In the background of our favorite streaming services, online games, social apps, etc., are networks looking to deliver the fastest and most reliable signal to subscribers. Carriers spend billions of dollars looking for better ways to transmit signals to millions of consumers. Behind these networks are a ton of intricate concepts and technological breakthroughs that continue to innovate and make everything happen. One of the most important in recent times is carrier aggregation.
Carrier aggregation allows your wireless provider to send your device more data, cover more users, transmit to larger areas, and so much more. It is a critical part of how we will gain access to 5G and how we will get the most out of 5G sooner. There are plenty of technical breakdowns explaining configurations and whatnot, but if you’re looking for an easy-to-read guide to how 5G is being brought to life with this incredible technique, keep reading below.
5G Spectrum Bands: A Refresher
It’s important to remember how 5G spectrum works. You can click here for a more in-depth experience, however, let’s review this method quickly:
- There are three distinct bands of 5G: low-band, mid-band, and high-band (mmWave)
- Each band delivers a different characteristic with low-band going farther but with slower speeds (still generally faster than 4G), mmWave barely traveling but with incredible speeds, and mid-band somewhere in the middle in terms of speed and the ability to travel
- To reach the top speeds and lower latency necessary to experience all of 5G’s glory, a lot of sites will need to be deployed as mmWave cannot travel very far
5G is still in its beginning stages and even in maturity, users will find that deploying mmWave sites can be difficult for providers in a variety of situations which can mean worse signal and performance. But on top of this, each company is taking a different approach to how it deploys 5G, at least at first:
- AT&T was the second nationwide 5G network and is focusing on low-band with some mid-band to supplement consumers and mmWave for commercial customers.
- DISH Wireless is creating a powerful, innovative 5G network from the ground up and its full deployment strategy is still unfolding before us.
- T-Mobile is working on pushing out more mid-band spectrum it acquired from its merger with Sprint, however, the first nationwide 5G provider in the U.S. focused on its low-band offerings at the beginning.
- Verizon was the last of the three current major wireless carriers to announce its nationwide 5G network in part because Verizon’s 5G was available only in very select parts of NYC and Philadelphia due to its focus on mmWave, which it has since pushed low-band and will add to this with mid-band (C-band) spectrum to supplement.
Different spectrum bands, different approaches, and different needs by users. These reasons and many more are all a part of why deploying 5G is much more complicated than one might think. It is also why many companies need 4G LTE to help prop up networks for now and why companies struggle to provide comprehensive 5G coverage in these early stages. Just as 4G improved with time, so will 5G, and companies are helping it do this with innovations like carrier aggregation that help them from a technical standpoint and help the user enjoy their devices in a better way.
Why Carrier Aggregation Matters to Users
If you’ve ever needed to use your phone and weren’t able to or if it didn’t perform the way you needed it to, then you’ll be a fan of carrier aggregation. Remember, the whole purpose of carrier aggregation is so that wireless providers can transmit more data to you at once. This means that if you are unable to connect to mmWave, mid-band spectrum will get to you as well as low-band. It means better reception, more coverage, and faster networks.
This is huge on a personal level for your own device but also necessary for other devices around you. The world continues to connect in new, exciting ways and 5G is helping usher in the Internet of Things (IoT), several connected devices that include everything from your thermostat communicating with your personal assistant device to your automated car relaying messages with lights and other cars around it in a city and so on. Better coverage and faster data speeds make all of this possible.
Combining the devices you and those around you use plus the uptick 5G will bring through the IoT, it is clear to see that wireless providers have more to cover than ever, especially in urban, dense markets. The challenges we see with transmitting 5G also show that more rural markets could have difficulty connecting to the best speeds 5G has to offer without some sort of boost. No matter which market you belong to, carrier aggregation is here to help deliver a better 5G network experience for all.
Carrier Aggregation is Speeding Up 5G Deployment
Because many carriers still rely on 4G LTE to help bring data through carrier aggregation, it can be slower at times as networks continue to grow. But 5G using carrier aggregation will be capable of going farther and doing more faster because of it. 4G was a huge generation for wireless but its time is coming whereas 5G is just getting started. Considering 4G started in 2009 (2010 for the U.S.), companies are looking to reduce the rollout of 5G and not have users waiting an entire decade before reaping the full benefits of their wireless networks as was the case before. Carrier aggregation will put more data in larger areas, for more users, in a quicker manner.