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Gigabit LTE Picks Up Momentum in China

by Chris Taylor | Jun 26, 2017

On June 14, 2017, China Mobile completed a commercial test of gigabit LTE in conjunction with Qualcomm, Huawei and Samsung, marking what promises to be a bright future for gigabit LTE in China:
  • China Mobile calls its TD-LTE gigabit LTE service “4G+.”
  • In the test, completed in Hangzhou using the Samsung Galaxy S8, the operator demonstrated sustained downlink speeds of 680 Mbps, with peak downlink speeds up to 700 Mbps.
  • While not quite hitting peak downlink speeds of 1 Gbps, the test demonstrated all the technical prerequisites needed for gigabit LTE, including carrier aggregation, 4x4 MIMO and higher-order modulation.
  • China Mobile used 3x downlink carrier aggregation, 4x4 DL MIMO, and 256-QAM in the test.  The operator has spectrum in B39 (20 MHz) and B38/B41 (60 MHz).  We think they used two component carriers in B41 with 4x4 DL MIMO (eight streams) plus one component carrier in B39 with 2x2 DL MIMO (two streams), for a total of 10 DL streams at about 73 Mbps (peak) per stream.
  • China Mobile plans to launch gigabit LTE service in December starting in Beijing, Guangzhou and Chongquing, with Shanghai soon to follow.

Following China Mobile’s test and announcement, expect more news about gigabit LTE launches in China soon:

  • China Unicom and China Telecom are expected to announce gigabit LTE at Mobile World Congress Shanghai (MWC-S, June 28 – July 1 2017).  Both operators have TD-LTE spectrum in B40 and B41, and FD-LTE spectrum across several other bands.
  • China Mobile, Qualcomm, Huawei and probably many others will host demonstrations of Gigabit LTE at MWC-S.
  • Strategy Analytics estimates that the total number of cellular subscribers in China is more than 1.3 billion.  China Mobile, the country’s largest operator, has more than 850,000 cellular subscribers.

Gigabit LTE improves data rates for customers, but it also provides much needed enhancements to network capacity.  Gigabit LTE will arrive on the heels of a move to unlimited data plans by all three wireless operators in China, a move that has raised concerns about network capacity:

  • China Unicom launched unlimited data early in 2017, and data use quickly resulted in the tripling of 4G network utilization.
  • In May 2017, China Telecom and Xiaomi announced unlimited data for Xiaomi phone users.
  • In response to the other two operators, China Mobile announced unlimited data but with data caps.  China Mobile’s chief executive Li Yue expressed concerns about network capacity, stating that unlimited data was “. . . not healthy for industry development.”
  • Gigabit LTE supports unlimited data: it provides critical network capacity for the growth of data including video services, improving the overall customer experience.

China will boost the gigabit LTE ecosystem, and this will have global benefits.  If even a small portion of China’s 1.3 billion cellular subscribers decide to buy gigabit LTE phones this year and next, demand will attract more radio chip and mobile device suppliers and push gigabit LTE into lower price tier devices.  This will mean more gigabit LTE-enabled models, and lower prices across the world with economies of production scale.

The Samsung Galaxy S8 smartphones used in the China Mobile test use Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835 processor and platform.  Other devices on the market that can support gigabit LTE include the Netgear Nighthawk M1 Gigabit LTE Router, the HTC U11 smartphone and the Sony Xperia XZ Premium smartphone, all of which use Qualcomm.  The Apple iPhone 8, due in September 2017, may support gigabit LTE.  The new Essential PH-1 uses a Snapdragon 835, but as far as we know does not have the RF front end needed for 4x4 MIMO and gigabit LTE.

With little doubt, adoption of gigabit LTE will soon take off in China.  Perhaps most important to China, gigabit LTE helps meet the goals stated by China’s premier Li Keqiang to improve China’s communications and the internet.  It doesn’t hurt that gigabit LTE will help wireless operators in China compete and will provide better service to subscribers.

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