What is Gigabit LTE?
Gigabit LTE is a magic milestone in the development course of mobile internet. It means we’ve hit the big 1,000, with peak download speeds of 1,000Mbps.
This is made possible by the Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ Gigabit LTE modem, already found in phones like the Sony Xperia XZ Premium.
For those who like to dig a little deeper, it’s also known as LTE category 16.
Yes, there are more sequels involved here than the The Fast and the Furious franchise, because we didn’t get to Gigabit LTE in one giant step from the 4G most of us switched to a few years ago. Companies like Qualcomm are constantly upgrading the tech behind the scenes.
What are the benefits of Gigabit LTE?
If you use your phone mostly to send inane messages over WhatsApp and check out the Facebook pics of your most attention-starved friends, Gigabit LTE can seem like a technology for someone else. Why would you need such speed?
Sure enough, several of the key uses for such high-speed mobile internet are currently the concerns of the hardcore crowd. 4K video streaming and, perhaps more exciting, streaming of VR experiences, consume a lot of data in a short space of time. The current 4G speeds we see in the UK are, for the most part, not up to the challenge.
Even if you think VR is for nerds, a fad set to crash and burn harder than 3D TVs, there are much more fundamental reasons for faster mobile internet. For example, if you use Google Photos, all your photos are being uploaded to the cloud unless you deliberately switch this feature off.
Most of us need to clean up our phone storage after a while, meaning these photos only exist in the cloud. So when you look back through your phone gallery for that one pic last summer in which you didn’t look too bad, it and most of the photos in-between will have to be downloaded (at least in preview form) from the cloud.
Without fast mobile internet, these previews will take a relative age to load, no matter how fast your shiny new handset is. For many, cloud storage has gone from being a place to backup files to the default ‘save’ location. Local storage is now often the backup.
Our LTE speeds need to keep up with the way we use our phones these days.
Real-world Gigabit LTE
While 1,000Mbps may still sound like overkill when we’re talking about retrieving photo previews, or even 4K video when Netflix’s recommendation for Ultra HD streaming is 25Mbps, it’s worth remembering the 1,000Mbps figure of Gigabit LTE is the ‘peak’ theoretical maximum.
It’s real-world speeds that matter, and while we won’t instantly get 1,000Mbps downloads, Gigabit LTE offers a huge lift in the average speeds a user will see. If there were only 100 people per square km in London with the same infrastructure, we’d all have amazing 4G. The reality is rather different, and networks are prone to clogging in all population centres. Ever tried to send a message at midnight on New Year’s Eve?
Earlier this year, OpenSignal released a report on 4G speeds in the UK, aggregating 535,415,861 readings from 30,793 devices. Only EE’s average managed to reach the 25Mbps speeds Netflix recommends for Ultra HD streaming, with 31Mbps. London’s average 4G speed was 20.5Mbps.
For Spotify, WhatsApp and Facebook flicking, that’s perfect. However, it’s a bottleneck on progress.
Gigabit LTE expands the bandwidth of a network to make the limits of LTE less restrictive. Advanced technologies allow for faster real-world speed, using a smaller share of the mast’s airwaves. Downloads finish faster, freeing up the mast to serve other users sooner. Everyone wins.
Which phones have Gigabit LTE?
There are several technologies that go into making Gigabit LTE a reality, and they’re used both on the network side and in your phone. If you want to read more about carrier aggregation, 256 QAM, 4×4 MIMO, and other delights, read our feature on the tech behind Gigabit LTE.
If you’re simply looking for a phone primed for the future, what you need to look out for is a handset with the Qualcomm Snapdragon Gigabit LTE modem.
Several of this year’s top-end phones are ready for Gigabit LTE. These include the HTC U11, Sony Xperia XZ Premium and the second generation Moto Z Force Edition. They use the Snapdragon 835 Mobile Platform with X16 LTE, and have full Gigabit LTE capability. Gigabit LTE-ready phones also have four antennas, making performance better even in areas that don’t offer Gigabit speeds yet.
The UK versions of the Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+ don’t have the required hardware, despite the fact that the US versions sport the full Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 solution.
When will UK Gigabit LTE be a reality?
Qualcomm has made the hardware necessary for Gigabit LTE, but everything gets a little muddier when dragged out into the real world where we have to deal with network infrastructure and the compromises of real life.
EE currently has a head start, having demonstrated next generation mobile data speeds at Wembley Stadium in July 2017, achieving an amazing 750Mbps. It has also rolled-out ultra-fast Gigabit technologies in the East London Tech City campus and Cardiff, with plans for upgrades in other cities. Tests in Cardiff show real-world speeds of 429Mbps, which is insanely fast compared to even the fastest home broadband speeds.
EE only advertises speeds of up to 90Mbits/sec right now, but you should see much better results in the newly-upgraded areas – as Gigabit LTE rolls out across the network, those average speeds will increase significantly.
You’ll need to sign up to a 4GEE Max contract to experience these top speeds. The other networks lag behind EE, but it’s clear that our mobile internet is only going to get faster; a lot faster.