Telstra the standard-bearer for gigabit LTE: Qualcomm

Ensuring the nation has access to gigabit 4G is a foundational step towards rolling out a 5G network, Telstra's director of Networks has said, with the telco working towards this with Qualcomm.

In an effort to ensure the foundations for 5G in terms of speed, capacity, and latency are solid, Telstra remains focused on building out its gigabit 4G LTE network, with chip giant Qualcomm calling Telstra a world leader on the network technology.

Speaking during the Qualcomm 4G/5G Summit in Hong Kong this week, director of Networks Mike Wright told ZDNet that Telstra's world-first gigabit commercial network launched at the start of this year with Qualcomm and Ericsson is a main focus of the telco as it prepares its 5G trial network for testing during the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

"We're really at the moment concentrating on rolling out the additional 4G infrastructure we need for the traffic that's going to be on the Gold Coast next year, and then during the course of the year we'll be able to use that platform to do testing of 5G," Wright said.

The gigabit LTE network has now been switched on in most major capital cities, Wright told ZDNet, and is starting to be extended into surrounding areas.

"What we do typically with these technologies is we start where the traffic is the heaviest, and then progressively the traffic more or less drives the rollout -- you expand it out, and the next technology comes and you drive it out where the density of traffic is the highest," he explained.

According to Wright, it is important to get the advanced 4G network built now to avoid issues with speeds and capacity once customers begin using 5G.

"What we don't want to repeat is the 3G story, where we built 3G over 2G and when you fell off 3G you fell so far in speed that it was almost not usable for the use case," he explained during the summit.

"We need to build the 4G layer up so when we build our 5G transition, you can basically sell the pre-5G use case in the 4G lab ... we want to continue to drive the 4G as far as we can."

Cristiano Amon -- executive VP of Qualcomm and president of Qualcomm CDMA Technologies (QCT) -- said upgrades now to 4G, such as the addition of voice-over-LTE (VoLTE) capabilities and lower latency, will make the transition to both gigabit LTE and 5G easier for carriers.

"We'll provide the seamless transition of service with two fundamental upgrades: The upgrade that we're starting to see right now to gigabit LTE ... also the upgrade to ultra-low latency so that you're actually going to have a seamless transition of services as it starts to build to 5G New Radio that has higher speed and lower latency and you can transition that to the 4G network," Amon said during his keynote at the summit.

On top of such gigabit LTE networks, 5G New Radio can start to be built using both sub-6GHz and millimetre-wave (mmWave) spectrum, Amon said.

Calling Telstra its "partner in crime" on gigabit LTE, Amon also thanked the telco for its leadership, and told ZDNet that the two companies are hoping to have another big announcement ready for Mobile World Congress (MWC) in February.

"In 2018, we're going to try to do the next milestone of 4G, which we would like to go even faster than 1 gigabit. I won't make the announcement right now, but I think definitely we're going to be working together on something exciting for Mobile World Congress," Amon told ZDNet.

"It's a great partnership, and I believe that Telstra has been exercising great leadership in the industry and actually helping us move the technology forward, and we want to do the same thing with 5G."

Mike Finley, Qualcomm president of North America and Australia, agreed that Telstra is ahead of the game, telling ZDNet that its network launch earlier this year drove global interest, with Qualcomm now also working with carriers such as Verizon on gigabit 4G LTE.

"To give you an example of how important Telstra is and the breadth of capability they have, when we did this launch at the end of January, it was amazing how much around the globe that that was commented on. There were tweets coming out of T-Mobile and other carriers in the US, carriers in Europe, carriers all over the place, and it's now really started to spread to more and more, but Telstra was the first," Finley told ZDNet.

"Others have followed, so it's a great leadership example for how Telstra operates."

While carriers were already interested in deploying higher-speed 4G networks, Finley added that the Telstra launch cemented these plans.

"Every single one of those became much more engaged, and it really drove a lot of the OEMs, too. A lot of this stuff was in process, but I think it really added a lot of credibility, and a lot of desire and confidence to get these things moving," Finley said.

Also speaking during the Qualcomm summit, director of Tech Services at EE and BT Tom Bennett said British telcos are now also looking to gigabit LTE to form the basis for 5G.

"Predominantly, what we're looking at is as we evolve our network technology, evolve our network architecture towards the next 4G/5G state over the next five years, gigabit LTE becomes an absolute foundation stone for all of that," Bennett explained.

Similarly addressing gigabit Wi-Fi, Netgear CEO Patrick Lo said there is a need to have gigabit access in "every single corner of the house".

Spruiking Netgear's Nighthawk mesh Wi-Fi system -- launched as an accompaniment to Telstra's gigabit LTE -- as being the easiest, fastest, and lowest-cost way to extend Wi-Fi throughout houses, apartments, and yards, Lo said Netgear combined two Qualcomm systems-on-chips (SoCs) together for the router.

"It is very important to get gigabit -- or actually 10 gigabit -- to every single corner of the house, and I think joining together with Qualcomm we are definitely going on that journey and far beyond that," the Netgear chief executive said during the keynote.

According to Amon, since the launch with Telstra in January, 39 operators have announced gigabit LTE networks, with 10 handsets that support the tech now available: Samsung Galaxy S8/S8 Plus, Galaxy Note 8, Galaxy S8 Active, HTC U11, Asus Zenfone 4 Pro, LG V30, Sharp Aquos R, Moto Z Force Edition, Sony Xperia XZ Premium, and Xperia XZ1.

Qualcomm said it has been pushing smartphone tech for years, recently publishing a list of features that it already provides for Android phones in response to claims that the newly unveiled Apple iPhone X is innovative.

These features include fast charging on the HTC One M8, LG V30, and Xiaomi Mi5; dual cameras on the One M8, Galaxy S8, and Note 8; facial recognition on the Galaxy S8; fingerprint sensors under the display in Qualcomm's own reference design handset; augmented reality on the Lenovo Phab Pro 2; bezel-less design on the Xiaomi Mi Mix; OLED display on the LG Flex 2; 4K display on the Xperia XZ Premium; gigabit LTE on the Galaxy S8; ultra HD premium playback on the Galaxy S8; Bluetooth 5 on the Galaxy S8, Note 8, V30, U11, and Xiaomi Mi6; and HD wireless audio over Bluetooth via aptX HD on the Galaxy S8, V30, and OnePlus 5.

The 5G smartphone

While gigabit LTE capabilities have only just started being added to smartphones, Qualcomm is already planning the next-generation 5G smartphones with OEMs and vendors.

Last month it predicted that the first mass-market 5G smartphones will become commercially available by 2019, although it has denied that adding in the network tech will impact device form factor.

"We are working hard, and we have solved or are in the process of working through our system to solve the 5G NR problems -- including the ability to have millimetre-wave in the form factor of a smartphone," Amon said during his keynote.

According to Amon, Qualcomm is looking to launch these smartphones in the first half of 2019 using the "understood bands" across both sub-6GHz and mmWave.

Sony Mobile Communications VP of Product Development Kazuo Murata confirmed that his company is now working on a 5G phone with Qualcomm across mmWave, while Qualcomm SVP of Product Management Keith Kressin said it will be a simple matter of tweaking the innards of these phones to ensure a similar form factor is maintained.

"There are some out there saying, 'hey you're not going to be able to fit 5G into a phone' -- we have it already. Now it's either just are there slight compromises that need to be made, or are there no compromises that need to be made. We still have a little bit of refinement until the handsets come out in 2019," Kressin said.

"We will work together with our OEM partners to really minimise any impact to the physical design of the form factor, even when 5G is implemented ... but I wouldn't expect any material change in device form factors, whether it be 4G or 5G."

Disclosure: Corinne Reichert travelled to Qualcomm 4G/5G Summit in Hong Kong as a guest of Qualcomm

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