretty far-along talks across a variety of carriers and regulatory boards. However, the middle ground between these techs is something called LTE Advanced (LTE-A) networks. LTE-A has been available in Europe and Asia for a while now, but the technology has only recently started seeing its big push in the United States with Verizon and other carriers looking to dramatically boost their network speeds.

So what exactly is LTE-A? In this piece we take a closer look at how the technology works and what it means for consumers.

How does it work?

The new functionalities introduced in LTE Advanced are Carrier Aggregation (CA,) enhanced use of multi-antenna techniques, and support for Relay Nodes. All of these are designed to increase the stability, bandwidth, and speed of LTE networks and connections.

Carrier aggregation

Probably the key behind LTE Advanced is carrier aggregation. Essentially this technology is designed to multiply the bandwidth of LTE connections by allowing you to download data from multiple network bands simultaneously. LTE component carriers, or bands, are split up into data carrying parts that can have a bandwidth of 1.4, 3, 5, 10, 15 or 20 MHz. Up to five component carriers can be aggregated together. Carrier Aggregation combines signals from these different carriers, allowing for bandwidth to increase up to 100 MHz for a single connection. This applies for both FDD and TDD network types, as well as both download and upload connections.

Carrier aggregation can work with contiguous component carriers that are located within the same operating frequency band, or with non-continuous carriers from different bands across different operating frequencies. The image below helps to explain this:

intra-band carrier aggregation Source: 3gpp

In terms of data speeds this technique can provide extremely high peak data rates, theoretically up to 1Gbps when utilizing the maximum available bandwidth from 5 carriers. Although commercial solutions only support up to 3 carriers with peak data rates up to 600 Mbps. However, in reality carriers, hardware, and network coverage will fall short of this theoretical maximum, for example peaking at around 150Mbps download speeds with two 20MHz carriers enabled.

Qualcomm LTE Carrier Aggregation Qualcomm

Another major benefit of Carrier Aggregation is that is allows for full backwards and forwards compatibility between existing LTE networks and LTE Advanced compatible devices. LTE Advanced connections will be provided through existing LTE bands, so standard LTE users will continue to use LTE as normal, whereas Advanced connections will make use of multiple LTE carriers.


Multiple Input Multiple Output technology (MIMO) is another technology required for LTE Advanced to work. MIMO increases the overall transfer bitrate by combining data-streams from two or more antennas and allows for carrier aggregation to work.

Rather than sending a single piece of information from one sender to one receiver, you can send the same single piece of information from multiple senders to multiple receivers. It’s a parallel process, which substantially increases the amount of data you can send and receive each second (bits per hertz,) providing you have a receiver modem which can sort all the information out into the correct order.

MIMO Telecomhall

LG Optimus G Pro aa 5 4g lte 1600See also: Are you on the fastest LTE network in the U.S.?33

Although MIMO is already used in current LTE networks, LTE Advanced requires that chips increase the number of inputs and outputs used simultaneously. LTE Advanced will support up to eight transmitters and receivers whilst downloading and four by four when uploading. The increased MIMO arrangement will also improve the speed and connection quality of legacy connections such as CDMA, GSM, and WCDMA.

Cell hardware

The final piece of technology introduced with LTE Advanced is a piece of carrier hardware called a relay node. Whilst relay nodes aren’t an integral part of improving your data speeds, they will improve the availability of LTE connections, and offer you more connections to choose from when sending a receiving data.

Simply put, a relay node is a low powered base station used to boost network coverage at the ends of and beyond the connection radius of the main station. These relay nodes connect wirelessly to the main station, and should help boost your signal when wondering close to the edge of your LTE network. Of course access to improved connectivity will be entirely dependent on whether carriers bother to invest in building these nodes.


Peak theoretical and user speeds see a big boost with 4G LTE Advanced.


Modem hardware

To function correctly, carrier aggregation and MIMO requires both telecommunications and device hardware implementations. You will find that many smartphone SoCs and external modems support these faster data rates these days. LTA Advanced hardware details were introduced with the Release 10 specifications. Any LTE Category 4 device or higher supports carrier aggregation and the larger MIMO configurations, each to varying degrees.

For example, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 810 features a the company’s own 450Mbit/s Cat 9 X10 LTE modem, while the Snapdragon 820 comes with a faster X12 modem with Category 12 support, which both support up to 3 band carrier aggregation in the download link. MediaTek’s top-end Helio X20 features a LTE-A 300Mbit/s Cat 6 modem, as does the Samsung built Exynos 7420 found inside its Galaxy S6 range of smartphones. However, it is important to note that your carrier will need to keep up with your modem technology before you can hope to reach these maximum speeds, so don’t take the handset spec sheet figures too seriously.

LTE ClassSpeedsAggregation Options
Category 12600 Mbps download
100 Mbps upload
3 x 20MHz download
2 x 20MHz upload
Category 10450 Mbps download
100 Mbps upload
3 x 20MHz download
2 x 20MHz upload
Category 9450 Mbps download
50 Mbps upload
3 x 20MHz download
Category 7300 Mbps download
100 Mbps download
2 x 20MHz download
2 x 20MHz upload
Category 4150 Mbps download
50 Mbps upload
2 x 10MHz download

In the future, high-end smartphone modems will support an even wider range of aggregation technologies. WiFi and LTE Unlicenses spectrums will be thrown into the mix with LTE-A Pro and additional carrier bands with the eventually roll-out of the first 5G networks some time down the line.

Global rollout


While LTE-A certainly isn’t as available as standard LTE at this stage, it continues to grow across the globe and has a presence in just about every major market at this stage. This ramp-up will likely continue full speed over the next several years, as 5G still is a bit off. For those that have LTE-A access, what do you think of the speed gains? Was standard 4G LTE already ‘good enough’? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

  • LTE Advanced in the U.S next year … :/

    4G in INDIA supposedly to come next year … :<

    What pace …. hmmm….

    • aCe manayan

      lol what about here in the Philippines..were still 3G – 3G HSPA

      • SaRPeR

        We just got LTE-A few months ago in Turkey.

  • Sunny

    you guys talk about cutting edge technology in the mobile space.. but you guys don’t have a mobile website..SHAME !!

    • joser116

      They do have a mobile website.

    • Todays mobile processors are fast enough (and usable enough) to render full webpages in no time. In a year there will be no need for mobile webpages anymore.

      • David

        Mobile sites today are all about optimization, not (primarily) about performance.

        And yes, they do have a mobile site. I’m browsing at this very moment.

  • It would be nice just have 3G or better connection everywhere in the US first. Last week me and a group of friends went on a trip last week and we were on Edge, GPRS, or 1X. It is a shame there are parts of this country still only covered by 2G technology.

    • Dewan

      First World Problems

      • joseph pastor

        hahaha made me think of ‘rich white girl problems’

  • whatsbeefy


  • joe barkho

    Just a way to use up limited data faster.

    • Yeah the “always complaining” guy again. What do you want to do with your smartphone? Download 4k videos? When you want to do this kind of stuff on a daily basis it will be available. And yeah I know providers are always looking for ways to maximize profit, but download limits are also a way to ensure high quality download speeds for all users and prevent people from downloading blurays over their smartphone.

      • josh

        See that isn’t always true. Three uk have the cheapest and best deals out of all the networks. They are the smallest network yet they carry 43% of all mobile data vs 24% EE; which is the largest Uk network. Yet they have been voted the fastest and most reliable network for the past few years! Talk about quality, i use 40gb of a month (tethering too) and get around 20 megabits at home. Have got 27 mbs at some points.
        They used to have the uk’s biggest 3g network until EE. Its all marketing costs that drive prices up. Hence why three rely on word of mouth, which is the best way to advertise.

        “Download 4k vids”. Well itunes films do average out 5gb per film! Plus why not? This is why companies like EE don’t innovate, give people the impossible. Rather than rack up prices

  • No One

    For Australia, it might not be a good thing since we are getting charge 25cent/MB over the data allowance. The faster the download the more and faster data will be used.

  • Rob C

    Very good Article (for style, accuracy, etc.), but it was better covered in many prior Articles, you had a bit of new info though.


    “… the only manufacturers that I’ve heard of planning to put carrier aggregation technology into a chip are Qualcomm and Broadcom.”

    Feb 19 2013, Nvidia Blog — “Two Modems, 20 Months”

    “Today, we rolled out not one but two modem products – including our first quad-core mobile processor integrated with LTE capabilities to ship into the market. The result of our acquisition of Icera 20 months ago …”.

    In addition you did not clarify that the upcoming Equipment with Carrier Aggregation also will allow (IF the Carrier who hosts your Cellular Plan permits) you to transfer to and from Cellular Carrier, Tower, and WiFi Network. If you are near WiFi then you would go ‘off LTE’ from your Carrier and possibly have free Cellular Service for the time you were connected to WiFi (assuming WiFi was free).

    The Carrier’s ‘advantage’ to allowing you to do this (have, possibly free, WiFi handoff) is that you can get great coverage indoors (whereas the Cellular Towers may not provide the proper coverage unless there were an excess number of them (expensive, inefficient and interfering)) and it offloads their Towers for People who are glad to pay (won’t complain they are getting dropped Calls). There would also be LTE handoff to WiMax (which the same Carrier may be able to charge for).


    Ref: http://www.motorola.com/web/Business/Solutions/Industry%20Solutions/Service%20Providers/Network%20Operators/LTE/_Document/Static%20Files/InterTech%20Mobility%20White%20Paper.pdf

    “Inter-RAT (Radio Access Technology) mobility, which refers to mobility between LTE and earlier 3GPP technologies and Inter-Technology mobility which refers to mobility between LTE and non-3GPP technologies.”.

  • Khanntey Try

    The Picture of “Wifi for supporting hot spot coverage” in figure “2006 => Typical user rate uplink 64-884” Mbps or Kbps?

  • in india we are not even having LTE except 3 cities!

  • Kameron Bourgeois

    how is wimax faster the hspa+

  • Nitish

    Any Cat 4 LTE device does not support carrier aggregation. All older Snapdragon modems like 400, 410, 615, 616 support only single 20 MHz channel which peaks speed upto 150 Mbps. So typical user speed will be lower. All recent Snapdragon modems like 210, 212, 425, 430 support Cat 4 LTE-Advanced with carrier aggregation of 2×10 MHz channels which also peaks speed upto 150 Mbps. But typical user speed will be higher because of carrier aggregation.

    • SaRPeR

      I have a phone with Cat. 6 and best speed i get is around 125 Mbps with LTE-A.

  • Joe Carroll

    T-Mobile has had LTE-A with 2 channel carrier aggregation since 2014, now in over 400 cities, and 4 channel carrier aggregation promised everywhere by the end of the year.

    • Joe Carroll

      4×4 mimo in over 300 cities too, but you need a newer flagship to use it, IIRC

    • dubs


      TMO coverage sucks in most places I ever go, even in the city where I live.

      • Joe Carroll

        Well, it sucks to be you I guess. I’ve hit 70 Mbps in lowly Appleton, WI, 40 Mbps in Beaver Dam, WI, and usually get 12-30 Mbps here in Milwaukee – and I don’t even have a phone that supports most of the super fast new technology (ZMax Pro / Nexus 6)

        • Joe Carroll

          Getting 5.72 up, and 9.43 down, 30ms latency – indoors, during rush hour right now. Can’t complain. That’s on par with downloads on the basic ATT Uverse home internet, and my usual speeds are on par with TWC “Turbo” home internet…and it’s only going to get better.

  • disqus_3Gy5bmHRAv

    Can anyone please tell me if the X12 modem supports CA frequency combinations? The Pixel specifications show different combinations for the US and international models. Apple does not show which combinations are supported in their specs. I would like to purchase a true “World” phone.