Not So Fast LTE, HSPA Could Become 100 Times Speedier!

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Nokia Siemens Networks Wednesday promoted a new wireless broadband standard that could offer peak downloads speeds of 672 Mbps, or roughly 100 times faster than the average 3G speeds of today. The proposed standard, Long Term HSPA Evolution (LTHE), already has initial backing from T-Mobile USA, a carrier that hasn’t yet decided on its 4G, next-generation plans. Instead, the operator is migrating its network to HSPA+, which currently tops out at 21 Mbps.

To achieve such speeds, which are far beyond what any currently available wireless data networks offer, signals from up to eight different frequencies could be combined to create a single — albeit very fast — data stream. Indeed, a similar solution is used now in DC-HSPA+ or Dual-Channel HSPA+ networks, which combine data from two frequencies and deliver speeds up to 42 Mbps. T-Mobile has previously considered a future speed bump of its network beyond 42 Mbps and would likely use DC-HSPA+ to do so, but if LTHE is approved as a standard, the carrier could step on the accelerator and offer much faster speeds as early as 2013.

Increased download speeds aren’t the only benefit of the new proposed standard, which has approval by the 3GPP, a telecommunications standards body, to proceed with further investigation. LTHE would be backward-compatible with older HSPA and WCDMA devices, making the transition easier for device makers and consumers alike. And, the ability to combine data streams from multiple channels or frequencies can help operators that may not have enough spectrum in a single channel; by using a secondary frequency, there’s less need for a carrier to purchase more spectrum in a particular frequency, for example.

For folks like me who are blown away by 12 Mbps speeds from Verizon’s recent LTE deployment, it’s almost hard to fathom that devices in 2013 could use a wireless network capable of 100 Mbps, let alone nearly seven times that. I wonder if such devices will be larger due to the need for additional antennas to support multiple channels. More important may be the costs and data plans for such speed: At 500 Mbps, for example, a 5 GB monthly data plan could be used up in 82 seconds!

I suppose I’ll have to make do with today’s HSPA+ and LTE networks for a while, because there’s no guarantee the LTHE standard will be approved. For now, this is all in the planning stages and will be researched further within 3GPP work groups.

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