OnQ Blog

LTE in unlicensed spectrum – innovation is prevailing

Feb 25, 2016

Qualcomm products mentioned within this post are offered by Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries.

News about LTE in unlicensed spectrum is at an all-time high, with reports covering all three technology variants:

  • LTE-U: The version specified by the LTE-U Forum based on the 3GPP release 12 standard; It requires an anchor on licensed spectrum and is suitable for mobile operator deployments in select regions (e.g. US).
  • Licensed-Assisted Access (LAA): The next step after LTE-U which meets region-specific regulations to allow for mobile operator deployments worldwide; LAA is an important part of the 3GPP Release 13 standard expected to be finalized later this year.
  • MulteFire™: An LTE-based technology that, unlike LTE-U and LAA, operates exclusively in unlicensed spectrum.

Last year, media coverage focused on the ability of LTE-U to coexist with Wi-Fi when sharing the same set of unlicensed frequency bands. But Mobile World Congress (MWC), the largest mobile industry tradeshow, brought us this week a mountain of news with a very different emphasis. Product launches, operator engagements and technical advancements are the headlines. The controversy is subsiding since all interested stakeholders are actively collaborating to resolve technical concerns so the wireless industry can focus on continued innovation to bring the benefits of LTE in unlicensed spectrum as quickly as possible to  consumers around the globe.

Qualcomm is pleased with these developments. Along with the other proponents of LTE in unlicensed spectrum, Qualcomm also has a substantial vested interest in the successful evolution of Wi-Fi. That’s why we are collaborating with all stakeholders to ensure that LTE-U and Wi-Fi will coexist successfully. We are actively working with the Wi-Fi Alliance to develop a coexistence test plan, and we anticipate using that plan to validate that LTE-U will not adversely impact Wi-Fi. The FCC also granted Qualcomm Technologies' (QTI) request for Special Temporary Authority, which will enable LTE-U product development testing to proceed.

QTI is also actively contributing to LAA, both in terms of standardization efforts in 3GPP and ETSI, but also to demonstrate coexistence in labs and trials. LAA includes a technology called “Listen Before Talk” (LBT), which meets global co-existence regulations and is envisioned to apply equally to LTE and Wi-Fi when operating in unlicensed spectrum. While there is still work ahead of us, we are making good progress together with all industry stakeholders. The coexistence of different technologies operating in unlicensed bands also is critically important for 5G technologies, and that work is on track as well.

Here are some recent announcements and developments showing how the mobile ecosystem is working to bring consumers the benefits of LTE in unlicensed spectrum:

Smartphone chipset innovation

Right before MWC, we announced the mobile industry’s first announced Gigabit class LTE modem, Qualcomm Snapdragon X16, with support for both LTE-U and LAA.

LTE-U and LAA support in the X16 LTE modem vastly expands the number of operators around the globe that can deploy Gigabit-Class LTE speeds, and therefore provide millions of mobile users fiber-like download speeds on their mobile devices. This news follows last year’s announcement of support for LTE-U in our flagship Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor.

Infrastructure readiness

Several manufacturers announced small cells with support for LTE in unlicensed spectrum using Qualcomm Technologies’ FSM small cell chipsets. These include product launches from Samsung, SpiderCloud Wireless and Baicells. Qualcomm Technologies also announced that its FSM99xx small cells chipsets not only support LTE-U but also a software upgrade path toward LAA.

Operator engagement

Vodafone announced last November the industry’s first LTE Carrier Aggregation of licensed and unlicensed bands on a commercial network with Ericsson and Qualcomm Technologies, highlighting how this technology development will improve 4G LTE-based experiences for subscribers.

Deutsche Telekom followed in early February disclosing the world’s first over-the-air LAA trial in cooperation with Qualcomm Technologies. Testing in this trial demonstrated LAA’s ability to extend coverage and increase network capacity, while delivering seamless mobility and providing an enhanced end user experience.

Verizon announced at this year’s MWC its plans to trial LTE-U in the third quarter of 2016 using a system from SpiderCloud Wireless. Another release highlighted that China Mobile has completed field trials solutions supporting LTE-U and has plans for deployments this year.

Technology evolution

Innovation around unlicensed spectrum goes beyond LTE-U and LAA. Qualcomm is already working with the industry on additional advancements in LTE and Wi-Fi to create greater consumer value. New LTE inventions include enhanced LAA (eLAA), which introduces LTE licensed and unlicensed spectrum aggregation in the uplink along with downlink, and MulteFire, the LTE-based technology that operates exclusively in unlicensed spectrum. QTI demonstrated both eLAA and MulteFire at MWC 2016.

Because it relies solely upon unlicensed spectrum, MulteFire expands the ecosystem of LTE-based technologies to established broader collection of service providers, including Internet service providers, cable companies, mobile operators, small medium and large enterprises, and venue owners. The broad appeal of MulteFire is bringing together a diverse group of companies under the MulteFire Alliance, including major industry stakeholders and Wi-Fi leaders alike. Current MulteFire Alliance members are Ericsson, Intel, Nokia, Qualcomm Incorporated, Athonet, Baicells, Boingo Wireless, Casa Systems, Ruckus Wireless and SpiderCloud Wireless.

Qualcomm also featured advanced Wi-Fi demonstrations on its MWC exhibit, including 802.11ac Multi-User MIMO, 802.11ad, and the emerging Wi-Fi 11ax technology. These demos reflect our continued commitment to Wi-Fi and some of our most recent efforts driving its evolution.

While technology debates are important, they should not stop innovation. The main beneficiaries of technology evolution are the billions of users worldwide who rely on mobile devices to access the Internet every day. And their demands for ultra-high speed mobile data connectivity continues to grow at unprecedented levels.

LTE in unlicensed spectrum is another example of how participants in the mobile ecosystem work together, moving beyond disagreements to solve consumers’ connectivity needs. Luckily for today’s mobile consumers, innovation is prevailing.

Qualcomm Snapdragon and FSM are products of Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. MulteFire is a trademark of Qualcomm Incorporated.


Opinions expressed in the content posted here are the personal opinions of the original authors, and do not necessarily reflect those of Qualcomm Incorporated or its subsidiaries ("Qualcomm"). Qualcomm products mentioned within this post are offered by Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries. The content is provided for informational purposes only and is not meant to be an endorsement or representation by Qualcomm or any other party. This site may also provide links or references to non-Qualcomm sites and resources. Qualcomm makes no representations, warranties, or other commitments whatsoever about any non-Qualcomm sites or third-party resources that may be referenced, accessible from, or linked to this site.

Ignacio Contreras

Director, Product Marketing, Qualcomm Technologies

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