T-Mobile will work with Nokia Networks to launch LTE carrier aggregation

T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) is working to enhance its LTE network with Nokia (NYSE:NOK) Networks, which indicated that it will enable carrier-aggregation technology for the carrier.

"As part of the agreement, Nokia Networks is providing LTE Advanced carrier aggregation for all T-Mobile spectrum bands," Nokia noted in a statement.

Mika Kähkölä, Nokia's head of technology for T-Mobile, told FierceWireless that the company's network gear is capable of supporting all three of T-Mobile's LTE spectrum bands: 700 MHz A Block, 700/2100 MHz AWS-1 spectrum and 1900 MHz PCS spectrum. However, he said that it would be up to T-Mobile and its device-maker partners to determine when to launch devices capable of supporting carrier aggregation and when to switch on the capability in the network.

"It's a question of software upgrades," he said. "The hardware is fully capable."

Carrier aggregation, which is the most well-known and widely used technique of the LTE Advanced standard, bonds together disparate bands of spectrum to create wider channels and produce more capacity and faster speeds.

Dave Mayo, T-Mobile's senior vice president of technology, told FierceWireless last week that T-Mobile has not yet said when it will be deploying carrier-aggregation technology, which bonds together disparate bands of spectrum to create wider channels and produce more capacity and faster speeds. However, he said T-Mobile is "actively testing" carrier aggregation. AT&T Mobility (NYSE: T) has deployed carrier aggregation over both 700 MHz spectrum and 2100 MHz AWS spectrum, and Sprint (NYSE: S) plans to do so for its 2.5 GHz TD-LTE service by year-end.

"To the extent that we don't have contiguous spectrum, we'd sure like to be able to utilize those noncontiguous frequencies" using carrier aggregation, Mayo said.

T-Mobile says it now covers 235 million POPs with LTE and aims to cover at least 250 million by the end of 2014. The company intends to cover more than 280 million POPs with LTE by mid-2015.

In a statement, Nokia noted that T-Mobile is using its Flexi Multiradio10 Base Station platform for 700 MHz cell sites and its LTE/GSM RF sharing platform for 1900 MHz sites. Most of T-Mobile's LTE deployment has been based on the company's 1700/2100 MHz AWS-1 spectrum. However, T-Mobile plans to use 1900 MHz LTE for its rural LTE coverage, especially as the company works to bring LTE service to its entire 2G EDGE footprint by mid-2015. The carrier is also using 700 MHz A Block spectrum to bolster the in-building penetration of its LTE network, especially in markets where it does not have GSM coverage.

Nokia said that it will provide LTE Advanced equipment and services that will cover new spectrum bands and help T-Mobile enhance coverage and capacity for in-building, highway and rural areas. The agreement also helps to expand the availability of T-Mobile's Voice over LTE service, Nokia said.

Additionally, since 2012, Nokia said it has deployed 4x2 and 4x4 MIMO-capable radio technology in its LTE base stations. The vendor said that this functionality can be remotely configured and activated, and that currently T-Mobile is enabling 4x2 MIMO, especially to enhance LTE performance at the cell edge. Mayo said that will bring 4x2 MIMO nationwide over time.

The announcement from Nokia is not a surprise. Last week Ericsson (NASDAQ: ERIC) said it is working with T-Mobile to expand its LTE footprint, especially using the 700 MHz spectrum. Ericsson and Nokia are T-Mobile's two main radio-access-network vendors, and the deals are expansions of the 2012 contracts they struck with T-Mobile to upgrade the carrier's network.

Ericsson's new deployment includes RBS 6000 base-station equipment, installation and integration of 700, 1900 and 1700/2100 MHz LTE Advanced radio sites and tuning services.

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