LTE Long Term Evolution Tutorial & Basics

- developed by 3GPP, LTE, Long Term Evolution is the successor to 3G UMTS and HSPA providing much higher data download speeds and setting the foundations for 4G LTE Advanced. Discover more about LTE basics in this tutorial.

LTE, Long Term Evolution, the successor to UMTS and HSPA is now being deployed and is the way forwards for high speed cellular services.

In its first forms it was a 3G or as some would call it a 3.99G technology, but with further additions the technology fulfilled the requirements for a 4G standard. In this form it was referred to as LTE Advanced.

There has been a rapid increase in the use of data carried by cellular services, and this increase will only become larger in what has been termed the "data explosion". To cater for this and the increased demands for increased data transmission speeds and lower latency, further development of cellular technology have been required.

A typical LTE compatible cellphone handset that can operate on 4G LTE

The UMTS cellular technology upgrade has been dubbed LTE - Long Term Evolution. The idea is that 3G LTE will enable much higher speeds to be achieved along with much lower packet latency (a growing requirement for many services these days), and that 3GPP LTE will enable cellular communications services to move forward to meet the needs for cellular technology to 2017 and well beyond.

Many operators have not yet upgraded their basic 3G networks, and 3GPP LTE is seen as the next logical step for many operators, who will leapfrog straight from basic 3G straight to LTE as this will avoid providing several stages of upgrade. The use of LTE will also provide the data capabilities that will be required for many years and until the full launch of the full 4G standards known as LTE Advanced.

3G LTE evolution

Although there are major step changes between LTE and its 3G predecessors, it is nevertheless looked upon as an evolution of the UMTS / 3GPP 3G standards. Although it uses a different form of radio interface, using OFDMA / SC-FDMA instead of CDMA, there are many similarities with the earlier forms of 3G architecture and there is scope for much re-use.

In determining what is LTE and how does it differ from other cellular systems, a quick look at the specifications for the system can provide many answers. LTE can be seen for provide a further evolution of functionality, increased speeds and general improved performance.

Max downlink speed
384 k 14 M 28 M 100M
Max uplink speed
128 k 5.7 M 11 M 50 M
round trip time
150 ms 100 ms 50ms (max) ~10 ms
3GPP releases Rel 99/4 Rel 5 / 6 Rel 7 Rel 8
Approx years of initial roll out 2003 / 4 2005 / 6 HSDPA
2007 / 8 HSUPA
2008 / 9 2009 / 10
Access methodology CDMA CDMA CDMA OFDMA / SC-FDMA

In addition to this, LTE is an all IP based network, supporting both IPv4 and IPv6. Originally there was also no basic provision for voice, although Voice over LTE, VoLTE was added was chosen by GSMA as the standard for this. In the interim, techniques including circuit switched fallback, CSFB are expected to be used

LTE basics:- specification overview

It is worth summarizing the key parameters of the 3G LTE specification. In view of the fact that there are a number of differences between the operation of the uplink and downlink, these naturally differ in the performance they can offer.

LTE basic specifications
Parameter Details
Peak downlink speed
100 (SISO), 172 (2x2 MIMO), 326 (4x4 MIMO)
Peak uplink speeds
50 (QPSK), 57 (16QAM), 86 (64QAM)
Data type All packet switched data (voice and data). No circuit switched.
Channel bandwidths
1.4,   3,   5,   10,   15,   20
Duplex schemes FDD and TDD
Mobility 0 - 15 km/h (optimised),
15 - 120 km/h (high performance)
Latency Idle to active less than 100ms
Small packets ~10 ms
Spectral efficiency Downlink:   3 - 4 times Rel 6 HSDPA
Uplink:   2 -3 x Rel 6 HSUPA
Access schemes OFDMA (Downlink)
SC-FDMA (Uplink)
Modulation types supported QPSK,   16QAM,   64QAM (Uplink and downlink)

These highlight specifications give an overall view of the performance that LTE will offer. It meets the requirements of industry for high data download speeds as well as reduced latency - a factor important for many applications from VoIP to gaming and interactive use of data. It also provides significant improvements in the use of the available spectrum.

Main LTE technologies

LTE has introduced a number of new technologies when compared to the previous cellular systems. They enable LTE to be able to operate more efficiently with respect to the use of spectrum, and also to provide the much higher data rates that are being required.

  • OFDM (Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplex):   OFDM technology has been incorporated into LTE because it enables high data bandwidths to be transmitted efficiently while still providing a high degree of resilience to reflections and interference. The access schemes differ between the uplink and downlink: OFDMA (Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access is used in the downlink; while SC-FDMA(Single Carrier - Frequency Division Multiple Access) is used in the uplink. SC-FDMA is used in view of the fact that its peak to average power ratio is small and the more constant power enables high RF power amplifier efficiency in the mobile handsets - an important factor for battery power equipment. Read more about LTE OFDM / OFDMA / SCFMDA
  • MIMO (Multiple Input Multiple Output):   One of the main problems that previous telecommunications systems has encountered is that of multiple signals arising from the many reflections that are encountered. By using MIMO, these additional signal paths can be used to advantage and are able to be used to increase the throughput.

    When using MIMO, it is necessary to use multiple antennas to enable the different paths to be distinguished. Accordingly schemes using 2 x 2, 4 x 2, or 4 x 4 antenna matrices can be used. While it is relatively easy to add further antennas to a base station, the same is not true of mobile handsets, where the dimensions of the user equipment limit the number of antennas which should be place at least a half wavelength apart. Read more about LTE MIMO
  • SAE (System Architecture Evolution):   With the very high data rate and low latency requirements for 3G LTE, it is necessary to evolve the system architecture to enable the improved performance to be achieved. One change is that a number of the functions previously handled by the core network have been transferred out to the periphery. Essentially this provides a much "flatter" form of network architecture. In this way latency times can be reduced and data can be routed more directly to its destination. Read more about LTE SAE

A fuller description of what LTE is and the how the associated technologies work is all addressed in much greater detail in the following pages of this tutorial.

By Ian Poole

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