Qualcomm: European operators making up lost ground in LTE with Cat 6

AMSTERDAM--LTE Cat 6 is providing European operators with an opportunity to close the gap on rivals in Asia Pacific and North America that took a leading role in deploying LTE Cat 4 technology, according to Qualcomm Technologies' senior director of marketing.

In an exclusive interview at the LTE World Summit here on Tuesday, Peter Carson told FierceWireless:Europe that between 20 and 25 operators around the world are preparing to move to Cat 6, and that the company expects the first deployments of the technology to take place from late 2014 into early 2015.

"Surprisingly, as late as the European operators were with large footprints in LTE as compared to the U.S. and parts of Asia, we see the European operators now catching up," Carson said, adding. "I think over the next several months you're going to see a lot of discussion about Cat 6 deployments in Europe. [In the]second half of this year, I think it's going to be pretty significant."

Carson noted the move to LTE Cat 6 was aided by the launch of the world's first compatible smartphone by Samsung earlier in June. The variant of the Galaxy S5 device uses Qualcomm's Snapdragon 805 processor, which Carson explains is a "4K capable application processor" that "enables 4K streaming" when combined with the company's Gobi 9x35 range of modems.

Qualcomm predicts that two-thirds of all mobile traffic will be video by 2016, and Carson said the company is continuing to upgrade its unicast pipe to cope with the expected rise in 4K video traffic. Common traffic such as sports events "can be delivered more efficiently with LTE Broadcast". However, growth in so-called user-generated content--for example uploading video to YouTube and similar sites--requires upgrades to the unicast pipe to improve the video experience, he noted.

Carson said LTE Advanced (LTE-A) is the major development in unicast at present, with RF carrier aggregation a key aspect in developing the technology. He explained that Qualcomm is now on its second generation of carrier aggregation products, and that future generations of Snapdragon processors will feature an enhanced modem capable of handling 3x20 MHz carriers to enable the "full Cat 6 data rates [of] 300 Mbps."

European operators' wide spectrum bands and extensive spectrum harmonisation is a benefit compared to other regions in terms of carrier aggregation, Carson explained, adding that the first wave of aggregation was "really to address fragmentation up to 20 MHz." That fragmentation was found "mostly in Asia Pacific [and] in North America, where the spectrum allocations for LTE were initially 5 MHz to 10 MHz," he added, noting those bands made getting to Cat 4 standards challenging.

The shift to LTE Cat 6 is also fostering greater competition between operators using TDD and FDD variants of LTE technology, Carson said. TDD operators "got to Cat 4 very quickly with a single band, so they were mostly looking to get to 2x20 MHz to go to the next step," he noted, adding that most FDD operators are looking for three carrier channels to achieve that same goal.

There are "maybe two or three [FDD] operators that have enough spectrum to do Cat 6 with two carriers," Carson explained.

Early deployments of Cat 6 are not the end point, however. Carson explained there are at least 65 carrier aggregation combinations defined by the 3GPP, meaning the industry is "only halfway through that wave of deployments at this point."

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