The bar has been raised again in the continuous 5G speed competition, as Samsung hit 5.23 Gbps to claim a new record with the help of EN-DC technology and carrier aggregation.
In January, Ericsson and Qualcomm notched a 5G speed record when the pair reached 5 Gbps for a single user. That happened on a commercial network in Australia with operator partner Telstra and used a form factor test device.
Samsung achieved the new peak speed for a single user in a lab setting in South Korea, and used commercial products end-to-end, including the Samsung S20+ smartphone.
Carrier aggregation and EN-DC (E-UTRAN New Radio Dual Connectivity) helped provide the technological oomph, combining separate spectrum channels and leveraging both 5G and 4G LTE connectivity.
The demo used a total of 40 MHz for 4G LTE and a total of 800 MHz for 5G NR. Specifically, two 20 MHz channels (also referred to as "carriers") in sub-3 GHz bands (1.9 GHz/2.1 GHz) and eight 100 MHz channels of millimeter wave spectrum in the 28 GHz band, according to Samsung VP and Head of Mobile Technology Group for Networks Ji-Yun Seol.
Downlink 4G LTE and carrier aggregation were applied to the sub-3 GHz bands, while mmWave beamforming, MIMO and wide-band carrier aggregation with 5G NR were applied to the 28 GHz band.
Network products included Samsung’s 4G radios, 5G radios (including Compact Macro), and 4G/5G common Core.
“Mobile operators need to make the most of their finite spectrum assets in order to ensure user experiences that deliver the full value of 5G,” said Ed Gubbins, Principal Analyst at GlobalData, in a prepared statement. “This achievement showcases Samsung’s distinguishing ability to leverage an end-to-end portfolio and broad expertise that spans core, RAN and devices to help operators maximize the return on their 5G investments.”
A dual 4G/5G approach
EN-DC is not an entirely new technology (Sprint touted using it in 2019 during its early 5G rollouts). It’s a way to provide 5G NR support with dual connectivity on top of the LTE anchor, Seol explained in a written Q&A with Fierce.
“EN-DC technology basically provides benefits in terms of the communications coverage by combining the two technologies 4G LTE and 5G NR, especially at the earlier stage of 5G commercial deployments and/or for 5G [spectrum] at the higher frequency bands,” Seol said.
In addition, EN-DC can deliver improved download and upload throughput gains by aggregating the data traffic over two paths using the two technologies – 4G LTE and 5G NR.
“With the advanced dual connectivity technology that combines the traffic paths, it provides benefits from the effectively increased spectrum bandwidth as well as the gains using the two different technologies for the different frequency bands,” according to Seol.
Along with EN-DC, both 4G LTE carrier aggregation (CA) and 5G carrier aggregation contributed to the speed record – with the former helping to boost data throughput and spectrum utilization.
By combining the eight 100 MHz mmWave channels, data throughput increased by 8-times, according to Seol, compared to non-CA cases that use a single 100 MHz channel of mmWave spectrum.
EN-DC helps early 5G deployments
Most initial 5G deployments by mobile operators have focused on Non-standalone (NSA) 5G, which relies on a 4G LTE anchor.
EN-DC technology needs support on both the network and device side, and Seol noted that most 5G smartphones are EN-DC capable.
“As NSA mode enables UEs [user equipment] to get 5G services without connecting 5G Core networks, it causes much less burden for operators to roll out 5G services using 4G EPC Core networks,” Seol said. “Hence, EN-DC technology is supported by both the network and device sides to introduce 5G services on NSA mode in the beginning.”
What about standalone mode?
EN-DC technology leverages 4G LTE and 5G to maximize the benefits of both networks and deliver enhanced speeds coverage and reliability.
However, some operators are starting the shift to or considering plans for standalone (SA) 5G, which involves a 5G core and no longer relies on LTE. T-Mobile is an example of one of the first major operators to deploy standalone 5G at scale, with a nationwide launch in August. In the U.S., Samsung is a 5G supplier for AT&T, Verizon and U.S. Cellular.
But Seol said that EN-DC technology will still be used even on SA 5G networks.
“Even with the SA support at the network, the network could use EN-DC for higher data rates as well as EN-DC only capable devices,” he noted.
That said, 5G devices that support SA mode won’t necessarily need EN-DC capabilities (chipsets in early 5G devices only supported NSA but more recently some smartphones have come to market with support for both SA and NSA 5G).
“In SA 5G networks, there is a way to utilize 4G mobile technology for higher data rates,” Seol explained, through a concept similar to EN-DC called NE-DC. “This new technology might be available in the future to enhance the experience for 5G SA users.”
Samsung claimed a number of earlier 5G speed records, as the metric continues to climb. That includes one of the first multigigabit 5G data connections in 2018, hitting 1.7 Gbps, followed by another record of 2.65 Gbps in 2019, and most recently 4.3 Gbps in a 2020 demo last April.