Nokia, BT Group & Qualcomm achieve enhanced 5G SA downlink speeds using 5G Carrier Aggregation with 5 Component Carriers

BT claims to be the first European network operator to achieve 5G carrier aggregation with five component carriers (5G CC CA).  Led by BT Networks team at Adastral Park, with support from BT Research, this is the latest milestone in 5G innovation for us, and promises to deliver potentially even faster 5G SA downlink speeds in the future, of up to nearly 2 Gbps. What this means for customers is a significant boost in performance in areas of high demand when the 5G SA device requires a high-speed connection, for example when watching live sport at a train station in rush hour.

The 5G CC CA trial used  Nokia’s 5G AirScale portfolio and a device powered by a Snapdragon® 5G Modem-RF system from Qualcomm Technologies, Inc., a pioneer and global leader in 5G technology.  Here are the highlights:

  • BT Group becomes first European operator to achieve 5G 5CC carrier aggregation, boosting 5G standalone (SA) performance ahead of network launch later this year.
  • Combines three FDD and two TDD carriers with 150 MHz total bandwidth, delivering greater capacity and downlink speeds in areas of high demand.
  • Follows 5G SA downlink 4CC carrier aggregation breakthrough in 2022, and concurrent two carrier uplink aggregation in 2023.

5CC CA will significantly boost the data rates available to customers in areas of high demand by combining all mid-band radio spectrum when the 5G SA device requires a high-speed connection. Set to launch later this year, EE’s 5G SA network will also have the capability to leverage a low frequency sixth carrier to provide a superior experience in more places, including indoors.

In 2023, BT Group and Nokia successfully demonstrated 4CC CA in 5G SA downlink with concurrent 2CC CA in 5G SA uplink. With today’s announcement, the companies reached the next milestone, achieving further performance uplift in connections from the device to the network by increasing throughput and capacity.

The tests were conducted in the field on live network spectrum at Adastral Park, BT Group’s headquarters for R&D, using Nokia’s 5G AirScale portfolio and a device powered by a Snapdragon® 5G Modem-RF system from Qualcomm Technologies. Downlink speeds of 1.85 Gbps were reached, using three FDD carriers NR2600 (30MHz), NR2100 (20MHz), NR1800 (20MHz) aggregated with two TDD carriers NR3600 (40+40MHz).

Greg McCall, Chief Networks Officer at BT Group, said: “This latest milestone achieved with Nokia and Qualcomm Technologies enhances 5G SA performance as we work towards the launch of our network, building further on the benefits of carrier aggregation in delivering greater throughput and speeds to customers. This is particularly important as more and more devices come to market with 5CC CA capabilities. We are focused on maximizing our spectrum assets to deliver the very best experience to our customers with that in mind.”

Mark Atkinson, SVP and Head of RAN at Nokia, said: “This successful trial with our long-standing partner, BT is another great example of Nokia’s clear leadership in 5G carrier aggregation technology. Multi-component carrier aggregation helps mobile operators to maximize their radio network assets and provide the highest 5G data rates at more locations to subscribers.”

Dino Flore, Vice President, Technology, Qualcomm Europe, Inc. said: “Qualcomm Technologies is committed to pushing the boundaries of 5G connectivity, and our Snapdragon 5G Modem-RF Systems are designed to unlock the full potential of 5G, delivering unparalleled speed, efficiency and capacity for networks and their users. We are proud to work with Nokia and BT Group to play a key role in bringing this enhanced 5G experience to European consumers.”

BT added the following:

This follows on from previous carrier aggregation ‘firsts’ aimed at boosting 5G SA performance across both downlink and uplink, where demand for greater speeds is growing in importance for a number of both existing and emerging use-cases, including live-streaming and video calls.

Today’s achievement has been delivered with one eye on the future, too. The 5G SA handset ecosystem right now is relatively small, but we expect to see more and more devices come to market by the early part of next year which are capable of supporting this technology. So we’re laying down a marker to say that at EE, as the UK’s best and most reliable network1, we are building capabilities into our network to support both the devices of today and the future.

We want to ensure that we really deliver on the promise of 5G SA for our customers, and an ongoing focus on innovation and research will be key to achieving this. Whether that’s through carrier aggregation advancements like today’s, demonstrating network slicing capabilities for guaranteed quality of service, or exploring how we can support the emerging IoT ecosystem through the likes of 5G RedCap technology, we’ll continue to prioritize advancements in network quality to support the evolution of the 5G services ecosystem.


In January, T-Mobile conducted a six-component carrier (6CC) aggregation download using sub-6-GHz spectrum on its live 5G network saying it was the first time that’s ever been done. The test involved aggregating two channels of 2.5 GHz, two channels of PCS spectrum and two channels of AWS spectrum, according to T-Mobile US, which produced an “effective 245 MHz of aggregated 5G channels.”

T-Mo said that they were able to “achieve download speeds of 3.6 Gbps in sub-6 GHz spectrum.  That’s fast enough to download a two-hour HD movie in less than 7 seconds!”

Resources and additional information:
Website: Nokia AirScale
Website: Nokia 5G RAN
Website: 5G Carrier Aggregation explained
Website: Multi-Gigabit 5G with Carrier Aggregation | Nokia


T-Mobile US, Ericsson, and Qualcomm test 5G carrier aggregation with 6 component carriers

Finland’s Elisa, Ericsson and Qualcomm test uplink carrier aggregation on 5G SA network

Dish Wireless with Qualcomm Technologies and Samsung test simultaneous 5G 2x uplink and 4x downlink carrier aggregation

Ericsson and MediaTek set new 5G uplink speed record using Uplink Carrier Aggregation



One thought on “Nokia, BT Group & Qualcomm achieve enhanced 5G SA downlink speeds using 5G Carrier Aggregation with 5 Component Carriers

  1. Phil Harvey, Light Reading:

    According to a recent report by Dell’Oro, the number of 5G SA networks commercially deployed by mobile network operators remains the same as at the end of 2023: around 50 5G SA networks.

    Research firm Omdia estimates that 54 5G SA networks have been deployed so far, with both firms agreeing that there hasn’t been much growth over the last year.

    Both firms agree that roughly one in six 5G networks are standalone. Omdia said 17% of service providers that deployed a 5G RAN have also deployed the 5G core. “The 5G SA market drives market growth, and only about 15% of the 5G networks (5G SA + 5G NSA) are 5G SA,” wrote Dave Bolan, research director at Dell’Oro Group, in an email to Light Reading.

    “Without the 5G core, CSPs cannot benefit from network slicing or low-latency use cases, both of which are required for new revenue-generating use cases,” wrote Omdia’s Roberto Kompany, a principal analyst in the firm’s Service Provider Networks team.

    Slow growth in the mobile core

    The Dell’Oro data showed a 10% decline in the five-year revenue forecast for mobile core networks, indicating that service provider adoption of 5G SA networks is sluggish. The market is growing, but the new core network pieces aren’t deployed in a vacuum.

    Mobile core and other 5G network equipment spending has been underwhelming for several quarters, and the big vendors are shedding staff to keep costs down. In the last year, Nokia has cut about 6,000 jobs, around 7% of its total workforce.

    Omdia’s Kompany recently wrote that the top four core network vendors (Ericsson, Huawei, Nokia and ZTE) together captured nearly 70% of the 5G core market share last year. Omdia lists the 5G core components (network functions) as packet core, policy and charging; subscriber data management; routing and selection; and, finally, automation, orchestration and analytics.

    The compounded annual growth rate (from 2023 to 2028) for mobile core networks is positive and is estimated to be between 5% and 10%, wrote Bolan. “Unfortunately, the 5G Core growth rate is insufficient to offset the negative growth rate for the 4G Evolved Packet Core (EPC), estimated to be between -15% and -20%, bringing the mobile core market average growth rate below 0%,” Bolan wrote.

    5G SA is challenging for network operators. Deploying a cloud-native infrastructure in the mobile core can help telcos operate their networks in a way that’s more similar to hyperscalers. However, the architecture is relatively new and very complex. Non-standalone 5G (5G NSA), which hooks a 5G radio access network (RAN) to a 4G core, is less expensive and more straightforward.

    “There’s a lot they must get right – RAN build out, telco cloud, and the 5G core itself – before they can offer SA to paying customers,” said Heavy Reading’s Senior Principal Analyst, Mobile Networks, Gabriel Brown.

    “The other big factor is the rate at which subscribers/devices are added to the new 5G core once it does launch,” Brown added. “Even though some big operators are live with SA already, they don’t necessarily have many devices on the new core yet.”

    In the US, T-Mobile and US Cellular have already launched 5G SA, and EchoStar is still building out its 5G SA network for its Boost Mobile customers. AT&T and Verizon have also discussed their plans to move to 5G SA.

    “The customer migration strategy from 5G NSA to 5G SA is really the key swing factor,” Heavy Reading’s Brown said. “Generally, operators are being cautious because the risk of service disruption is high, and they judge it better to get it right than be fast. They want to offer something better with SA, so quality and reliability are critical.”

    “In Europe, France and Italy have been behind due to the spectrum limitations,” said Dell’Oro’s Bolan. “Time will tell if the MNOs will choose 5G SA or 5G NSA. Unfortunately, most MNOs select 5G NSA, which has the lowest cost and is the most straightforward way to meet the capacity requirements for more subscribers’ bandwidth. Once an MNO selects the 5G NSA route, it may be years before they switch to 5G SA.”

    To Brown’s earlier point, there’s a lot of background work happening but there’s no telling when it will show up in the numbers with new 5G SA network launches. New use cases and 5G capabilities are always just around the corner as technologies mature, standards advance and telcos get comfortable with the new reality of a 5G core, the use of new spectrum bands and devices and customer expectations. Overall market growth, as Dell’Oro’s numbers suggest, may take a while as the operators taking the 5G SA plunge get used to their new services at scale.

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