The Swedish telecom equipment vendor Ericsson is using this week's International Consumers Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas to showcase its latest product and technology that it says will offer data-hungry smartphone users concurrent access to both licensed and unlicensed spectrum.
The company is readying a device in its 6402 series of Radio Dot picocells, set to be part of its small cells lineup, to which it has added a technology dubbed Licensed Assisted Access (LAA). This is a subset of LTE Advanced technology aimed at allowing carriers to aggregate and "fairly share" the public 5GHz band with the unlicensed WiFi spectrum. The proposition is that 5GHz services will handle the mobile data heavy lifting, particularly in indoor locations, where it would be deployed on the picocells alongside 3G and LTE. For now, the signalling will still be the job of the conventional cellular network but, when required, could flip the LTE payload over to the public band, thus taking advantage of the higher capacity available there.
The setup "would significantly improve app coverage for all smartphone users, increasing speeds on LAA-enabled devices, reducing wireless network congestion, and ensuring fair sharing between LTE and WiFi," suggests Ericsson.
According to its calculations, using just 4% of the 5GHz band, LAA can provide up to a 150Mbit/s data rate increase to smartphone users. An even more mouth-watering prospect is the suggestion that each additional 4% of available spectrum used would increase data speeds even further. "One of the great things about LAA is its 'rising tide' effect, increasing system capacity and making way for better service to all users in the area, whether they have an LAA-enabled device, or are using WiFi or cellular access," notes Thomas Noren, vice president and head of radio product management at Ericsson.
This is a clear sign that Ericsson sees such a combination of licensed and unlicensed frequencies as yet another potential path to the much-vaunted 5G networks of beyond 2020, in whose development and standardization the Swedish group is playing a major role. The company plans to have its first small-cell product ready by the fourth quarter of this year -- with indications that it will retail at about $2,000 -- and, in a coordinated announcement at CES, said it has teamed with T-Mobile in the US to test the technology over the coming months.
"Currently, there is approximately 550MHz of under-utilized spectrum in the 5GHz Unlicensed National Information Infrastructure (UNII) band, which is available for any use within the FCC's rules for the UNII band," wrote Neville Ray in a blog post. "We've already begun work with our various chip set, radio infrastructure and device partners to bring LAA production trials to life this year and bring the technology to our customers in the near-future."
The word "various" used by Ray clearly suggests that neither T-Mobile on the carrier side, nor Ericsson among the equipment makers, will have the field to itself in all this. There is a very closely allied initiative also under way, LTE-Unlicensed (LTE-U), first suggested by Qualcomm and Ericsson in late 2013, that also focuses on the use of LTE in the 5GHz unlicensed frequency band. This has already been vigorously debated within the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) that, like LAA, has the potential to cause interference if LTE "takes over" the WiFi it is riding on.
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