How Much “Air” Is There Still For LTE?

In a previous post I wrote about one mobile network operator in Germany now being on air with LTE with 65 MHz. So far, network operators have been in the comfortable position to add additional spectrum to increase their network capacity. But this game will come to an end pretty soon!

The 2x 65 MHz on air today are pretty much everything that can be used by LTE devices today with the spectrum owned by that network operator according to this global spectrum assignment map. The only spectrum that is still available to go beyond this configuration for the network operator according to the spectrum map linked to above is 10 MHz in the 700 MHz band and 20 MHz in the 1500 MHz band. Both bands are not yet in operation and there are no devices supporting those bands yet. In addition about 5 MHz or so could be refarmed in the 900 MHz and and 10 MHz will become available in 2100 MHz once UMTS is switched-off. Both things are unlikely to happen in the next few years.

Support for 700 and 1500 MHz in devices will probably come in due course and 30 MHz extra is quite noteworthy. However, this will only increase capacity compared to what is on air today by this operator by 30%. And that’s the end of the line for LTE then! For more capacity, smaller cells perhaps coupled with higher frequencies, new cellular concepts and 5G cells are required (whatever these will be…).