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MTS aggregates TDD and FDD spectrum, a first for Russia

Rising trend for operators to expand their LTE data capacity with unpaired spectrum should start to increase the value of these neglected airwaves

The aggregation of spectrum across FDD and TDD bands once seemed like a black art but is now becoming a more common way to boost data rates, with more and more operators having access to unpaired spectrum. The latest to adopt a hybrid approach is MTS, the first to do so in Russia.

MTS has deployed an FDD/TDD LTE network, initially in Moscow’s business district, which has increased peak data rates to 187Mbps, from 75Mbps in the paired band and 112Mbps in unpaired, previously. Working with Nokia, MTS has aggregated 10 MHz of 1.8 GHz spectrum, 10 MHz in 2.6 GHz (TDD) and 5 MHz in the 800 MHz band.

CTO Andrey Ushatsky said: “Unique for Russia, FDD/TDD carrier aggregation functionality will let us increase average access speeds for flagship smartphones by 1.5-2 times. This technology is important as its further implementation in Russia will help increase the efficiency of frequency resource use.”

Most mobile operators’ spectrum holdings are heavily weighted to FDD, although a few notable exceptions, like China Mobile and Sprint’s former Clearwire unit, have helped drive the development of TD-LTE standards and ecosystem.

Since unpaired spectrum is well suited to dense data-driven networks – the main area of deployment growth in developed markets – and supports asymmetric uplink/downlink, it is becoming increasingly attractive to all operators. Many are now looking to incorporate TD-LTE into their network as they densify, either by resurrecting underused holdings or acquiring frequencies at auction or from third parties.

So far at least, unpaired spectrum remains typically far cheaper than paired. The most used TD-LTE bands are from 2.3 GHz to 2.6 GHz, though some operators are also using 3.5 GHz, and this band is now coming into play in the US thanks to the FCC’s spectrum sharing scheme.

Last month, MegaFon, another of Russia’s big three MNOs, conducted a trial of carrier aggregation combined with MIMO, claiming 1Gbps peak speeds. This aggregated two 20 MHz bands in the 2.6 GHz spectrum with a further 20 MHz in 1.8 GHz, while also using 256QAM modulation and 4×4 MIMO.

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