With the launch of its new flagship smartphone, HTC on Tuesday became the first device maker to trick out a U.S. phone with LTE-Advanced technologies. The new HTC One M8 supports an LTE-Advanced technique called carrier aggregation, which bonds together two downlink transmissions, amplifying both the speeds available to the device and the connection strength to the tower.
Both Qualcomm and HTC confirmed that carrier aggregation was available and enabled in M8’s baseband chip, but neither would comment on when individual operators would turn on the feature for their customers. A look at the specs on the Google Play edition of the One gives a good indication of where the feature will show up first though. The device will aggregate three bands all used specifically by AT&T.
So does this mean we’ve officially crossed the gap between plain-old LTE and LTE-Advanced? Not exactly.
LTE-Advanced is actually a grab bag of different technologies that will improve the speed, capacity, availability and resiliency of our 4G networks. Carrier aggregation is just the first step of many, but it’s also the one that gets the most attention because it produces something tangible to the end user: greater speed.
By bonding channels in different bands, AT&T is turning its patchwork of different 4G frequencies into a unified network. In the case of Chicago, AT&T is gluing together a 10 MHz downlink in the 700 MHz band and a 5 MHz downlink in the high-frequency Advanced Wireless Service (AWS) band, resulting in a 50 percent speed boost for customers capable of accessing it and theoretical capacity ceiling of about 112 Mbps.
Source: Flickr / FlySi
Even with carrier aggregation, AT&T’s networks won’t be the fastest in the country. Both T-Mobile and Verizon are able to build faster systems because they have big hunks of contiguous spectrum — they can’t build anything bigger through channel bonding than they already have today. But as carrier aggregation techniques improve in the next generation of LTE chips, operators will be able to splice together some enormously fat pipes, capable of supporting theoretical speeds of 300 Mbps.
That kind of speed might seem ridiculous when talking about connecting a smartphone or when considering the high-cost of mobile data. But keep in mind that in the world of cellular networking, speed equals capacity. That 300 Mbps is divided among all of the users in a cell, so higher speeds make for a more efficient network and a better data experience for all involved.
The LTE baseband and Snapdragon 801 processor aren’t the only Qualcomm elements in the new One. HTC is also using Qualcomm’s envelope-tracking technology, which will cut down on power consumed by the LTE radio and is a likely contributor to the device’s 40 percent improvement in battery life over the previous HTC One.