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On the heels of Sprint’s announcement that it will be demonstrating gigabit speeds over LTE TDD with Ericsson at Mobile World Congress next week, Sprint CTO John Saw revealed field trials of the technology are coming in the spring or summer of this year.

Speaking with Wireless Week, Saw noted the demo is “just a teaser” and said while details have yet to be nailed down, the plan is to conduct a “proper field trial” of gigabit technology in the United States in the spring or summer.

“There will be a trial on massive MIMO using our 2.5 (GHz) spectrum on a commercial network,” Saw said. “And with Ericsson as well we’ll do a Gigabit LTE trial later as well in the U.S.”

Saw said he views the deployment of Gigabit LTE as a “stepping stone” to 5G, and characterized the roll out process as more of a network progression than a “single flip of a switch” due to the number of pieces that contribute to gigabit class capability. The first manifestation of gigabit technology was the roll out of three-carrier aggregation (3CA), which Sprint enabled on several of the top smartphones last month. Next he said, will come devices with higher order MIMO antenna processing and higher order modulation capabilities, though Saw left it to device vendors to issue comments on timelines there.

On the network side, Saw said that following the roll out of 3CA, a tweak to the network configuration will be next, as Sprint’s TDD setup allows it flexibility to allocate more spectrum resources for the downlink. But overall, he observed, the shift is already in progress.

Though other carriers like AT&T and T-Mobile have also announced plans to roll out Gigabit LTE in 2017, Saw argued Sprint’s nationwide spectrum depth would be a differentiating factor.

“You need to ask them, one, are you using your actual licensed spectrum or are you also adding in unlicensed spectrum as well. Some of them would have to use License Assisted Access, which is using unlicensed spectrum as well. There’s nothing wrong with that except you have less control with the use of unlicensed spectrum,” Saw said.

“The other thing you need to be asking is the ubiquity of what they’re trying to do. Can you demonstrate gigabit class devices only in the lab … or are you able to demonstrate gigabit class devices only in certain markets in Arizona and not nationwide?” he continued. “For Sprint we have always been clear that we have a lot of 2.5 (GHz spectrum) nationwide and we have the right technology that is optimized for data, which is TDD. So when we say we’re going to roll out gigabit class devices, I mean all our phones once they can support 4x4 MIMO and 256-QAM will be usable nationwide.”

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