LWA, LAA, LTE-U and Wi-Fi

Smartphones love bandwidth! Any argument? Smartphones want more bandwidth, actually, the users love the bandwidth, the phone just want to keep up and avoid having the user throw it on the floor. Am I right? Did you ever sit there a scream at your phone because it did not perform well? Hey, don’t get mad, try to be understanding that the networks will get better. Maybe they can tap off the free spectrum until they get better.

Fist off the carrier wants to keep the customer on their system. licensed carrier, as long as they can to eat up the data the customer pays for every month. But the customer complaints and the loading is getting crazy so now they see they need to get a solution that includes Wi-Fi. 

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So the OEMs had to figure out a way to get LTE and Wi-Fi to play nice together. Really it was Qualcomm and Ericsson who came up with the plan, and they have several different ways to do it. Qualcomm figured out that if you could put LTE in a license free environment then it would play nice with LTE. The OEMs like the thought of carrier aggregation where they can can make multiple carriers look like one, more or less, in the UE device. This makes the sharing much more efficient in this day of bandwidth constraints.  Whether you think it’s good or bad, let’s look over the different options.

By the way, most of these will likely be used in a small cell environment, usually inside a building or a stadium where the heaviest data usage happens. I would expect this to be used out on the street unless it’s like a city street with outside seating. Solving the bandwidth crisis can be done in more ways than just adding spectrum. It’s just that some carrier don’t think densifying, (densification), the network is worth the money but it may be a great way to solve the spectrum crisis. It seems like the larger carriers get it and they already added Macro, oDAS, and small cells to make this happen. So when you read that a carrier is going to run out of spectrum, look at the system end to end, open up your eyes! 

For the sake of this article, I am going to talk about LTE on the carrier. I think that 3G will go away within the next 3 years in the USA if certain carriers can get off their bums and start building LTE in time for 5G to be released! 

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Wi-Fi boost – this is there the Wi-Fi provides the bulk of the downlink and the LTE carrier provides the bulk of the upload while providing little download to clean up the spectrum. Pros are if the Wi-Fi is clean you can use all the bandwidth to carry data, for instance if you are in your home with no interference and the kids aren’t streaming music. The con is if you are competing for bandwidth or the backhaul stinks or if there is interference on the Wi-Fi, then there are issues.  This works with your existing Wi-Fi, it’s just an upgrade the carrier has to do on their system and a software upgrade in your Smartphone. Actually, this is very similar to what they do today with the Wi-Fi handoff. There have been many issues with handing off from Wi-Fi to the carrier and back again, but it is getting better than ever with everything except voice. I am sure someday that will be solved as well. 

LWA – LTE Wi-Fi Aggregation – so here is where it is the same as above but the LTE adds a carrier for download, hence the aggregation. This will need the carrier to upgrade the small cell but the bandwidth is increased even more to the device. This may require an upgrade to the Wi-Fi AP. LWA likes to have the Wi-Fi and LTE together, at this time, for synchronization purposes. This will change as evolution happens.  I believe this would need to be a new device for the end-user but maybe a firmware upgrade will do it, I am not clear on this right now. An overview here. 

LTE-U – this is literally running the LTE format in the Wi-Fi spectrum. Why is this great when we already have Wi-Fi? It makes the handoff to the LTE carrier much more efficient for the RAN. This is what the carriers like because it ties into the carrier aggregation plans that they already have and the UE will see it, in theory, as another LTE carrier, not as a different technology. It is much simpler to do in the UE device. 

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LAA – Licenses Assisted Access works with LTE-U, LTE Unlicensed. This is not your father’s Wi-Fi, it is something new altogether that must learn to coexist with Wi-Fi, and so it is not Wi-Fi at all. It is literally LTE transmitted in a license free band, could be in sub 6GHz in the USA. In theory, it could have 2 to 5 times the throughput of Wi-Fi along with better coverage. This is all new equipment. Truly a Greenfield deployment. This would be a new user device, (new chipset). A good explanation here. 

MuLTEfire – which is Qualcomm’s new offering where LTE could be completely unlicensed, let’s say something like 3.5GHz, but could also work with the licensed band. Qualcomm is always thinking about how to make better wireless chips. They know they need to build in the WOW factor. I have to admit, I said wow! I see great possibilities with new bands that are lightly licensed because they could open up new markets for backhaul and other last mile services. Remember that 5G is moving ahead and will be here in 5 years or less, Probably arriving around 2020.

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I hope that helps you figure out what is going on out there. This is moving ahead very quickly but the carriers will test it before releasing it. That doesn’t mean there won’t be bugs but they will make sure it doesn’t affect their systems.

Be smart, be safe, and pay attention!

I am putting a small cell handbook together, it should be out soon. It will be geared towards deployment but a good reference overall. It will have most of what I post but also some extra notes is it.  If your interested, feel free to sign up for my newsletter below. 

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