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Summary:

When U.S. operators start bonding together their LTE networks later this year, the Galaxy S5 will be one of the first devices in the market that can tap into their increased network speeds.

Galaxy S5 back
photo: Samsung

Today the U.S. versions of the Samsung Galaxy S5 are your typical LTE devices when it comes to network speeds, but in the next year they could become speed demons. Samsung is introducing to its U.S. flagship phones a technology called carrier aggregation, potentially doubling their speeds. The catch is that you’ll have to wait until U.S. operators actually bring these new aggregated networks online.

You can think of carrier aggregation as duct taping two LTE transmissions in together, allowing devices to send and receive data on two different LTE networks simultaneously. Samsung started offering carrier aggregation on the later versions of the Galaxy S4, but they were only available in a handful of countries like Korea and Australia where the new souped-up networks had already gone live.

But in a hands-on session with the S5 at Samsung’s booth at Mobile World Congress, Samsung Telecommunications America director of product planning Drew Blackard told me there would be some U.S. support for carrier aggregation on the S5 this year thanks to Qualcomm’s new LTE modems. Blackard didn’t reveal which carriers and when, saying Samsung would announce those details later.

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Most likely Sprint or AT&T will be the first, and theoretically at least, such networks could support speeds of 150 Mbps. In the second half of 2015, Sprint will begin adding carrier aggregation to its new Spark network, splicing together 40 MHz of spectrum in the 2.5 GHz band and doubling the speeds of its current network.

AT&T has already built LTE networks in two bands and it’s expanding into a third; it’s only a matter of time before it bonds them all together. AT&T SVP of Network Architecture and Planning Kris Rinne recently told FierceWireless that Ma Bell will soon roll out newly aggregated network in select markets.

Verizon Wireless already has networks in many big cities that support 150 Mbps speeds without carrier aggregation, and T-Mobile is in the process of building out a footprint in major markets with similar capabilities. The S5 should be able to tap those speeds easily. By using carrier aggregation, though, both carriers could boost speeds in cities where they lack the spectrum to build full 40 MHz networks.

speedometerWe’re going to see some considerable speed and capacity increases on our LTE networks in the next year two as the mobile industry delves deeper into LTE-Advanced’s bag of tricks. While carrier aggregation boosts speeds by layering on more spectral bandwidth, a new generation of chips are emerging that will be able to shove twice as many bits into same pipes.

At MWC, Qualcomm, Samsung, SK Telecom and Korea Telecom demoed that new technology, known as category 6 LTE, sending a 300 Mbps transmission to a modified Galaxy Note 3.

  1. Waiting ….

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  2. That’s all well and good, but the real killer on cellular is latency. LTE has brought latency to under 100ms, down from 200-300ms in 3G, but I don’t see significant further improvements soon. Wifi backed by cable or fiber on the other hand currently has 20-50ms latencies here on the US West Coast.

    Current mobile browsers limit downloads to two concurrent threads which further exacerbates the higher latency. Which is why most data-dependent experiences feel significantly less snappy on LTE than on Wifi.

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