Ever a mobile market pacesetter, SK Telecom has rolled out the world's first LTE Advanced network with a commercial smartphone ready for use with the service.
LTE-A is generally described as a collection of technologies meant to enhance LTE. SK Telecom's LTE Advanced rollout includes carrier aggregation (CA), commercially deployed for the first time in the world. The operator is using CA to combine two 10 MHz carriers to support downlink data speeds up to 150 Mbps. The company said LTE-A users can download an 800 MB movie in 43 seconds.
"By supporting twice faster speeds than LTE, LTE-A will not only enhance customers' satisfaction in network quality, but also give birth to new mobile value-added services that can bring innovative changes to our customers' lives," said Park In-sik, president of network business operations at SK Telecom.
SK Telecom noted that technological advances are expected to enable aggregation of two 20 MHz component carriers by 2015 to deliver peak downlink speeds up to 300 Mbps, with aggregation of three component carriers enabled by 2016, the same year uplink CA is expected to become available. Up to five 20 MHz carriers could be aggregated under the current standard.
In addition to using CA and coordinated multipoint (CoMP) in its LTE network, SK Telecom also intends to apply Enhanced Inter-Cell Interference Coordination (eICIC) in 2014.
SK, which first launched LTE service in July 2011, is offering LTE-A service with no price premium over LTE tariffs. LTE-A is initially available in the Seoul area and central cities of Gyeonggi-do and Chungcheong-do, South Korea. The operator intends to expand coverage to 84 cities across South Korea.
The unveiling of SK Telecom's LTE-A network coincided with its release of Samsung's Galaxy S4 LTE-A, photos of which leaked earlier this week. The device employs Qualcomm's (NASDAQ:QCOM) Snapdragon 800 processor with 2.3 GHz quad-core CPUs.
The phone will be offered in red--exclusively by SK Telecom--and blue. The operator has an initial supply of 200,000 units of the Galaxy S4 LTE-A and intends to expand its LTE-A device lineup to seven smartphones before year's end.
Last October, Russia's Yota claimed to have implemented LTE-A technology in select base stations of its 2.6 GHz Huawei-supplied LTE network in Moscow, enabling it to provide data rates up to 300 Mbps on end-user devices. Yota said at that time that the first consumer devices supporting LTE-A would be available in the first half of 2013, but the operator does not appear to have commercially introduced any so far.
U.S. mobile operators have discussed LTE-A as part of their roadmaps but have not been specific about when they will commit to launching its various features. "All the major US mobile operators in the United States have shown their commitment to LTE Advanced, and LTE Advanced upgrades are underway," Jake Saunders, ABI vice president and practice director of core forecasting, said recently.
ABI predicts global LTE-A subscriptions will grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 295 percent between 2013 and 2018 to reach 500 million, which will represent 34 percent of the overall 1.47 billion LTE-related subscriptions.
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Article updated on July 22, 2013, to reflect the fact that SK Telecom actually secured an initial supply of 200,000 Galaxy S4 LTE-A units, rather than 20,000, which was the number given in the operator's press release.