One of the more contentious issues of the past couple of years has been devising a way for cellular providers to use unlicensed spectrum that is fair to the current users of the spectrum. The debate certainly may continue, but it will do so as cellular providers begin operations.
The cellular providers long have cast covetous eyes on the spectrum, which is high quality and free. There are four approaches to easing cellular carriers into this busy spectrum: LTE-Unlicensed (LTE-U), LTE WiFi Aggregation (LWA), License Assisted Access (LAA) and MulteFire.
RCR Wireless reported on August 4 that Verizon Wireless is rolling out LAA nationwide. The rollout, which requires new radios at cell sites, will be nationwide. The timing of the introduction will be made at the regional level. The carrier and Ericsson recently conducted a demonstration in which it aggregated three 5 GHZ channels with a 20 MHz channel to provide 953 Megabits per second (Mbps) throughput.
AT&T is featuring LAA in parts of Indianapolis, one of its 5G Evolution markets. The carrier, according to FierceWireless, is skipping LTE-U altogether. The biggest difference between the two approaches is that LAA is standards-based. That is more than a matter of semantics: The way in which cellular stations gain access to the network is challenging and the source of the back and forth between the cellular operators and the Wi-Fi sector, which is more or less represented by the cable companies. The coverage implies that LAA is the ultimate goal and LTE-U an interim step. It’s a big deal that AT&T has decided to skip this step.
In late June, T-Mobile made announcements on both fronts. It said that it had used LAA on a live network and that it was introducing LTE-U availability in parts of Bellevue, Washington; the New York City borough of Brooklyn; Dearborn, Michigan; Las Vegas; Richardson, Texas and Simi Valley, California.
IoT For All has a nice rundown of the four approaches to carrier use of unlicensed spectrum. The main difference between LAA and LTE-U is that the former is being developed by 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP). There are two more ways to use the spectrum. LWA combines LAA and LTE-U to provide access in a way that makes hardware changes unnecessary. MulteFire, which is being driven by Intel and Ericsson, operates entirely in unlicensed spectrum. MulteFire is being mentioned as a good candidate for Internet of Things (IoT) applications.
The approach they use likely will be based on technical reasons and business relationships. The main takeaway is that the use of unlicensed realm, which has been a goal of cellular providers for years, is starting to roll out. The big difference between the carriers’ approaches is if they will go straight to LTA or deploy LTE-U first.
Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at [email protected] and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.