AT&T CTO says carrier’s LTE network speeds will reach 1 Gbps

While much of the wireless industry’s attention is currently focused on 5G, and the blazing-fast download speeds that are possible through the technology, AT&T’s CTO said that there is still plenty of juice to derive from LTE. Specifically, AT&T’s Andre Fuetsch said the carrier expects to get up to 1 Gbps speeds from LTE at some point in the future.

“There’s a lot of focus on 5G – but don’t discount LTE,” Fuetsch, president of AT&T Labs and the operator’s CTO, said this week during his appearance at Nomura’s 2016 Media, Telecom and Internet Conference in New York. “LTE is still here. And LTE will be around for a long time. And LTE has also enormous potential in that, you’ll be capable of supporting 1 gigabit speeds as well.”

Added Fuetsch: “You’ll see a focus in the near term of taking advantage of our LTE capabilities. And there’s a lot of capability and feature functionality, a lot we can do with it.”

Fuetsch specifically pointed to carrier aggregation, a technology that allows wireless operators to essentially glue together wireless transmissions across different spectrum bands in order to speed up users’ download speeds. “We’ll be expanding that in the future,” Fuetsch said. “This is a really exciting time to be in the wireless world.”

Indeed, AT&T in 2014 started using carrier aggregation technology in Chicago and other markets to boost LTE capacity and speeds on its network, but the carrier at the time cautioned that it would be a little while before many customers could take advantage of the upgraded network.

Other operators are also employing carrier aggregation. Sprint, for example, recently announced it was able to obtain download speeds of almost 300 Mbps via three-channel carrier aggregation on the HTC 10 smartphone.

But AT&T’s Fuetsch said that, to raise wireless speeds above 1 Gbps, the operator would need to turn to 5G technology. “We’re right there, we’re going to lead in 5G,” he said. “We have several trials going on right now and we’re seeing some tremendous results from those trials.”

Fuetsch said AT&T’s recent 5G trial in Austin provided 14 Gbps speeds to one user.

“You’ll see us sharing more about the trial activity we’re doing,” he said. “Everything that’s being trialed right now is not standard, it’s all sort of proprietary. But this is an important process to go through because this is how you learn and how it helps define standards.”

“We’re making sure 5G evolves,” he added. “This is still a couple of years out.”

Indeed, Fuetsch said that AT&T’s ongoing work in software-defined networking (SDN) and network function virtualization (NFV) is helping to position the operator to smoothly upgrade to 5G. Already AT&T has said that it is on track to virtualize 30 percent of its network by the end of 2016, on its way to virtualizing fully 75 percent of its network in 2020.

SDN “really sets the stage for 5G,” Fuetsch said. “Everything is really coming and converging here quite nicely for the world of 5G.”

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