Do I Need LTE to Get 5G?

Do I need LTE to get 5G?

By Art King
Published: October 18, 2022

As the newest “G” to be rolled out, 5G takes cellular solutions to a whole new level. It has exciting capabilities and use cases that make many companies anxious to deploy the technology for their own businesses. Many want to harness its benefits to become faster and more user-friendly than ever.

However, this creates new problems for mobile operators. 5G is designed to be flexible so that it can be adopted for a wide number of use case scenarios. It requires an increased complexity to manage the intelligence and security of the network. It will take years to deploy such a large and complex network across the country. To expand the reach of 5G and give users indoors the 5G experience, in-building Radio Access Networks, including small cell technology solutions will be required to bring 5G to life.

Here’s what you need to know about how 5G will be deployed through Radio Access Networks and what it means for LTE networks.

What is a Radio Access Network (RAN)? What is 5G-NSA and 5G-NR?

The Radio Access Network (RAN) is the equipment commonly seen on local cellular towers that mobile devices use to connect to the larger cellular network. It provides network services to all the wireless devices in the geographic area it covers. As mobile operators move from LTE to 5G technology, today's existing LTE networks are used as part of the new 5G RAN.

Why? The country is too vast to make 5G activation across the nation possible at once. That is why mobile operators are deploying 5G using 5G-Non-Standalone configurations or 5G-NSA. It combines LTE channels for signaling with a 5G-New Radio (NR) channel for data transfer between any 5G device and a 5G-NSA cell.

5G-NSA allows users to utilize 5G technology while the 5G Standalone (SA) network is in the process of being rolled-out across the country. 5G-NSA will result in a better user experience and improvements over the LTE network alone, but it requires the LTE network infrastructure.

What is MIMO? Why is MIMO important for 5G?

To help boost the speed and effectiveness of 5G-NSA, some networks harness MIMO. But what is MIMO, exactly?

MIMO stands for Multiple-Input, Multiple-Output. Today’s 5G RAN networks can support MIMO antennas to multiply the capacity of the radio link. It magnifies this radio link capacity by utilizing multiple transmission and receiving antennas.

Both Wi-Fi and LTE harness MIMO to enable better laptop and mobile device service. It usually has anywhere from two to eight antennas on the Wi-Fi access point to help enable more capacity.

When used on an even larger scale, a massive MIMO typically enables:

  • Antenna panels that contain hundreds of antennas.
  • Beamforming to focus cellular energy right to the mobile devices.
  • Spatial diversity so that all devices can reuse the same frequency and enable more devices with less spectrum.
  • Multiuser MIMO to increase network efficiency in areas where 5G mobile devices are clustered.

MIMO provides multiple benefits for users with 5G-RAN. It allows them to increase their network capacity to be used in buildings with higher 5G usage. It also improves coverage for all users. Users will also have a better mobility experience that allows them to get the full benefits of 5G while using 5G-NSA.

Implications for LTE

While 5G is in the process of replacing LTE as the main network across the country, it does not mean that LTE is over just yet. Companies must have a solid LTE infrastructure in order to enable 5G-NSA until 5G-SA is deployed completely, this transition will take many years. So, LTE today means 5G tomorrow.

This means that LTE still plays a vital role in 5G deployment and is critical to getting 5G, as long as operators leverage 5G-NSA. Because 5G-NSA requires both 5G-NR and LTE to enable the service, there cannot be 5G service today without LTE. Additionally, LTE service can still be used even if there is no 5G-NR coverage in a building

LTE is a critical component for network service. As a result, LTE will continue to play a role in enabling 5G service as it is rolled out across the country.

However, that does not mean that LTE is necessary forever. The future of 5G-RAN will be 5G-Standalone, of 5G-SA. The 5G-SA network carries all of the signaling traffic and user data on 5G-NR without the use of LTE. This will take many years to fully deploy but is the end state operators seek.

This shift to 5G will enable new capabilities and concepts to the mobile networking. Network slicing, for example, creates end-to-end networks tailored to application requirements. While there is a limited deployment of slicing with the 5G-NSA configuration, it will be fully available once 5G-SA becomes available.

5G Deployment and the Future of the Mobile Experience

Because of the 5G network's size and scope, getting it everywhere will take some time. However, many could use the capabilities and use-cases that it offers right away. In order to get 5G to the most people as quickly as possible, 5G-NSA uses current LTE configurations to fill in some of the gaps until 5G can be deployed completely. To bring reliable 5G service inside a building it will use the incumbent LTE radio access network combined with 5G radios.

If you want 5G, consider implementing or upgrading your LTE infrastructure today. This will allow you to harness a cost-effective deployment that leverages LTE and 5G now. It also enables users to harness MIMO technology for a better user experience.

With 5G small cell technology, such as Corning’s Spidercloud Enterprise RAN, users indoors can harness the benefits of 5G as quickly as possible. Instead of waiting around for 5G to become available, companies can utilize the Corning’s indoor small cell technology to recognize the benefits of 5G.

Ready to be on the cutting edge of technology? Contact our experts today to see how we can help you get all the benefits of 5G with Corning’s Enterprise RAN systems!


Art King
is part of the IBN Technologies group for Corning Optical Communications. A 20-year veteran of both global enterprise IT and the cellular industry, Art’s long term vision of wireless as “digital oxygen” that enables a totally unwired world is happening around us now.

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