Ericsson, MediaTek notch 495 Mbps uplink with mmWave and carrier aggregation

5G speed
At this point, average user uplink speeds over commercial mmWave 5G networks in the U.S pale in comparison to the peak Ericsson and MediaTek showcased. (Getty Images)

Ericsson and MediaTek are claiming a new uplink speed record after a successful test using carrier aggregation and millimeter wave spectrum.

The demo aggregated four 100-megahertz component carriers (or channels) of mmWave spectrum in the 39 GHz band combined with one 20-meghertz channel of LTE spectrum in the 1900 MHz band, stitched together for uplink to reach a total peak throughput of 495 Mbps. 5G New Radio (NR) contributed 425 Mbps, while LTE added 70 Mbps.

The lab test was performed in June using non-standalone (NSA) 5G architecture and Ericsson said results doubled the current uplink speed on the market. It used pre-commercial software on a device powered by a MediaTek M80 5G chipset, alongside an Ericsson RAN Compute baseband 6648 and AIR 5331 mmWave radio.

When it comes to speed, downloads are usually the star of the show, but uplink is key for applications where users are transmitting a lot of data over the network to the internet or uploading, want a stable experience for things like video conferencing, or when there are many users uploading or video streaming simultaneously.

While carriers and vendors have touted carrier aggregation on mmWave to boost 5G data rates and capacity for downlink, the focus on using carrier aggregation for uplink made the test “the first of its kind,” according to Ericsson.  

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At this point, average user uplink speeds over commercial mmWave networks in the U.S pale in comparison to the peak Ericsson and MediaTek showcased.

A July analysis by Opensignal of mmWave 5G in the U.S. found T-Mobile to have the fastest average upload speed at just 39.9 Mbps, followed by Verizon at 30.8 Mbps and AT&T at 30 Mbps.

Phil Solis, research director at IDC focused on connectivity and smartphone semiconductors, noted that the main focus for mmWave so far has been on downlink for faster web browsing and video, with smartphones leaning on sub-6 GHz 5G spectrum for uplink.

“mmWave on the uplink is a little more challenging, but it is coming,” Solis told Fierce Wireless, in part because consumer devices transmit at much lower power. But there’s significant value in using mmWave for uplink, he said. 

“In general, mmWave 5G is great for data rates and latency, but especially getting great performance in dense urban areas and venues,” Solis noted. “This would allow people in a stadium to better stream video to social media and upload photos and videos while many people are doing that at the same time.”

Indeed, U.S. carriers have largely focused their mmWave rollouts on those types of locations first, where extra capacity may be needed during sporting or entertainment events, or in high-trafficked areas. AT&T, for example, plans to bring mmWave 5G to seven major airports this year and expand to 25 by the end of 2022.

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In terms of the Ericsson and MediaTek demo, the press release was vague as to what kind of device was used but Ericsson pointed to the importance of upload speed for sending data quickly to the internet from either computers or handheld devices.   

The vendor called out strong uplink needed for high image and sound quality in video conferencing, naming apps like Skype and Microsoft Teams. Faster uplink can also enhance online gaming and voice over internet protocol (VoIP) calls.

“With a peak rate of close to 500 Mbps, we’ve demonstrated in this latest milestone with MediaTek how unprecedented data speeds can be delivered in uplink using mmWave and carrier aggregation,” said Hannes Ekström, head of Product Line 5G RAN at Ericsson, in a statement. “This means our customers can enhance their 5G offerings with higher uplink data rates, vastly improving user experience.”

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For phones, Solis said IDC expects MediaTek to have its own commercial mmWave modules ready in the first half of 2022, likely the first quarter. For PCs, he said MediaTek partners with Intel on modems, with Intel modules that use MediaTek baseband chips.

Millimeter wave-capable laptops will definitely come, Solis added, but in terms of network capacity needs, people are always armed with their phones.

“It is possible that the device used is a laptop, but it could be a prototype smartphone as well,” Solis said. “MediaTek’s M80 that was used [in the demo] could support any device type.”

MediaTek is part of the Open RF Association so could have used mmWave modules from another vendor, but “given that their own mmWave ICs [integrated circuits] and modules are to be ready in about 6 months or so, it is likely their own modules,” he said.