Network upgrades "could be wasted" if device makers don't embrace LTE-A Pro

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Operators could be wasting money upgrading their networks to LTE-Advanced Pro as the device ecosystem remains immature, new research has warned.

A report from ABI Research said that while LTE-Advanced compatibility is relatively widespread, with almost 25 percent of every smartphone shipped in 2016 expected to support speeds of up to 200MBps, there is a slow uptake of modems in devices supporting greater speeds.

Malik Saadi, MD and Vice President at ABI Research said 90 out of the 148 operators that have already deployed LTE-Advanced services are planning to launch Pro either this year or next.

These services are powered by category 11 modems, which support downlink speeds of 600MBps, through to category 16, which supports up to 1GBps.

Saadi said while the likes of LG, Samsung and ZTE are building devices with Category 11 or 12 modems, it will be at least next year before the first category 16 modem hits the market.

He said operators need to push device manufacturers to speed up their adoption rate of higher category modems or else the cash spent on infrastructure upgrades could be wasted.

Saadi added: “Devices powered by category 11 or higher gear modems will be instrumental in improving the overall mobile service experience by enabling users to stream and download richer content at faster speeds. This type of modem will greatly help improve the overall network efficiency compared to category 6 and category 9 modems, which may drastically limit spectrum utilization of LTE-Advanced Pro networks in crowded hotspots that utilize high-bandwidth services.”

The report noted the "overwhelming majority" of devices on an operator's network use category 4 or 6 compatible devices, with some category 9 in play.

Saadi said: “Operators have a vested interest in linking and aligning their investment on network capital expenditure with their device procurement strategy. Otherwise, they could seriously damage the overall service experience over their newly built networks.”

By 2021, 36 percent of LTE devices will be shipped with a category 11 or higher modem, up from two percent this year.

Saadi said: “Device procurement managers should put the use of faster modems, such as Category 11 and above, very high in their priority specifications to OEMS and chipset suppliers. Otherwise, this could have some dramatic consequences on the network spectral efficiency and alienate the overall mobile broadband experience, even for premium subscribers using superfast modems.”