Korea’s LTE-A, Leading The Future Of Mobile Broadband
1월 3, 2014

LTE-A will shape our mobile broadband future, has been all over the Korean tech news for a while, and has huge scope to grow, from current download speeds of around 45Mbps to up to 300Mbps. I thought it worth taking a look at where it is now and where it is heading in the next 12 months. For additional information please access the links in the text.

LTE-A Demonstration

Models demonstrate LTE-A's capabilities in June 2013, but actual performance has not matched expectations yet.

Basic Facts:

  • LTE was first launched in Sweden in 2009. It was heralded as 4G mobile broadband, but the bandwidth offered up to now has not met the international standards set by the 3GPP consortium (goolge it for more details). This has now changed with the introduction of LTE-A in Korea. LTE-A has also been unofficially named 'true 4G'.
  • Korea became the first country in the world to commercialize 150Mbps LTE-A last June, and has since been the industry standard for ''true 4G'.
  • A month after release of LTE-A, the new service had only been taken up by 0.5% of mobile users in Korea, according to data released in July. This is the result of a lack of devices with LTE-A capability. The service has now enjoyed rapid up-take, with the release of a full range of LTE-A enabled devices in the autumn of this year (including the Samsung Galaxy SIII and Galaxy Note III).
  • In November 2013 LTE penetration surpassed the 50% mark in Korea
  • The number of LTE service subscribers at the three major service providers - SK Telecom, KT and LG U+ - stood at 27.35 million out of 54.4 million mobile phone users as of the start of December 2013, with 700k - 900k subscribers added month on month, according to data published December 5th.
  • Bandwidth availability for mobile carriers is to be quadrupled by 2023, as LTE-A becomes the standard. To achieve this the Korean government aims to increase bandwidth from 390MHz to 1,190MHz, according to a recent press release.

So Far so good?

  • LTE-A speeds have so far not been living up to the hype, with speeds lower than expected, according to a government report December 30. The report claimed that the average download speed of LTE-A provided by the country's three major mobile carriers SK Telecom Co., KT Corp. and LG Uplus Corp. came to 47.2 megabits per second (Mbps), far below the advertised up-to-150 Mbps.
  • Perhaps in response to the claim of low LTE-A speeds LG released news that it aims to  launch a full broadband LTE service on the 2.6-GHz band with its LG U+ mobile carrier service in Korea, "kick-starting 2.6GHz mobile Broadband". The service will only be available initially in areas of Seoul with exceptionally high population density. Areas further afield should begin to enjoy the service by the middle of 2014.
  • 300Mbps LTE-A requires 40㎒ frequency bandwidth either way. The UK’s EE secured 20㎒ of spectrum in the 1.8㎓ and 2.6㎓ band, and combines the two spectrums with Carrier Aggregation (CA) to provide the 300Mbps LTE-A. Hong Kong’s CSL uses the same technology.

Korea set to lose its crown in mobile broadband speeds in 2014

  • Despite leading the role-out of LTE-A, Korea is set to lose its top position in LTE performance to the UK and China, which aim to provide LTE with a maximum speed of 300Mbps at least half a year earlier than Korea.
  • The UK's Everything Everywhere (EE) started providing 300Mbps LTE-A in a London pilot in November and plans to expand across London in 2014.
  • Hong Kong’s  CSL also successfully demonstrated  300Mbps LTE-A in September 2013 and plans to commercialize in the second half of 2014. CSL claims that “300Mbps will become the main LTE service in 1~2 years.”
  • Domestic mobile carriers, such as SK Telecom, KT and LG Uplus, are forecast to be able to provide the 300Mbps service after the first half of 2015. This is not because their tech is of a lower level, but rather because Korean carriers do not have enough spectrums available to them
  • Chinese equipment makers, such as Huawei and ZTE, entered into an agreement for equipment supply that can support 300Mbps LTE-A.
  • Qualcomm also announced a chipset supporting 300Mbps (Snap Dragon 805) on November 30.
  • For more technical details please see this post on ETNews.

What's in it for us?

  • For developers and tech enterprises the 300Mbps service will provide new business opportunities, and will allow for 'heavier apps' to run (think big games and super high definition video apps as well as better VOIP services)
  • As a result of higher badwidth broadband, consumers and consumers with improved experience, such as wireless UHD video services.

How does it work? Check out the below, reproduced from IEEE Spectrum:

LTE-1 Explained 1

LTE-1 Explained 2

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