The South Korean mobile communications market is one of the world's most competitive and innovative. That keeps the pressure on SK Telecom, South Korea's largest mobile service provider, to find way to keep implementing cutting-edge technologies. Editor Tammy Parker recently conducted an email Q&A with Alex Jinsung Choi, executive vice president and head of SK Telecom's ICT R&D division, regarding the operator's roadmaps for LTE-Advanced and 5G. The following is an edited and condensed version of that Q&A.
It's been one year since South Korea's SK Telecom became the world's first carrier to activate LTE Advanced carrier aggregation with a commercial smartphone available for use with the service. That anniversary prompted me to ask around about any pitfalls to this technology that carriers and vendors may have come across now that there is a year of carrier-aggregation experience under the industry's collective belt.
Sprint is jumping into LTE Advanced (LTE-A) carrier aggregation later this year as part of its Sprint Spark initiative, and the operator is also taking hard looks at numerous other cutting-edge technologies, such as SON and even Cloud RAN, for inclusion in its long-term roadmap, said a top executive.
The total LTE baseband market will expand by 47 percent to reach 338 million units this year, according to a new report from Forward Concepts. The firm said the LTE baseband market totaled 291 million units in 2013, up from 103 million in 2012.
John Saw, Sprint's chief network officer, said that the carrier plans to expand its tri-band LTE Spark service to a two-carrier configuration toward the end of this year, which he said will result in peak download speeds of 120 Mbps. Then, by the end of 2015, Sprint plans to add another carrier to the configuration of its 2.5 GHz LTE network, which will result in three-carrier peak speeds of 180 Mbps.
Ericsson is more widely publicizing its desire to get 3GPP on board with the idea of enabling LTE for use in unlicensed spectrum, such as that used by Wi-Fi.
AT&T Mobility has started using carrier aggregation technology in Chicago and other markets to boost LTE capacity and speeds on its network, but it will be a little while before many customers can take advantage of the upgraded network.
Another day, another announcement by an operator that it is trialling LTE Advanced services. BASE Belgium is the latest company to reveal that it is testing what is in fact "true" 4G, if you stick precisely to 3G and LTE guidelines. However, the focus is still too much on the advancements in speed, even though for many consumers figures such as "250 Mbps" are virtually meaningless.
SK Telecom said it will build out more 1.8 GHz base stations this year to provide 20 MHz of additional LTE bandwidth across South Korea and announced it is moving closer to rolling out a 10 MHz segment of the 2.1 GHz band that will enable it to provide 40 MHz of carrier-aggregated bandwidth.
Sprint along with Nokia Solutions and Networks demonstrated that a single sector of a TD-LTE network can deliver data throughput of 2.6 Gbps.