T-Mobile deploying LTE Release 10 network without small cells, for now

June 18, 2012 // By Rick Merritt
In an effort to leapfrog AT&T and Verizon, T-Mobile is deploying base stations for what it hopes will be the first cellular network to support Release 10, the next generation of LTE. The carrier hopes to go live with the network in 2013 as an adjunct to its existing HSPA+ service.

Release 10 supports carrier aggregation, the ability to use separate spectrum bands in a single service. It also supports up to 40 MHz channels and up to 8x8 MIMO antennas.

For carriers, the larger channels and aggregation provide more capacity they can offer on their airwave. For end users it can translate to higher peak data rates and more reliable connections.

“We’re excited about the capabilities of what we can bring with Release 10,” Neville Ray, chief technology officer at T-Mobile US said in a keynote at the annual conference of the NGMN Alliance here, a group of operators and vendors formed in 2004.

Carrier aggregation is seen as a key for a cellular industry starved for spectrum, particularly for T-Mobile which operates out of non-adjacent bands. “They really need this,” said Kris Rinne, vice president of network architectures for AT&T who also spoke here, saying carrier aggregation is one of her key priorities.

T-Mobile is expected to spend about $4 billion over the next year putting in its LTE Release 10 network running over its AWS bands. “Handsets are clearly the gating element in 2013,” said Ray.

To handle carrier aggregation handset RF receivers and filters need to capture simultaneously signals on two separate bands and generally handle a slightly heavier baseband processing load. Chips sets capable of the work are available, but so far no handsets have implemented them.

T-Mobile may also be trying to be among the first to deploy Voice over LTE. To date most LTE networks have focused only on data, offloading overloaded 3G nets that continue to carry voice.

“I think they want to run voice service on LTE to put as many users into the new network as possible and hopefully migrate their existing users to it and shut down old network,” said one source close to the company. “That’s sensible, and it’s what I would do,” the source said.

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