R&D, 3GPP and the FCC

LTE and broadband are being redefined by R&D, 3GPP and the FCC.

Change in the way of making things work together better is perpetually headed to a cellular network near you. These changes range from miniscule to monumental hardware and software upgrades, all aimed at, well, making more money by moving more data reliably. Doing so requires improving the robustness, redundancy and data capacity of the system. Other than faster up- and down-load speeds and more reliable connections, most changes are designed to be nearly invisible to users and are compatible with all but ancient previous versions.

Broadband redefined

Sometimes change is mandated. On 29 January 2015, FCC voted to change the definition of broadband by raising the minimum speed for service to be legally considered “broadband” from 4 Mbps to 25Mbps for downloads, and from 1Mbps to 3Mbps for uploads. According to Commissioners voting for it, the new speed standards are meant to ensure that broadband “is being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion,” as stated in the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

The change in what qualifies as broadband effects wired and radio-based carriers and ISPs. Who is most likely to benefit from the new definition of broadband and resultant bandwidth improvements? Broadcasters, their viewers and other data-hungry users will be among the first to regularly employ and enjoy a broader broadband.

In the world of wireless cellular technology, Long Term Evolution (LTE) is increasing the size of the wireless broadband pipe. LTE is a fourth generation (4G) broadband technology developed by an industry trade group known as the Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP). It’s all about widening wireless broadband and making it all work better.

History of G

Cellular technology has progressed from 1G analog to 2G to 3G under many monikers. 2G networks were based on the European Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) protocols. GSM is what the original iPhone is based on. 4G and LTE are a progression from GSM. LTE supports mixed data of voice, video and messaging other than simple text messages (SMS). LTE supports full TCP/IP architecture, and transports voice communications in packets. LTE began being deployed late in 2009 with first systems in Norway and Sweden.

The 3GPP Rel-9 was functionally frozen in December 2009. The ITU ratified LTE-Advanced (Rel-10) aka IMT-Advanced in November 2010. Rel-10 increased peak data rates, the number of simultaneously actives subscribers and improved performance at cell signal edges. It also added new functionalities such as carrier aggregation, enhanced use of multi-antennas and support for relay nodes.

3GPP Rel-11 was integrated into LTE in three stages, and was last frozen in September 2012. 3GPP expects to roll out Rel-12 in March 2015. It was frozen at Stage 3, meaning protocol specs may not be yet complete in, June 2014. The advantages of Rel-12 are myriad, and most deal with mainstream cell phone data communications technologies, upgrades, changes and reliability. Rel-12 is sometimes called LTE-B, the B standing for Rel-12 and beyond. At this point, an electronics professor I once had used to say, all you really need to know is that it works fine and lasts a long time.

LTE continues evolving to Release 12 and beyond. Source: 2013 Ericsson White Paper on LTE Rel-12.

LTE continues evolving to Release 12 and beyond. Source: 2013 Ericsson White Paper on LTE Rel-12.

We now return to our program

Rollouts of new LTE releases don’t happen like the latest iOS software. LTE upgrades take years. Most of the hardware and software reworking and upgrading will take place within the cellular networks, vendors and carriers, and new consumer gear will be introduced to take advantage of it. Because of the amount of work to be done, the full benefits of Rel-12 won’t be realized by most users for years, similar to the first roll out of the original LTE and subsequent releases. That’s why it’s called “Long Term Evolution.”

The challenges for LTE designers of future wireless communications systems start with the continued massive growth in the number of connected devices and traffic volume, and blossom with new applications with all sorts of unknown characteristics. Because LTE is an RF technology it has additional challenges unique to RF.

The Internet of Things (IoT), also known the population of communicating machines, is predicted to increase the number of wireless communications devices on networks by a powers of 10. The number of human-operated devices will continue to grow as well, but will the ratio of humans to machines is predicted to largely diminish. Bandwidth-hunger is an unstoppable rocket headed straight up.

LTE and all its releases specify nearly everything from network energy efficiency to nuts, bolts, antennas and virtually all the electronics and software in between. In 2007, Steve Jobs released Apple’s first iPhone. When the first 4G began rolling out in 2008, the state of the art was the iPhone 3G with a 3 Megapixel 2048x1536 camera that recorded VGA video at 30 FPS. The first LTE began rolling out in the US in 2010.

Today the average iPhone records and uploads progressive HD, reducing most video field production and broadcasters using cellular technology to packets in a sea of packets. The right event at the right moment at a particular location can push that relatively calm digital sea to an overwhelming tsunami of packets.

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A forecast of the future of LTE was announced on 29 January 2015. A 66-page report titled "5G Wireless Ecosystem: 2015 – 2025 – Technologies, Applications, Verticals, Strategies & Forecasts" was issued and widely available over the Internet, for a fee.

The report is based on R&D initiatives to develop so-called 5G technology with the goal of commercialization by 2020. According to PR Newswire, the next generation of cellular technology will be a revolutionary paradigm shift in wireless networking. One designed to support the throughput, latency, and scalability requirements of future use cases such as extreme bandwidth augmented reality applications and connectivity management for billions of M2M (Machine to Machine) devices. It is said to be 100x faster than the best 4G LTE and 1000x faster than 3G.

D2D detection will decrease local loads on cell systems. Source: 2013 Ericsson White Paper on LTE Rel-12.

D2D detection will decrease local loads on cell systems. Source: 2013 Ericsson White Paper on LTE Rel-12.

Some collectively accepted attributes of so-called 5G include new air interface transmission schemes, new spectrum bands, spectrum aggregation, Massive MIMO, beamforming, D2D (Device to Device) communications and self-backhauling, among others. Clue: The IoT becomes D2D and M2M. Also note the term “augmented reality” (AR). The purpose of AR to enhance one’s current perception of reality by mixing in computer-generated sensory input. How much bandwidth will all that consume compared to some measly 4K streams?

We don’t know when so-called 5G will actually be released or where in the world it will first be implemented, but we do know what comes next: More bandwidth and reliability. We can also report that 3GPP anticipates the releasing 4G LTE Rel-12 specs in March 2016.

As Rel-12 rolls out across cities and the country, so does UHD. It’s the drag race that never ends.

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