Until the end of July, Telecom Italia Mobile (TIM) is using its flagship store on via Roma in the centre of Turin to showcase the very latest development in 4G technology.
Known as LTE-Advanced (LTE-A), the latest iteration of 4G gives download speeds in the region of 180Mbps, around double what users can currently get.
The 180Mbps speeds are obtained using carrier aggregation, technology that combines spectrum in the 1800MHz and 2600MHz bands to provide greater bandwidth — useful for things such as watching movies in 4K resolution (Telecom Italia Mobile already has an on demand streaming service of HD movies, called TimVision; 4K content is still scarce, but the offering is bound to grow).
The city of Turin was not chosen by chance as venue for the LTE-A showcase — it's where Telecom Italia's R&D laboratories are based, and it's here that all TIM's main innovations in mobile connectivity, from 3G in 1999 to LTE in 2009, were launched.
For now, however, LTE-A is still in preview. The commercial launch of TIM's LTE-A network will probably take place by the end of the year, around Christmas time. To take full advantage of the new capabilities, consumers will need to new, LTE-A compatible hardware such as the Samsung Galaxy S5 LTE-A or the LG G3 LTE-A. South Korean manufactures were among the first to include LTE-A support in their devices, following last year's creation of various LTE-A networks in the country.
In Europe, operators are slower and more cautious, although there have been a few trials in countries including France, Belgium, Germany, and the UK. TIM's competitor, Vodafone Italia, also conducted a pilot of the technology earlier this year, ahead of a 2015 launch.
According to Telecom Italia's director of technology Roberto Opilio, the new 180Mbps offering will be just the beginning, as the carrier aggregation technology is bound to open even new opportunities in the coming years. "n the future it will be possible to reach speeds of 300Mbps and beyond," he said.
TIM is expanding its 4G network in Italy, as part of a €900m ultrafast mobile broadband investment plan. Right now, TIM covers around 56 percent of the population in 812 municipalities with its LTE network. By the end of this year, it plans to reach 1,000 municipalities, or roughly 60 percent of the population. By 2016, the figure should grow to 80 percent.