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What is LTE?

So, what is LTE? To most, it is a faster network technology. To network operators around
the world, it is a way to simplify their infrastructures to reduce costs while improving the
quality of their offerings to subscribers. Advertisements by network operators declare it as
the most advanced network technology. In the end, it is Long Term Evolution of the
Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS).
But that doesnt tell us what LTE actually is. LTE is what the 3GPP (3rd Generation
Partnership Project, the group responsible for standardizing and improving UMTS)
designates as their next step. UMTS is the group of standards that define 3G for GSM
networks across the world, including AT&T and T-Mobiles 3G networks. This does not
mean a thing to CDMA2000 subscribers, since CDMA2000 is not maintained by the 3GPP.
For CDMA2000 subscribers, LTE is the replacement of mediocre CDMA2000 networks
offered by Verizon Wireless, Sprint, au by KDDI, and others with a superior cellular
telecommunications system offering flexibility and power to the network operator and the
subscriber.
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[1]LTE is a very good, easily deployable network technology, offering high speeds and
low latencies over long distances. For example, the three LTE networks in New York
City [2] were rated well. Verizons LTE service was rated with an average download
speed of 7.67Mbps and an average upload speed of 3.76Mbps. AT&Ts LTE service
was rated with an average download speed of 19.21Mbps and an average upload
speed of 10.09Mbps. Sprints LTE service was rated with an average download speed
of 12.35Mbps and an average upload speed of 4.24Mbps. Verizons 3G service was
rated with an average download speed of 0.47Mbps and an average upload speed of
0.15Mbps. Sprints 3G was similarly bad. Similar ratings [3] followed in other cities as
well.
In this article, we will discuss what configurations LTE can be deployed in, why LTE is
easily deployable, how LTE works as a radio technology, what types of LTE exist, how
LTE affects battery life, what network operators want LTE to do, and the future of 4G
as a whole. The most technical parts of the article are LTE can be deployed in, why
LTE is easily deployable, how LTE works as a radio technology, and what types of LTE
exist. For those who dont want that information, you can skip to how LTE affects
battery life [4] and still get the gist of what were saying. But to get the complete
picture, reading the whole article is advised.
How LTE is configured for deployment
LTE supports deployment on different frequency bandwidths. The current
specification outlines the following bandwidth blocks: 1.4MHz, 3MHz, 5MHz,
10MHz, 15MHz, and 20MHz. Frequency bandwidth blocks are essentially the
amount of space a network operator dedicates to a network. Depending on the
type of LTE being deployed, these bandwidths have slightly different meaning in
terms of capacity. That will be covered later, though. An operator may choose to
deploy LTE in a smaller bandwidth and grow it to a larger one as it transitions
subscribers off of its legacy networks (GSM, CDMA, etc.).
MetroPCS is an example of a network operator that has done this. A majority of its
spectrum is still dedicated to CDMA, with 1.4MHz or 3MHz dedicated for LTE
depending on the market. There are a couple of markets with 5MHz deployed, but
these are the exception. Leap Wireless has also done the same thing, except its
using 3MHz or 5MHz instead of 1.4MHz or 3MHz. Neither of these carriers can
afford to cut CDMA capacity by a significant degree just yet, so LTE operates on tiny
bandwidths. Additionally, neither operator has enough backhaul (the core network
infrastructure and connections to the internet) dedicated to LTE to make larger
bandwidths worth it either.
12]On the other hand, Verizon Wireless has been using a 10MHz
wide channel for LTE all across the board, since it has a nationwide
block of spectrum available for it. Combined with excellent
backhaul, Verizons LTE service promises to be best in class. AT&T is
dedicating 5MHz across the board because thats all the free space
it has, though it makes up for it with much better backhaul.
However, AT&T has been working hard to correct that deficiency
with more spectrum. In many markets, AT&T has improved its LTE
network bandwidth from 5MHz to 10MHz, allowing AT&Ts superior
backhaul to truly shine in comparison to Verizons.
Less spectrum means that fewer customers can obtain the same
high speeds that Verizons LTE customers get when connected to
any particular cell. LTE can support up to 200 active data clients
(smartphones, tablets, USB modems, mobile hotspots, etc.) at full
speed for every 5MHz of spectrum allocated per cell. That means
that if a particular tower has 20MHz of spectrum allocated to it, it
can support up to 800 data clients at full speed. There are ways of
supporting more data clients per 5MHz, but doing so requires
sacrificing speed and capacity, as the 200-per-5MHz ratio is the
optimal configuration. However, spectrum isnt everything to LTE
quality, as I will discuss later.
hy LTE is easier to deploy
The network architecture for LTE is greatly simplified from its predecessors because
LTE is a packet-switched network only. It doesnt have the capability to handle voice
calls and text messages natively (which are typically handled by circuit-switched
networks like GSM and CDMA). Anyway, the LTE SAE (System Architecture Evolution) is
essentially a simplified version of the one used for UMTS networks today. An LTE
network uses an eNodeB (evolved node B, essentially an LTE base station), a MME
(mobile management entity), a HSS (home subscriber server), a SGW (serving
gateway), and a PGW (a packet data network gateway). With the exception of the
eNodeB, everything is considered as part of the EPC (evolved packet core) network. At
the tower the eNodeB connects to the EPC.
The MME and the HSS basically handle all duties regarding subscriber access to the
network. It handles all the authentication, roaming rules for subscribers, etc. The SGW
essentially acts like a giant router for subscribers, passing data back and forth from the
subscriber to the network. The PGW provides the connection to external data
networks. The most common data network the PGW provides a connection to is the
internet. However, if the network operator desires handover