Signals Ahead goes Gangnam style on LG U+ LTE-Advanced network tests

The mobile networks in South Korea just keep getting better, and if you question the Korean operators’ claims about their network performance, just do what Mike Thelander did: Go to Korea and test it for yourself.

Thelander, the founder and CEO of Signals Research Group (SRG), recently released results of tests conducted in February on the LG U+ LTE Advanced 300 Mbps network in Seoul. The tests were done independent of the operator, which supplied devices and provided access to a high-bandwidth FTP server, but it otherwise had little involvement. It was a self-funded study.

The LG U+ network is comprised of three bands: 2600 MHz (2 x 20 MHz); 2100 MHz (2 x 10 MHz); and 850 MHz (2 x 10 MHz). The tests were conducted over a four-day period while driving in the Gangnam district and riding the subway throughout Seoul. The network infrastructure in Seoul is supplied by Huawei; the two smartphones used in the tests were two LG G Flex 2 models with Qualcomm Snapdragon 810. Data was logged using the Accuver XCAL-Solo and XCAL-Harmony tools.
Based on the tests, “the data rates are just phenomenal,” Thelander told FierceWirelessTech. “I did a Terabyte (TB) of data in four days… that’s a substantial amount of data, and I did that while actually collecting and analyzing the data.”

To put things into perspective, “it would take less time to fly to South Korea to download 25 movies from iTunes via the LG U+ network than it would take to download 25 movies from iTunes while sitting at our desk at SRG HQ and using a fixed connection augmented by Wi-Fi,” Thelander said in his report.

The report also notes that this kind of data usage comes with a cost. Transferring 1.02 TB of data equates to about 43.5 years of normal usage, at 2 GB per month, for which the operator would charge $160,432 in international data roaming fees with its most attractive international data tariff plan.

The average Physical Layer downlink data rate was 158 Mbps, with a peak data rate of 296.5 Mbps. Downlink speeds exceeded 200 Mbps for 30.4 percent of the time. The average Physical Layer uplink data rate was 44.4 Mbps, with a top speed of 48.8 Mbps.

In terms of data analysis, SRG looked at the individual contribution of all three radio carriers and how each radio carrier impacted the overall throughput.

Thelander said there wasn’t a major difference in throughput during the day versus at night. The research firm preferred to conduct tests at night because the traffic in the Gangnam area can be horrendous during the day. Even at night, the streets are full of cars, primarily taxis.

The operators in Korea have “phenomenal networks” with a dense cell grid. “It’s kind of this double whammy effect, they have a dense cell network and a lot of capacity there,” and within the channel, quality and strength are so great that the data rates are “out of this world,” he said.

It’s highly unlikely that the U.S. would ever see anything like what Korean consumers are seeing, and the transition to 5G isn’t going to change that, according to Thelander.

While going to the next release of LTE and 5G will make things incrementally better, “it’s not going to be… you flip a switch and all of a sudden networks in the U.S. on 5G are like they are today in Korea on 4G. That’s just not going to happen. It’s not the technology that’s going to make networks better. It’s the business case, it’s the commitment from the operator, it’s the regulatory environment–all those things come into play.”

This wasn’t SRG’s first time testing in Korea. Interestingly, Thelander said he started conducting his own tests after he heard an operator and a vendor talking about how great their network was, and “I didn’t believe them, so I went there to do my own study.” Turns out, they were right about their claims. “Their network was as good as they said it was,” he said.

Now having been to South Korea to test the networks several times in the last few years, “there’s nothing I wouldn’t believe” coming out of the operators in Korea. KT and SK Telecom also provide mobile services in South Korea.

Last year, LG Uplus and Huawei announced plans to create a joint Mobile Innovation Center (MIC) in Seoul to work on LTE Advanced carrier aggregation, small cells and 5G technologies.