Telstra has launched the world’s first commercial Gigabit LTE service, available via a portable hotspot from Netgear. The device, based on a Qualcomm Snapdragon X16 modem, will go sale for $360 on 14 February and will also be available on a range of contract plans. The service is supported by an upgrade to Telstra’s LTE network supplied by Ericsson.
The technology has a theoretical maximum downstream bandwidth of 1 gigabit per second and upstream of 150 megabits per second. In demonstrations on Telstra’s network it consistently achieved close to 900Mbps downstream and almost 100Mbps upstream, peaking at 930/127Mbps, at a location that was supporting several other bandwidth intensive demonstrations at Telstra’s launch event.
This throughput is achieved by using 4x4 MIMO (four antennas on both the base station and the device), aggregating three channels to give a total of 60MHz of bandwidth and a more advanced modulation technique known as 256QAM on the downstream link. The uplink uses two channel aggregation 4x4 MIMO and 64QM.
Channa Seneviratne, director wireless network engineering in Telstra Operations, said Telstra planned to have coverage of the CBDs of the main capital cities — Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide — by the end of this year and eventually to extend the service to 87 per cent of the population.
Per Narvinger, vice-president network systems at Ericsson, said enabling the service required a software upgrade in the base stations and the two additional antennas and associated radio to handle the change from 2XMIMO of the Telstra’s current LTE service.
The portable hotspot, the Netgear Nighthawk M1, has a microSD slot and USB connection on which movies and other content can be stored and shared by all the 20 users the device supports.
It also has an Ethernet connection, useful for connecting to hotel Internet services overseas where the costs of mobile roaming are prohibitive. It supports Wi-Fi at both 2.4GHz and 5.0GHz, measures 105 x 105 x 20mm and weighs 240gm.
The device is intended to be primarily managed from a smartphone via an app, which is available from Google Play or the Apple App Store, and there is also a Web-based UI that can be accessed from a connected laptop. The screen on the device shows the amount of data remaining on whatever plan the user has chosen (Telstra said the device could be used with a prepaid SIM, but is not supported and this feature would not be available).
The Nighthawk M1 has a claimed battery life of 16 hours continuous usage and can also be used to deliver a charge boost to a smartphone.
Narvinger said one of the big challenges to be overcome in developing the service had been accommodating four antennas and the processing needed for 4xMIMO in a small device with reasonable battery life.
“If you had talked to Qualcomm just a few years ago, they would have said it could not be done,” he said.
Overall, he said network traffic was 80 per cent downstream and 20 per cent upstream but came close to 50/50 at major sporting or entertainment events as spectators uploaded video. There are no plans to move to symmetrical services in LTE/4G, but he said flexible allocation of capacity between up and downstream links would be a feature of 5G.
Telstra is predicting a fivefold increase in mobile data traffic – which has grown by 85 per cent CAGR over the past decade – by the time 5G launches in about five years time, and said that technology developments like 1Gbps LTE, which make more efficient use of spectrum, would be needed to enable the increase in demand to be supported.
Telstra and its partners in the service made much of the fact that the new technology is able to download large files much faster than the current LTE network and in so doing frees up network resources for other users.