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BT demos 4-carrier 5G aggregation – on a live network

Telco promises uplift in capacity and speed once deployed

BT has tested operating four carrier components (4CC) on a 5G Standalone network, and claimed it is the first in Europe to demonstrate this on a live network. The technology will deliver higher capacity and speed to end user devices when eventually rolled out across the entire mobile network.

The UK telco, a former state-owned monopoly, said its Networks team has successfully combined four low-band and mid-band radio channels (2.1, 2.6, 3.4, and 3.6GHz) operating on the EE mobile network, which BT acquired in 2016.

According to BT, this development heralds "the next phase of 5G" on its EE mobile network, and the conglomerate said it will deliver "superior experiences" for customers and enable new capabilities for enterprises once fully deployed.

Most 5G networks today – at least those in the UK – are Non-Standalone, which means they are operating using the infrastructure designed for 4G networks rather than a core network with dedicated equipment and network functions to support 5G.

BT said the trial of this technology was conducted in two stages, with the first taking place at the telco's Radio Lab in Bristol. Afterwards, tests were moved to BT's Adastral Park in Suffolk, where its team successfully achieved 4CC running on a 5G Standalone network operating within EE's radio spectrum.

The company claims that this is the first time in Europe that a network operator has achieved this using commercial spectrum, and also the first time it has been achieved outside of a lab here.

BT had some help from Nokia, using the latter's 5G Radio Access Network technology and MediaTek's M80 5G Modem silicon.

Nokia and MediaTek announced earlier this year that the pair had successfully carried out the first 4CC carrier aggregation in sub-6GHz 5G networks, again using the M80 5G Modem and Nokia's AirScale 5G Standalone architecture. So it appears that they just needed a network operator partner to help them demonstrate it working in a live network situation outside of the lab.

Telecoms industry analyst Paolo Pescatore at PP Foresight told us that this is all about the networks moving to offer better capacity and performance.

"In comparison to previous generations there already appears to be a greater focus on improving the robustness of the 5G networks from the outset. This is significant, as it will prolong the life cycle of the network – especially as current spectrum will be reframed for 5G," he said, but added that "A trial is great, but it's now time to start implementing this cool stuff in a real life commercial and operational environment."

We asked BT when we could expect to see this fully implemented across the live EE network, but sadly the telco giant would only say that "This technology will be in parts of our network when we launch 5G Standalone services."

We also asked what kind of network speeds BT was aiming to deliver with a full 5G Standalone network, but again it would only tell us that "We will see an uplift in both capacity and speeds as a result of this technology."

Nokia and MediaTek said that their tests achieved nearly 3Gbit/sec downlink performance, but it should be noted again that this was in lab conditions. ®

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