Spark makes Queenstown first to get 4.5G (LTE-Advanced Pro)

Confusing nomenclature for cellular technology has long been the norm: the term 4G was co-opted years ago for technologies that did not deserve the name.

Now Spark has continued the confusion by boasting that it has made Queenstown the first place in New Zealand to get 4.5G services, without anywhere in its announcement being specific as to what 4.5G is.

The correct term for 4.5G is LTE-Advanced Pro. As the name suggests is a technology one step beyond LTE Advanced. It was standardised by cellular standards body 3GPP in release 13, finalised in March 2016.

Its key advances beyond LTE-Advanced are data speeds in excess of 3Gbps (LTE-A: 1Gbps), the ability to aggregate multiple carriers up to a total of 640MHz of bandwidth (LTE-A: 100MHz); latency: 2ms (LTE-A: 10ms). Low latency is becoming increasingly important for future applications such as autonomous vehicles and is a key focus of 5G technology developments.

Spark says 4.5 will deliver “three to five times more speed and capacity than 4G from a single mobile tower to compatible devices.” However users need a device that supports 4.5G, of which there are few.

Spark said the upgrade put network slightly ahead of devices, with no commercially available modems or phones supporting the entire range and combination of 4.5G features at the moment.

“However, most new high-end phones support many 4.5G features, which propels their speeds to between three and five times faster than regular 4G,” Spark said.

“Real-world testing in Queenstown has been delivering over 400 megabits-per-second (Mbps), and specialised equipment reached a peak speed of 1.15 gigabits per second (Gbps) in Christchurch last year.”

So far five mobile towers in Queenstown have been upgraded: in Queenstown CBD, Frankton and Arrowtown. Spark says it plans to deliver 4.5G to 10 more towns in the next 12 months.

It says the launch of 4.5G in Queenstown follows single-tower deployments covering limited areas in the Christchurch CBD and Silverdale, Auckland last year, adding: “This is the first time the technology has been activated on a cluster of towers to deliver the improved capability to a wider geographic region.”

As more 4.5G devices come on to the network all users will benefit because the technology makes more efficient use of the RF spectrum, enabling each cell site to support higher volumes of data traffic.

It support 4 x4 MIMO – meaning there are four antennas on the cell site and the device creating four signal paths each of which can carry data – and a modulation technique known as 256 QAM (Quadrature Amplitude Modulation) which enables a given spectrum bandwidth to carry more bits of data.

Data traffic in Queenstown is particularly heavy. According to Spark its Peninsula Hill cell site in Queenstown is in the top ten busiest sites for data use in the country. “In May over 53 terabytes of mobile data was used in the region. Around half of this was for streaming video, which is the equivalent of streaming over 7000 hours of high-definition video on Lightbox or Netflix,” Spark said.

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