Why is SK Telecom’s LTE network “Advanced” while EE’s is not?

Hype exaggeration marketing

U.K.’s mobile operator Everything Everywhere has doubled the speeds on its LTE network, achieving a theoretical maximum throughput to the device of 150 Mbps. That sounds awfully similar to the “LTE-Advanced” upgrade SK Telecom implemented last week in South Korea. Yet, EE isn’t calling its network LTE-Advanced. It’s calling it plain old LTE.

This is prime example of how the network terminology the mobile industry is using to market their networks is completely arbitrary.

Both networks essentially accomplish the same thing: They double the amount of spectral bandwidth used over a transmission, thus doubling the speed available to a device. The difference is in how they do it. EE cleared out spectrum in the 1800 MHz band allowing it to create a single 20 MHz-by-20 MHz chunk of spectrum (known in telecom speak as a “carrier”) for LTE use. SK Telecom is combining two 10×10 MHz in disparate frequency bands — 1800 MHz and 800 MHz — using a technique called carrier aggregation.

LTE carrier aggregation is defined by the standards bodies as an LTE-Advanced technique, so SK has reserved the right to call its network Advanced. I’m not trying to belittle SK’s accomplishments. The Korean operator is on the cutting edge of today’s network technologies. When the big LTE-A revolution comes, SK is sure to be leading it. But at least today, SK Telecom isn’t able to actually deliver anything that to consumers that a dozen other plain-jane LTE networks can’t offer.

SK Telecom is just taking the first steps down the LTE-Advanced path, and to be honest, those steps are intended to overcome its own lack of a unified LTE spectrum band. Many current and forthcoming European networks already support the 150 Mbps both SK and EE boast about. But because of a technicality European operators aren’t calling them LTE-Advanced (at least not yet). When U.S. operators bring their so-call LTE-Advanced networks online, they’ll basically be doing the same thing: matching the speeds available on the supposedly ordinary LTE networks going live in Europe.

I’m pointing this out because I think the industry is abusing the term LTE-Advanced. The mobile industry is implying a big leap forward in technology. True LTE-Advanced networks will eventually bring about that leap, but today operators claiming to deploy LTE-Advanced aren’t delivering anything we don’t already have.

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