Nokia has inked a deal with T-Mobile to develop small cells that will use LTE but run over public, unlicensed spectrum that is the domain of WiFi today.
Nokia says it is using a pre-standards version of LTE-Unlicensed (LTE-U) technology that operates in the 5GHz band that it plans to support in its Flexi Zone small cell line by the end of 2015. Small cells are tiny radio basestations that can be installed indoors or outside to help bolster voice coverage and data speeds available on busy 4G networks. Small cells and LTE-U are likely to develop hand-in-hand as moving up into the 5GHz range increases data speeds but decreases coverage range. (See T-Mobile Assembles LTE-Unlicensed Team and Know Your Small Cell: Home, Enterprise, or Public Access?)
T-Mobile's CTO Neville Ray said last week that T-Mobile US Inc. expects to start deploying small cells using LTE-U indoors in 2016. That will be followed by outdoor deployments.
"There's a great small cell opportunity in 2016," Ray said. (See T-Mobile: Google & Dish Could Be 'Interesting' Partners.)
Part of the appeal for Ray is the amount of spectrum available at 5GHz. The CTO has previously said that there is more than 500MHz of under-utilized 5GHz spectrum kicking around the band. (See Ericsson Preps LTE-U for Verizon, T-Mob & SK Telecom.)
Of course, that band is also used for WiFi. Ray has already stated that T-Mobile's LTE-U will be a "good neighbor" with the wireless LAN technology.
Although the T-Mobile deal is mostly focused on the near-future, Nokia tells Light Reading that T-Mobile has already deployed its small cells. "T-Mobile is currently deploying Nokia Flexi Zone small cells technology," a spokesperson confirmed via email.
T-Mobile CTO Ray said last week that T-Mobile is starting initial deployments of small cells. So it is unlikely that a great number have been deployed yet.
T-Mobile is also testing LTE-U small cells with Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC).
Like many pre-standardized technologies, LTE-Unlicensed has already got a gaggle of names for the same tech. Nokia and others call it Licensed-Assisted Access (LAA), DoCoMo has refered to it as LAA-LTE. Whatever you call it, the technology should be standardized in 2016.
— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading