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LTE Peak Capacity Explained: How to Calculate it?

I like to focus on LTE capacity in the next few blog entries and present what can realistically be obtained. I have seen wild figures, mainly pushed by system vendors and consumed by many operators, journalist and writers who like to wow readers of the promise of new technologies. For network operators, erring on capacity expectations has negative consequences as capacity fundamentally impact the cost of the network both on the access side and the backhaul side. Inflated capacity figures would lead to under-dimensioning on the access side and over-dimensioning on the backhaul side. So, for example, if we think LTE cell will provide 100 Mbps of throughput while in reality can only do 50 Mbps, the operator will be short by 50% of capacity in the access network resulting in poor user experience (e.g. slow download, blocking, etc.) and will be 50% over the required capacity for backhaul in which case its investment in capacity thats sitting idle. This is why it is important to get capacity expectations right. In this blog, I will look at the peak capacity of LTE. This is the maximum possible capacity which in reality can only be achieved in lab conditions. To understand the calculations below, one needs to be familiar with the technology (I will provide references at the end). But for now, lets assume a 25 MHz LTE system. We first calculate the number of resource elements (RE) in a subframe (a subframe is 1 msec): 12 Subcarriers x 7 OFDMA Symbols x 25 Resource Blocks x 2 slots = 4,200 REs Then we calculate the data rate assuming 64 QAM with no coding (64QAM is the highest modulation for downlink LTE): 6 bits per 64QAM symbol x 4,200 Res / 1 msec = 25.2 Mbps The MIMO data rate is then 2 x 25.2 = 50.4 Mbps. We now have to subtract the overhead related to control signaling such as PDCCH and PBCH channels, reference & synchronization signals, and coding. These are estimated as follows:

PDCCH channel can take 1 to 3 symbols out of 14 in a subframe. Assuming that on average it is 2.5 symbols, the amount of overhead due to PDCCH becomes 2.5/14 = 17.86 %. Downlink RS signal uses 4 symbols in every third subcarrier resulting in 16/336 = 4.76% overhead for 22 MIMO configuration The other channels (PSS, SSS, PBCH, PCFICH, PHICH) added together amount to ~2.6% of overhead

The total approximate overhead for the 5 MHz channel is 17.86% + 4.76% + 2.6% = 25.22%. The peak data rate is then 0.75 x 50.4 Mbps = 37.8 Mbps.

Note that the uplink would have lower throughput because the modulation scheme for most device classes is 16QAM in SISO mode only. There is another technique to calculate the peak capacity which I include here as well for a 220 MHz LTE system with 44 MIMO configuration and 64QAM code rate 1: Downlink data rate:

Pilot overhead (4 Tx antennas) = 14.29% Common channel overhead (adequate to serve 1 UE/subframe) = 10% CP overhead = 6.66% Guard band overhead = 10%

Downlink data rate = 4 x 6 bps/Hz x 20 MHz x (1-14.29%) x (1-10%) x (1-6.66%) x (1-10%) = 298 Mbps. Uplink data rate: 1 Tx antenna (no MIMO), 64 QAM code rate 1 (Note that typical UEs can support only 16QAM)

Pilot overhead = 14.3% Random access overhead = 0.625% CP overhead = 6.66% Guard band overhead = 10%