Singaporean telecommunications carrier Singtel has announced completing a live trial of License Assisted Access (LAA) 4G across its network in partnership with Ericsson, saying the mobile technology will boost network capacity and speeds indoors and will be rolled out over the next two years, beginning in the first half of 2017.
The trial involved two weeks of testing across several RBS 6402 indoor small cells, Wi-Fi access points, prototype LAA devices, and Wi-Fi devices, using 20MHz of the 1800MHz licensed spectrum band aggregated with 20MHz of the 5GHz unlicensed spectrum band over a live network inside an office premises in Serangoon North.
"To provide our customers with a superior mobile experience when they are indoors, we are continuing to invest in new technologies that will increase indoor 4G speeds," said Tay Yeow Lian, managing director of Networks for Singtel's Consumer Singapore group.
"We are pleased to be the first in Singapore to showcase LAA technology live. This is an integral part of the LTE-Advanced evolution, and will bring us one step closer to our 5G goals."
LAA is a kind of LTE-U -- a mobile technology using unlicensed LTE spectrum to boost data speeds -- which comes with "listen-before-talk" functionality that ensures LAA coexists with other Wi-Fi devices across the same unlicensed spectrum, improving network capacity for multiple devices.
The first trial saw Singtel and Ericsson conduct a stationary live test at the office building that attained 275Mbps throughput -- the highest possible with the devices currently available -- across LTE LAA; the second test case demonstrated that LAA can coexist with regular Wi-Fi signals without interference and while maintaining a high throughput; and the third trial saw the two companies show that LAA has better link performance, medium access control, mobility management, coverage, higher throughput speeds, and handover between small cells than a standard Wi-Fi access point.
LAA-capable smartphones and devices should be available for consumers in early 2017, Singtel added, allowing for 450Mbps throughput speeds. The technology is a precursor for 5G implementation, both Singtel and Ericsson claimed.
"5G standards do not yet exist, but 5G is expected to be an evolution of today's LTE networks along with new radio technologies and use cases," Martin Wiktorin, country manager for Ericsson Singapore and Brunei, explained.
"Ericsson and Singtel are very focused on technologies like LAA, which will be key to operators as they evolve their LTE networks to support increasing mobile broadband demand from consumers, businesses, and the Internet of Things (IoT) towards 5G."
In February, Singtel and Ericsson had announced their collaboration on enabling Singtel's 4G network for the IoT, including a trial of narrowband IoT technology during the latter half of 2016.
Instead of using cellular networks for the IoT, narrowband low-power, long-range, wide-area networks that use available, unlicensed radio spectrum could allow for extended coverage and less complex devices with higher battery life, meaning more connected devices overall.
"IoT connectivity is an important part of Singapore's enterprises, and supports the Singapore government's Smart Nation initiative. We anticipate a growing demand to connect a multitude of sensors and devices in a cost-effective manner," Tay Soo Meng, group CTO at Singtel, said at the time.
"Focusing on power-saving capabilities in our networks enables energy-efficiency benefits for the IoT ecosystem; we expect at least 10 years' battery life. With the early introduction of low-powered IoT devices, this brings us a step closer to 5G goals, where new device and sensor technologies can leverage network connectivity to power a variety of use cases, such as lighting and vehicle-to-infrastructure connectivity."
Singtel's 4G network currently supports low-cost purpose-built Category 1 (Cat-1) IoT devices.
Ericsson and Singtel have been working on a "blueprint" for 5G deployment across Singapore since January last year, signing a memorandum of understanding to "study the future of 5G networks and its applications" for consumers and enterprises.
Ericsson is also working with Australia's incumbent telecommunications carrier Telstra on trialling Telstra's 5G network during the 2018 Commonwealth Games in the Gold Coast.
Under the partnership, Telstra's team of network engineers will be temporarily transferred to Ericsson's Sweden-based research lab for six months prior to this, in order to collaborate on collecting data and building the mathematical models of radio signals to be used for 5G radio spectrum.
The engineering teams will then use this data to develop radio models for the Australian network environment as part of the international 5G standardisation process.
Telstra last year attained 1Gbps 4G mobile speeds with Ericsson during live commercial 4G mobile trials by aggregating five spectrum bands.
Similarly, Ericsson last month demonstrated the capability of network slicing for 5G mobile communications infrastructure with SK Telecom in South Korea.