Urgent Matters

Carrier aggregation promises to open new possibilities to LTE network operators

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LTE-Advanced supports carrier aggregation, which effectively lets an operator combine the bandwidth from separate systems, even if they operate in different spectrum bands. The capability could alter spectrum strategies for a variety of operators.

One commercial that made me chuckle in the mid-1990s was a Pizza Hut spot featuring Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and future Hall-of-Famer Deion Sanders, who had just signed a free-agent deal to play for the Cowboys just days after finishing the baseball season with the Cincinnati Reds.

In the commercial depicting a faux conversation before the signing, Jones asks if Sanders wants to play baseball or football. Sanders replies, “Both, boss.” Jones then asks if Sanders wants to play offense or defense. Sanders replies, “Both.”

Finally, Jones asks, “So, what’ll it be, Deion [to sign you]? $15, $20 million?” Sanders again replies, “Both.”

Indeed, Sanders signed for $35 million for seven years, which was a groundbreaking contract at the time. And the role that Sanders played for the Cowboys also was groundbreaking, as he started at both cornerback and wide receiver for several years.

In wireless communications, there has not been as much flexibility as Sanders displayed. Network operators traditionally have learned to live with limitations dictated largely by the physics associated with the spectrum they use. Airwaves at lower frequencies are extremely scarce, but the signals propagate well, meaning fewer sites are needed to cover a given area. Meanwhile, spectrum tends to be more plentiful in higher bands, but the weaker propagation characteristics force an operator to deploy more sites to realize the same coverage.

For most of radio’s history, devices could access only a single channel at time in a given band. During the past decade, technology has evolved to the point where multiband radios have become commonplace, but they only allow access to one spectrum band at a time—a choice has to be made, whether it is done consciously by the user or automatically via software within the radio.

But that promises to change soon, as wireless operators implementing LTE-Advanced will not have to make a choice regarding which spectrum to use at a given instance. Instead, like Deion Sanders, they will be able to say, “Both.”

Discuss this Blog Entry 1

John Roberts (not verified)
on Mar 8, 2014

LTE-aggregation is another perfect example why the concept behind FirstNet is doomed to failure. It's just a sacred cash cow for a few LMR vendors in fear of loosing marketshare to LTE as a whole. A waste of spectrum and $20-60B of US Dollars. Worse, any agency that jumps on-board will be surpassed by a 10 yr. old kid with his latest toy. These people just do not understand technology. It would be better and cheaper for an agency to deploy devices that work across not only aggregate spectrum but multiple carriers, with priority service, if they are worried about networks and their availability. They are ready doing this in Scandanvia. Start by leasing the D-Block to its neighbor and getting services in-kind from that carrier that work across all bands.

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Donny Jackson is editor of Urgent Communications magazine. Before joining UC in 2002, he covered telecommunications for four years as a freelance writer and as news editor for Telephony magazine....
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