This week Australian wireless operator Telstra, in conjunction with Ericsson, Qualcomm and Netgear, announced the world’s first cellular network capable of peak download speeds of 1 gigabit per second (Gbps), due to officially launch this month (Feb. 2017). Ericsson is supplying the radio access equipment needed to upgrade Telstra’s cell sites. Netgear will supply its new Nighthawk M1 mobile LTE router, which runs on Qualcomm's Snapdragon X16 cellular modem and associated radio chipset.
Photo courtesy of Netgear
In a demonstration in Sydney, Australia this week, Telstra showed live speed test results, easily attaining 901.5 Mbps downlink, 97.8 Mbps uplink, and round trip latencies as low as 25 ms. They also set up live 4K 360-degree video streamed from the Sydney Opera House through an M1 over LTE to another M1 located across town in Telstra’s office building, simultaneously showing a live 360-degree YouTube video over the same connection.
Telstra also showed that it could download a 32 minute 720p video to a phone in about 15 seconds using gigabit LTE, or upload a 300 MB 4K UHD video to Google Photos in around 30 seconds.
The Nighthawk M1 mobile router is an attractive product for the international business traveler, a bit larger than many of today’s mobile LTE routers, but with a 5040 mA-hour battery that Netgear says allows 24 hours of operation. Users can also use the M1 as a cellphone jump-booster. Netgear touts the Nighthawk M1 as a convenient, high-speed travel router with built-in display and simple user interface:
- Uses a Qualcomm Snapdragon X16 modem (MDM9x50).
- Can connect up to 20 Wi-Fi devices to a gigabit LTE connection for internet access.
- Runs 802.11ac Wave 2 dual-simultaneous-band Wi-Fi (2.4 GHz and 5 GHz) for high throughput.
- Runs LTE Cat 16 DL (up to 1 Gbps peak DL) and LTE Cat 13 UL (150 Mbps).
- DL: Supports up to 4xDL carrier aggregation (80 MHz aggregate bandwidth), 256 QAM with up to 4x4 DL MIMO (using four base station transmit antennas and four M1 receive antennas).
- UL: Supports 64-QAM and 2xUL carrier aggregation for three times the typical uplink speed.
- Uses Telstra’s LTE in B3 (1800 MHz), B7 (2600 MHz), B28 (700 MHz), but can also use B1 (2100 MHz) and B8 (900 MHz). Where LTE coverage is lacking, the unit reverts to 3G in B1, B2, B5, or B8. The upcoming North America version will substitute the 700 MHz B12, B13, B17 for B28.
- Comes with rear Ethernet, USB-C & USB-A connectors, allowing the streaming of media from microSD, USB or external hard drive through the USB ports to all connected devices, and also has media server NAS capabilities.
- LS-9 connectors for optional external antennas (two).
- Dimensions: 105.5 mm (3.15 inches) x 105.5 mm (4.15 inches) x 20.35 mm (0.83 inches’ weight 240 g (0.5 pounds, with battery).
- Battery: 5040 mA-hr.
- Built-in speed meter (display), support for Netgear’s Arlo camera and home security system.
- Retail price: about AU$360 plus monthly data charges depending on plan.
The Nighthawk M1 uses four antennas in the corners to run 4x4 DL MIMO in B3 and B7, but only goes to 2x2 DL (with two antennas) in B28. The reason for this is that the small dimensions of the M1 relative to the wavelength at 700 MHz cause antenna correlation to increase, reducing effectiveness with four antennas. Typically, in the DL direction the Nighthawk M1 aggregates 20 MHz x two in B7, plus 20 MHz in B3 and 20 MHz in B28 for a total of 80 MHz. Some parts of Australia have only 15 MHz available in B3 (Melbourne and Sydney for example), leading to slightly lower peak data rate than 1 Gbps for service.
To upgrade its network to gigabit LTE capability, Telstra worked closely with Ericsson to evaluate cell sites in terms of traffic and required CAPEX. Typical sites required the addition of two transmit cards per remote radio head to go from two transmitters to four per sector, and baseband processor upgrades. Telstra told us that most sites already had radomes with the required cross polarized antenna arrays, and sites covering 93 percent of the population already had adequate fiber backhaul; after the gigabit LTE upgrades, 80 percent of Telstra sites now have four transmit antennas per sector in the required bands. Telstra apparently will market gigabit LTE along with the Nighthawk M1 using the tagline “the world’s fastest” under the existing 4GX brand, Telstra’s name for its LTE-A service.
According to Mike Wright, Group Managing Director of Networks at Telstra, the company thinks of gigabit LTE as a good way to get a view into what 5G will deliver. Telstra has experienced annual growth in data traffic of 85 to 90 percent per year since 2011, and anticipates that spectral efficiency alone will make the upgrade to gigabit LTE worthwhile.
After gigabit LTE, the company plans to move to 5G as quickly as possible, and will use the Australian Gold Coast Games in 2018 as a proof point for 5G along with upgrades to the transport core that will include more SDN and virtualization. And, Telstra does not plan to stop there. The company has an investment stake in the content streaming service FoxTel, deals with the Rugby League, Australian Football League, and National Football League, and plans to make use of content and new technology for much more than just providing faster pipes.
More operators will soon follow with gigabit LTE, creating opportunities for OEMs and radio components. We expect to comment on more developments later this month on the heels of Mobile World Congress.