The data connection provided to cellular devices from a carrier network may be likened to that of a pipe. The bigger the pipe, the greater the potential data that may be pulled into our pushed out of our device. In simplistic terms, old style 2G EDGE networks represent a straw. 3G, especially HSPA networks, are a much quicker data transfer technology and so represent a hosepipe. LTE networks, which are designed for only data traffic with no consideration for voice, are much larger pipes. In an ideal world, the carrier network will always be able to provide the maximum data transfer speed with the minimum of latency on our devices. However, real world conditions are very rarely if ever ideal. Our distance to the masts we are connected to varies and changes in the environment can also change the quality of a signal. The mast we are connected to may be busy handling many other customer requests – in short, carrier networks deal with variable and changeable conditions. Fortunately, there are different ways to optimise networks and for LTE, one such way is to use multiple pipes. In LTE network terms, this is known as carrier aggregation and it exists where carriers combine two or more chunks of frequency to provide a device with a higher performance network. AT&T, Sprint and Verizon Wireless already use dual channel carrier aggregation to boost network speeds.
Today's story concerns a T-Mobile USA Reddit user in Dallas experiencing what felt like a fast data network. He or she looked up what his device was connected to: it appears that the device was connected to three of T-Mobile's LTE frequencies, with coverage at the 1900 MHz (band 2), 2100 MHz (band 4) and the new 700 MHz A Block (band 12) points, providing a high data transfer speed of around 60 Mbps. When questioned, a T-Mobile USA spokesperson simply stated that the company had been conducting some advanced LTE field trials in the area but they "don't have anything to announce yet."
We understand that one of T-Mobile's competitors, Sprint, is working on three channel carrier aggregation using the 800 MHz, 1900 MHz and 2500 MHz frequencies and in testing back in March, the company announced it had achieved network data transfer speeds in excess of 300 Mbps using the Galaxy S7. Whilst this is considerably quicker than the 60 Mbps reported on Reddit via T-Mobile USA, it is highly likely that Sprint's test conditions were close or at optimum. The 60 Mbps transfer rate reported on Reddit is considerably quicker than T-Mobile's average reported speed for the first quarter of 2016 of 22 Mbps. And whilst T-Mobile USA has nothing to say on tri-carrier aggregation at the moment, the company has been working hard to expand its LTE network: Chief Executive John Legere has recently said that the LTE network now covers 308 million Americans. With T-Mobile set to participate in the 600 MHz spectrum auction later in the year and already gaining aggregation experience, it seems the company is working hard to increase its average network data transfer speeds.