T-Mobile Assembles LTE-Unlicensed Team

T-Mobile has begun working with its chipset, radio infrastructure and device partners to start trialing LTE-Unlicensed (LTE-U) this year, the carrier's CTO said on Monday.

LTE-U refers to the use of LTE in 5GHz unlicensed spectrum bands. It's a technology first suggested by Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM) and Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) in late 2013, that will bring about faster speeds, lower latencies and potentially better coverage than with WiFi alone. It's been debated within the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) over the past year, as it also has the potential to cause interference if LTE "takes over" the WiFi it's riding on. (See Why Some Operators Think LTE-U Is Rude and Jury Still Out on LTE-Unlicensed.)

T-Mobile US Inc. was an early supporter of the technology, and the carrier's CTO Neville Ray writes in a blog post Monday that it plans to trial LTE-Unlicensed -- which it calls "Licensed Assisted Access (LAA)" -- in 2015 and "bring the technology to our customers in the near future."

"Importantly, LAA brings all of LTE's efficiencies -- sophisticated Quality of Service controls and robustness -- to the unlicensed band in a way that compliments Wi-Fi yet provides far greater coverage performance," Ray writes. "As the technology matures, we plan to use it in our continuing efforts to evolve and improve our Data Strong network and provide our customers with superior mobile broadband performance."

For more on T-Mobile's network upgrades, peruse the dedicated mobile content channel here on Light Reading.

Ray says that there is currently 550MHz of under-utilized spectrum in the 5GHz Unlicensed National Information Infrastructure (UNII) band that's available for use within the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) 's rules for the band. It will be among the first US carriers to take advantage of it. Verizon Wireless is also interested in deploying LTE-U, but AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) has expressed reservations.

NTT DoCoMo Inc. (NYSE: DCM) and Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. were the first to demonstrate the technology works in multiple pre-commercial networks this summer. (See NTT DoCoMo, Huawei Prove LTE-U Works.)

T-Mobile's LTE-U trials, however, won't necessarily be smooth sailing as it needs to prove the technology doesn't cause interference, as well as figure out how to market and price LTE-U speeds. The carrier has recently made a big push around WiFi and there is concern that LTE-U could weaken that investment or at least call into question when LTE-U is necessary as an alternative to WiFi. (See T-Mobile Turns Up VoLTE-to-WiFi Handoff and The Many Faces of 5G .)

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading

mhhf1ve 1/7/2015 | 4:39:28 PM
what's necessary on the consumer hardware side? Does this tech require new hardware for consumer devices? I've read that LTE-U spectrum could effectively double the bandwidth that wireless carriers can offer -- though unreliably because of interference issues. If every carrier starts using this, the benefits might not be as impressive.
MordyK 1/6/2015 | 9:55:33 PM
Re: Ericsson & LTE-U The Wi-Fi ecosystem is here to stay, but the role of the carriers is what I question for the same reasons you outlined.
pzernik 1/6/2015 | 8:24:07 PM
Re: Ericsson & LTE-U WiFi weakens a carriers abiity to monitize data/application useage so it's a slam dunk the'll support this.  Only the realities of consumer acceptance, device support and cost to deploy this technology could get in the way.
MordyK 1/5/2015 | 6:23:50 PM
Re: Ericsson & LTE-U aside for the fact that non-LTE devices pretty much use Wi-Fi as the standard connectivity package, which will be a barrier for LTE-U on those device classes. I never understood why carriers have been investing in Wi-Fi instead of something like this in the LTE family, which uses the same infrastructure, and really only needs incremental RF costs.
sarahthomas1011 1/5/2015 | 12:54:33 PM
Ericsson & LTE-U More traction for LTE-U today: Ericsson announced a $2,000 device that it will incorporate to Radio Dot for LTE-U at the small cell level. I think we'll see the most traction for the technology in small cells like this.
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