Why the LTE Network Will Still Matter in a 5G World
Even after 5G launches to subscribers in 2022, the LTE network infrastructure will continue to carry 82 percent of all mobile traffic, according to Network World. Densely populated areas will experience 5G first, while 4G will continue to be the default path for mobile traffic before the 5G network expands into rural towns and lightly populated areas.
New technologies will deploy to enable 5G and boost the quality of all existing networks — particularly in lower-spectrum bands. This strategy is typical: Because carriers invest so much in network infrastructure, older standards hang around long after innovations supersede them. AT&T, for instance, continued to support its 2G services until January 1, 2017, according to Engadget.
Improving the Current LTE Network
Even as carriers and manufacturers build 5G infrastructure and technologies like 5G modems and multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO) antennas, they’ll continue to improve the capacity and lower latency on existing LTE networks. Network World predicts that 15 global operators will offer gigabit LTE by the end of 2017, using combined frequency bands to deliver faster speeds for existing devices.
But while carriers have worked hard to improve peak rate, they have a long way to go to reduce latency on the LTE network, notes Gustav Wikstrom of Ericsson Research. Therefore, new technologies are in progress to improve LTE speed and performance for connected industrial plants, connected vehicles and demanding applications like gaming and file transfer. For example, fast uplink access aims to lower one-way uplink transmission speeds to less than a millisecond, while other technologies work to enhance downlink transmission chain, cut processing time and shorten transmission duration.
A Gradual Transition
Back in the day, the 4G LTE network was built separately from 3G, with traffic passed between networks based on local coverage. But the future holds something new — LTE and 5G can coexist on the same network, and Network World predicts LTE will continue to handle mobility management functions even as 5G expands.
A gradual migration to 5G, such as that envisioned by companies supporting the Nonstand-Alone 5G New Radio (NR) initiative, can help carriers and manufacturers spread out the cost of transitioning to 5G infrastructure and devices.
Even carriers like Verizon, which has come out against 5G NR, continues to develop use cases for the LTE network. Fierce Wireless reports that Verizon sees LTE as a core technology for Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity, particularly Narrowband IoT and LTE-M. These solutions can be deployed on existing networks with a software upgrade and can improve IoT devices’ battery life, lower data costs and expand coverage for IoT networks. In the end, the LTE network will still matter in a 5G world.