Qualcomm, Australian carrier Telstra, Ericsson and Netgear announced the word’s first commercial Gigabit LTE network and device during an event in Sydney on Tuesday. Sydney is the first city to have commercial Gigabit LTE service. The service, for now, requires the Netgear Nighthawk M1, a new hotspot that can pull down Gigabit speeds and provide peak upload speeds to about 150Mbps. Telstra will sell the Netgear Nighthawk M1 for $360 AUD (~$270 USD). We had a chance to speak with Qualcomm about Gigabit LTE, and to test the new Nighthawk M1 during a real-life demo in Sydney.

First, a little background on why Gigabit matters: Gigabit speeds will become more important as we consume more high quality content, especially video content that requires high-bandwidth.

Nighthawk M1 demo

Netgear launches the Nighthawk M1 selectively through Telstra and Australia today, however the device should make its way around the world as other carriers jump aboard Gigabit LTE. In a real life SpeedTest demo of the new service, we consistently saw 900+Mbps average speeds with peak speeds reaching around 930Mbps. By comparison, on a good day, depending on your carrier and location, your current 4G LTE connection might provide anywhere from 10-100mbps.

We received a live streamed demo of 4K, 360 degree video broadcast from the Sydney Opera House to test the Gigabit LTE on the Nighthawk M1, and it looked pretty incredible. The video feed in the Opera House was using the Nighthawk M1 to upload a live feed to YouTube while we watched the livestream back at Telstra’s offices using another M1 router. The whole 4K video was streamed across Telstra’s Gigabit LTE network, and the demo was pretty darn incredible.

We won’t need to rely on standalone devices soon, though. Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 835 processor will also support Gigabit LTE. Unfortunately, Qualcomm didn’t have any devices sporting the Snapdragon 835 processor at the event, Qualcomm’s new smartphone processor that supports Gigabit LTE, it does anticipate the next generation processor will make its official debut in consumer devices in the next few months. The Samsung Galaxy S8 is expected to be the first device to make its debut with that chip on board.

How do you get to Gigabit LTE?

Part of the early success of Gigabit LTE can be attributed to tight partnerships between carriers and hardware manufacturers. In this case, Netgear, Telstra and Qualcomm all worked together, but those are just a sampling of the firms working around the globe together to kick-start the Gigabit LTE roll-out.

For Gigabit LTE to work, LTE-Advanced features like 4×4 MIMO, three carrier aggregation, and higher order modulation (256 QAM) are enabled. In layman’s terms, that means more antennas on new devices and changes to how data is packaged and sent, all in the name of maximizing network efficiency. This translates to the ability to download more content quicker. With live video, 4K video, 360 video, VR, IoT, and autonomous cars becoming more prevalent, Gigabit speed LTE will become vital in supporting the next generation of devices.

Gigabit LTE is a huge leap toward true full-blown 5G networks. Industry consensus seems to agree that without Gigabit LTE, it will be impossible to jump to 5G networks. You can think of Gigabit LTE the way we thought of HSPA+ as “4G” as we began to transition from 3G to true 4G LTE networks. It was a stepping stone of sorts, but you can already see why other firms are looking toward this technology instead of wired alternatives.

Google for example, not long ago, abandoned its plan to install fiber networks to neighborhoods cities. After looking at the Gigabit LTE technology, it’s easy to see why Google is looking for to wireless options. Google (and other carriers) could potentially deliver those types of speeds without all the extra fiber installation.

5G LTE isn’t here yet, but the future is.

As we explained earlier, Gigabit LTE is not 5G, but it’s part of a necessary step to get to the next leap in LTE connectivity that’s already rolling out – as we saw in Sydney – and providing much, much faster data speeds.

Gigabit LTE will enable other use-cases, too. We’ll be able to fly drones further and broadcast video at higher resolutions with higher frame rates. It will allow our cars to speak to each other without worrying about lag. It means less strain on networks, since data is being used more efficiently. Construction sites will be able to support Gigabit workstations without a full-fledged office. Telstra also imagines there will be plenty of users that ditch their wired home network to a fully LTE set up, since speeds will be equal to, or even surpass, current home broadband bandwidth.

Welcome to the future, it will be fast.

Disclaimer: Qualcomm invited TechnoBuffalo to Sydney to this press event. Qualcomm provided travel accommodations. Thoughts and opinions are my own.