October 11, 2016
Wideband code-division multiple-access (WCDMA) and its high-speed packet access (HSPA) enhancement are third-generation (3G) wireless technologies that continue to experience significant growth in subscribers and population worldwide, according to the June 2016 Ericsson Mobility Report. Although the report predicts 3G growth would continue for years to come, it said global statistics mask diverging trends on a regional level.
The report found that in some regions, there is high growth of WCDMA subscriptions as declining smartphone prices offer an economic entry into mobile broadband. In others regions, there is a growing focus on re-farming WCDMA frequency bands to Long-Term Evolution (LTE) technology, enabled by the ability to fit higher HSPA traffic volumes into smaller frequency allocations.
“This is made possible by new radio access network software functionality that enhances smartphone handling and network capacity,” the report reads. “Operators are also seeking additional ways to make the network simple to handle and thus increase network operational efficiency.”
1 Gbps Downlinks
The demand for enhanced app coverage continues to push LTE data rates to new heights, according to the report. It found that in 2016, a long-anticipated milestone is being passed, with commercial LTE networks supporting downlink peak data speeds of 1 Gbps.
“The 1-Gbps LTE peak data speeds will provide users with significantly faster time-to-content,” the report says. “Gigabit speeds will also enhance the usefulness of personal hotspots, as well as making LTE a more attractive alternative to deliver fixed wireless services.”
The report identifies one of the barriers to delivering higher LTE data speeds as spectrum. It says new, commercially available LTE capabilities provide greater spectral efficiency and make the delivery of commercial LTE peak data rates of 1 Gbps feasible using 60 MHz of spectrum. The capabilities the report identifies include:
· Three-component carrier aggregation that enables the aggregation of 60 MHz of LTE spectrum
· 256 quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM) that can increase downlink data speeds by 33 percent
· 4×4 multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO) communications, which doubles the number of unique data streams being transmitted to the user’s smartphone, thereby enabling up to twice the capacity and data throughput
“When used in combination, two aggregated 20-MHz LTE carriers using 4×4 MIMO and 256 QAM aggregated with a single 20-MHz LTE carrier using 2×2 MIMO and 256 QAM can support a LTE peak data rate of 1 Gbps over the downlink,” the report reads. “256 QAM is susceptible to interference. However, system interference can be reduced, hence increasing the utilization of 256 QAM in the network.”
The report found that the number of commercial LTE-Advanced (LTE-A) carrier aggregation launches continues to increase. It says that operators are evolving their LTE-A networks with Category (Cat) 4, 6, 9, 11 and 16 implementations. Cat 16 devices, which support 1 Gbps data speeds, are expected in the second half of 2016.
“These higher speeds will enhance the user experience both indoors and outdoors,” the report reads. “The network speeds mentioned are a theoretical maximum. Typical user speeds will be lower and depend on factors such as device type, user location and network conditions.”
According to the report, demand for communication services remains strong, despite declining voice and messaging revenue. It refers to the August 2015 Ericsson ConsumerLab study, “Bringing Families Closer,” which shows that text messaging and voice remain the main methods of communication for the majority of families in the United States.
“Communication services based on VoLTE enable operators to offer bundled data and high-quality communication services packages, with telecom-grade high-definition (HD) voice, video communication, multi-device capabilities and more, while enabling simultaneous LTE data services on smartphones,” the report reads. “GSM Association standards-based rich communication services enable globally interoperable Internet Protocol messaging and content sharing during calls. This can also be combined with VoLTE natively on smartphones.”
LTE and Wi-Fi HD Voice
HD voice improves mobile voice quality, the report explains. It requires device support and new functionality on 2G, 3G and LTE networks. According to the report, an evolved HD voice service — 3rd Generation Partnership Project standardized Enhanced Voice Services (EVS) for VoLTE-enabled networks — further improves the user experience by delivering even higher-quality voice and music within calls (e.g., call announcements or sharing music from a concert during a voice or video call).
EVS also provides a better-quality service than HD voice in challenging LTE radio conditions, as well as more robust service when using Wi-Fi calling.
The report says that with Wi-Fi calling, operators can extend their voice service indoors so consumers can make calls in their homes over their own Wi-Fi access points, using any internet service provider. It says this benefits users with limited circuit-switched voice or VoLTE indoor coverage, as well as roaming users.
“All major chipset and device vendors now support natively integrated Wi-Fi calling on many smartphone models,” the report reads. “Some device and network vendors also support Wi-Fi calling on devices without a subscriber identity module (SIM) card, such as tablets, smart watches and personal computers. This means the users’ personal devices can be located at different Wi-Fi access points across the world, and the smartphone can be on cellular or Wi-Fi access. The users can select to answer and make calls on any of the devices and transfer calls between their personal devices.”
The report concludes its description of the state of the networks by saying that the IP multimedia subsystem and evolved packet core enable the packet-switched communication services, which can be run over LTE, Wi-Fi and fixed broadband on any device, as the device ecosystem evolves. “VoLTE and Wi-Fi calling are the first consumer services that have been deployed using network function virtualization in core networks,” the report reads. “A 5G-ready core takes network function virtualization one step further by adding the concepts of distributed cloud and network slicing.”