While LTE network download speeds have steadily improved over the years, the same cannot be said of upload speeds. In fact -- and this may come as a surprise -- they haven't improved one iota, according to Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM). But the company said that's about to change.
For example, the company said, operators in South Korea already have deployed a combination of technologies so that consumers who use the LG G5 can experience upload speeds that are up to three times as fast as traditional LTE networks and phones.
Sherif Hanna, staff manager for technical marketing at Qualcomm, told FierceWirelessTech that a lot of LTE networks around the world have made steady improvements in upgrading on the downlink side, especially in the past year and a half with carrier aggregation technology, but uplink hasn't been getting the same degree of attention. There's good reason for that -- most mobile traffic is on the downlink side. However, with more users wanting to upload video and share via social networking, the gears are shifting.
For its part, Qualcomm is offering its Snapdragon 820 processor with X12 LTE as a solution. According to Hanna, the combination of three technologies -- uplink carrier aggregation, 64-QAM and uplink data compression -- in Qualcomm's Snapdragon Upload+ can boost the peak upload speed in an LTE network from 50 Mbps to 150 Mbps in FDD networks. In TDD networks, which share the same LTE carrier for both uplink as well as downlink, peak speeds go from a modest 11 Mbps to a respectable 33 Mbps.
Those results come from operators in South Korea -- a country known for blazing-fast speeds in a highly dense environment. Other operators around the world are trialing Qualcomm's solution, with the highest profile one being China Mobile. So far, China Mobile's tests are limited to just one province with handsets that support the China Mobile version for faster LTE upload.
Hanna says several phones other than the LG G5 are already providing the improved LTE upload experience, including the LeEco Le Max Pro, the Asus ZenFone 3 Deluxe (both using the Snapdragon 820 processor with X12 LTE), and the China Mobile A2 (using the Snapdragon 617 processor with X8 LTE).
China Mobile is significant not only because of its size, but also because it uses the TDD variant of LTE instead of FDD, which is more popular in the United States and Europe. With TDD, the exact same spectrum is shared for both downlink and uplink. Because the vast majority of mobile traffic is downlink-centric, operators tend to bias the split in favor of the downlink, so the uplink feeds are pretty constrained. Hanna said TDD networks benefit significantly from the 64-QAM support.
It makes sense that more attention now is turning to the uplink side, Hanna notes. A lot more consumers are uploading via Instagram, Facebook Live and apps like Periscope -- all of which require better upload technology. "As those services look to improve the quality of the live broadcast video, that's going to put additional stress on the mobile networks" and that really calls for these new uplink enhancements, he said.
What about the U.S.? There is keen interest, according to Hanna, but he declined to reveal details about what Qualcomm is doing stateside.
AT&T (NYSE: T) and Verizon (NYSE: VZ) did not respond to requests for comment about their plans for uplink carrier aggregation. A Sprint (NYSE: S) spokesperson said uplink CA is on the company's roadmap but it hasn't announced a timeframe for deployment.
T-Mobile US appears to be in an evaluation mode. "We are always interested in driving LTE evolution further and deploying features that are beneficial for our customers," the company said in a statement to FierceWirelessTech.
Hanna said the people who benefit are not just the consumers who have the newest phones accommodating the uplink CA feature. While the person with the upgraded phone will see the benefits, the technology also frees up more capacity for other users so they get a better experience. "Everybody in the ecosystem benefits," he said.
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