Carrier aggregation - Top Wireless Technologies in 2013

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What is it?
Carrier aggregation is a key element in the specifications for the LTE Advanced and WiMAX 2 standards, and in essence it makes spectrum pipes fatter by merging together non-contiguous spectrum bands. By bonding non-contiguous spectrum into a single, wider channel, carriers can address the asymmetry of data flows between downlink and uplink channels. The data traffic that is growing the fastest right now is video, and it is asymmetrical traffic. As such, carrier aggregation helps operators efficiently manage these downlink traffic flows. Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) started shipping chips that support carrier aggregation last year.

Why is it important?
AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) has been one of the leading proponents of carrier aggregation, mainly because it controls non-contiguous chunks of spectrum--like Qualcomm's former 700 MHz MediaFlo spectrum--that it would like to use for LTE. AT&T expects to test carrier aggregation technology this year. SK Telecom has also been a big supporter of the technology. And in 2014 Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) expects to use carrier aggregation to combine data transmissions over its AWS and 700 MHz spectrum to improve speeds and capacity. Additionally, Clearwire (NASDAQ:CLWR) has always touted carrier aggregation as one of the benefits of moving from WiMAX to TD-LTE, and has said it can create 40 MHz channels using the technology.

All of the operators interested in carrier aggregation are looking to get the most juice out of their disparate spectrum holdings for LTE to create wider channels--and more capacity--than they would otherwise have.