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Joint trial shows that running LTE in unlicensed spectrum is an effective offload option for wireless operators, but will it supplant operators' existing WiFi strategies?

NTT DoCoMo, Huawei Prove LTE-U Works

Sarah Thomas
8/22/2014
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Giant Japenese operator NTT DoCoMo has completed a trial with Huawei that provides support for running LTE in unlicensed spectrum as a way to offload wireless data in congested areas.

The pair have been researching LTE-Unlicensed (LTE-U), what they call "Licensed-Assisted Access (LAA)," since February and vow to continue experimenting with how licensed and unlicensed spectrum can work together. For now, they've demonstrated on multiple-cell pre-commercial networks that LTE works in 5GHz unlicensed spectrum, achieving better coverage and capacity than WiFi alone. (See DoCoMo & Huawei Confirm LTE Network Over Unlicensed Spectrum.)

Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. says LTE-U also provides the benefits of guaranteed security, coverage, mobility and unified quality of services versus WiFi, which operators often have less control over.

NTT DoCoMo Inc. (NYSE: DCM) and its vendor partner compared the technologies in their labs by giving identical bandwidth to both LTE and WiFi and found that LTE-U had several times throughput improvements over WiFi for both cell-medium and cell-edge users in most scenarios. Cell capacity gain was around 1.6 times that of a single cell with better coverage for LTE-U over WiFi.

The pair concludes that LTE-U will enable better coverage, lower deployment costs, and a better customer experience. NTT is working to help standardize the new technology and believes it will be viable for LTE and future LTE-Advanced networks.


Read up on advances in LTE on our dedicated 4G/LTE site here at Light Reading.


Why this matters
LTE-U, a technology first championed by Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM) and Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC), is attracting operator interest for many of the reasons Huawei and NTT outlined, but it's controversial given how many operators have already made big bets on WiFi. There is also concern it will cause interference or even take over the WiFi bands completely, although Huawei says interference management mechanisms will be introduced to rectify that issue in dense deployments. (See Why Some Operators Think LTE-U is Rude.)

Related posts:

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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R Clark
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R Clark,
User Rank: Blogger
8/24/2014 | 9:58:49 AM
Re: network management considerations
I can see the attraction, LTE U being more easy to integrate into existing LTE RAN, and adding one radio to a device shouldn't be a big deal.


It's also interesting to see Huawei and NTT Docomo working together on this. Huawei has never won a major network contract from Docomo and isn't even a part of its 5G trials, so the most important thing here could just be Huawei being able to hook up with a fresh tier 1 operator on a project with some potential.
sowen557
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sowen557,
User Rank: Lightning
8/22/2014 | 1:50:45 PM
On the floor!
Japanese and Chinese working together?  Call the UN!
SReedy
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SReedy,
User Rank: Blogger
8/22/2014 | 1:44:13 PM
LTE-rUde?
And, Heavy Reading analyst Gabriel Brown points out that "the concern WiFi people have is the lack of "politeness" in LTE-U, as it is currently presented. WiFi people don't want to become 2nd class users of unlicensed spectrum."

Sounds like this is something Huawei is still working on addressing. It's a big challenge.
SReedy
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SReedy,
User Rank: Blogger
8/22/2014 | 1:43:14 PM
network management considerations
Some good insight on the demo from Current Analysis analyst Ed Gubbins:

"This announcement focuses on the idea of LTE-U offering more capacity than WiFi. That's fine to help prove out the case for how LTE-U compares to WiFi in terms of meeting the capacity need. But I think for operators considering this, that extra capacity over and above WiFi is probably not the top selling point. A more compelling part of the value proposition might lie in being able to manage LTE and LTE-U together, from the same RAN infrastructure and management systems, instead of using something like ANDSF to bridge cellular and WiFi. Though WiFi is integrated in a lot of small cells, in many cases, operators might be looking at separate base stations and WiFi access points, too, which adds to the operational management complexity.

On the other hand, there's a lot of WiFi already deployed, and it enjoys more device support than LTE does. Also, if you have to address/manage a converged RAN/WiFi world anyway, simply because of the realities of the existing market and user expectations, then maybe you'd be less enthusiastic about LTE-U, because it wouldn't necessarily free you from that complexity.

So there are considerations on all sides. Maybe more than anything, this announcement shows interest from a major operator in LTE-U, which, along with interest from others, could help drive the technology and its ecosystem"

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