LTE Advanced is the next phase in the network technology roadmap and many operators are embarking on the LTE-A migration path more quickly than expected thanks to the escalating growth in mobile data. In fact, the number of operators that have launched LTE-A is growing at such a rapid rate it's difficult to maintain an accurate count. As of July 1, the trade group 4G Americas had tallied 13 operators that had deployed LTE-A in 11 countries worldwide. In the U.S. there is just one operator so far: AT&T Mobility (NYSE: T).
Of course, keeping an accurate count of LTE-A networks is a bit tricky because LTE Advanced consists of many different components--from carrier aggregation to HetNets to coordinated multipoint and more. Because of these different elements, not all operators are likely to deploy LTE Advanced n the same way. In fact, most experts say that every LTE-A deployment will be unique. Nevertheless, 4G Americas expects there to be about 40 networks worldwide using some form of LTE Advanced by year-end.
In the U.S., AT&T is the only operator to have commercially deployed LTE Advanced. In March the company said it was using carrier aggregation for its 700 MHz and AWS spectrum in Chicago and some other markets. However, Verizon Wireless (NYSE: VZ) and Sprint (NYSE: S) also on the LTE Advanced path with plans to deploy carrier aggregation later this year.
Although it's interesting to track operator deployments of LTE Advanced, experts say that the move from LTE to LTE Advanced will not be a huge upgrade over LTE but instead it will be more of an evolutionary step that will provide improved speed and better network capacity.
Because of this, most operators are not marketing their LTE Advanced improvements to consumers as they did when they moved from "3G" networks to "4G" networks. Most instead are developing new brands like "Sprint Spark" or Verizon's "XLTE" to communicate the improvements that they are making to their networks to the public.
Verizon in late May announced its XLTE brand which is not technically an LTE Advanced service but instead is basically LTE being deployed the operator's AWS spectrum. However, that the end result for consumers is increased data speed and capacity.
Sprint, meanwhile, is using the brand "Sprint Spark" for its tri-band service that will include carrier aggregation when it is deployed.
For readers looking for a more in-depth explanation of LTE Advanced and it's progress worldwide, FierceWireless has compiled the "LTE Advanced Status Report," an ebook that looks at the various components of LTE Advanced and delves into the progress some operators are making with their deployments. To download the free ebook, click here. – Sue