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Google, LTE-U & the Question of a Wireless Broadband Future

Dan Jones
9/1/2016
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Google could be exploring the concept of a 4G network all its own, but there's one problem: The FCC appears to be dragging its feet on the LTE-Unlicensed (LTE-U) technology that Google would probably use.

A report from Business Korea is suggesting that Google could deploy its own LTE service in the 3.5GHz band using LTE-U and WiFi and connecting the network to the Internet using its own fiber. (See Tech Giants Team Up on 3.5GHz Initiative.)

Now this is a fine theory and all; we even know that Google has been testing 3.5GHz radios. Nonetheless, there are a few obstacles that could arise: (See Google Looks to Test 3.5GHz Broadband Radios.)

  • The industry needs a regulatory framework for LTE-U, particularly over concerns about interference between WiFi and LTE-U. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has approved T-Mobile US Inc. and Verizon Wireless to test LTE-U. The FCC, however, hasn't laid down the law on LTE-U yet. "Based on [what] we are seeing from a regulatory perspective... the light is dimming there a little," T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray said back in April. (See T-Mobile Sounds Off on Verizon 5G, LTE-U Frustrations.)

  • Equipment using public spectrum is typically cheaper than the licensed alternative but it would still be difficult and expensive to deploy, backhaul and maintain an LTE-U network of any scale.

  • Google would risk pissing off mobile carriers selling Android phones even more than it did with Project Fi.


    For all the latest news on 5G, visit the 5G site here on Light Reading.


    I think there's absolutely no doubt that Google wants to get deeper into wireless over the next couple of years. The question is: What's the smartest way to do it?

    I suspect that intelligent software management of disparate elements -- fiber, WiFi, MVNO LTE, LTE-U, maybe even 5G eventually -- is probably the answer for Google, rather than a traditional network rollout. We know that Google has been looking for more people to help it develop heterogeneous networks (HetNets) recently. (See Google Could Stitch 5G Into HetNet Future.)

    With some of Google's R&D focus already on 5G, it seems obvious that the search giant is thinking long-term with these sorts of issues. But I should point out that even when I joined LR Mobile -- back when it was Unstrung, in (OMG!) 2002 -- people were looking at WiFi and hopefully pointing out the possibility of using new tech to create an alternative kind of service provider. We'd probably call it an "alt-SP" these days! (See WiDeFi Repeats History.)

    Despite the free availability of WiFi pretty much everywhere, it hasn't happened yet, and not for lack of trying. But hope springs eternal, and the availability of unlicensed spectrum in the 3.5GHz band and -- eventually -- a massive public band above 60GHz for 5G, gives interested parties some new bandwidth to play with in the US.

    Anyway, it's not like I have all the answers here. I'm just trying to piece together what Google might do from its current actions.

    Have a better idea? Let me know on the message board below.

    — Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading

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    daowisp
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    daowisp,
    User Rank: Light Beer
    9/2/2016 | 5:37:26 PM
    Already a solved provlem
    As many readers of this publication are no doubt aware, there are already hundreds of local service providers in the US delivering broadband via unlicensed spectrum.  With coverage of over 50% of the population in-country, and increasing growth into 2nd and 3rd world countries, Wireless ISPs or WISPs have been busy solving the 'broadband problem' for 10 years now.

    We don't need government subsidies to do it, only revenue from satisfied customers.
    We're small businesses that are part of the community, we don't need political favours.

    We are independent operators, and not easily coerced into restricting traffic or content, therefore we are creating and preserving the potential for freedom of expression online.

    The current generation of available hardware enables small outfits to go toe-to-toe with nationwide corporations, and the next 60Ghz generation such as Ignite-Networks equipment, will enable direct competition with fiber deployments.

    Google, Facebook and other large entities spin this as a new solution.  It's not. 

    DanJones
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    DanJones,
    User Rank: Blogger
    9/2/2016 | 4:43:59 PM
    Re: LTE-U is no substitute for licensed LTE and 5G
    Well it has Project Go too.
    TV Monitor
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    TV Monitor,
    User Rank: Light Sabre
    9/2/2016 | 1:52:13 PM
    LTE-U is no substitute for licensed LTE and 5G
    The problem with LTE-U in 5 Ghz WiFi and 3.5 Ghz CBRS band is that the max power output is capped to 1 watt, which severely restricts the range of each small cell to a few hundred feet max and is in noway a substitute for a 10 watt licensed macro cell.

    Accordingly, it is not possible to build a nationwide network out of only LTE-U cells, there has to be a mix between licensed and unlicensed cell sites.

    If Google is serious about starting a broadband network, then it better stard bidding on spectrum licenses.
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