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.
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.)
- Jury Still Out on LTE-Unlicensed
- Playing by the Rules: The Success of Unlicensed Spectrum
- Huawei U-LTE Solution Creates New Market Opportunities for Mobile Operators
— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading