Why enterprises should ask mobile operators for LTE-LAA small cells

December 19, 2016

As an enterprise IT manager, do you want to keep throwing bags of cash into upgrading and densifying your Wi-Fi networks? Everybody who enters your buildings today has a smartphone. When people cannot get good LTE service in the building, they look for Wi-Fi. Your building’s Wi-Fi network is great for their smartphones. Unfortunately, their smartphones are not great for your building’s Wi-Fi network.

Why? Because, Wi-Fi is not optimized for short packets, and most of the traffic from smart phones, whether it is Facebook updates or Snapchat messages, use short packets.  As a result, chatty smart phones crowd your network and contend with laptops for access, forcing you to upgrade and densify your Wi-Fi network. Add in voice over Wi-Fi (VoWi-Fi) and things get even worse. Cisco, for instance, recommends that one Wi-Fi access point is needed for every 16 VoWi-Fi calls.

Now, assume that you can get an LTE small cell system from an operator that has 40% market share. These LTE small cells are deployed over Ethernet, just like Wi-Fi access points. Each LTE small cell can cover almost 4 times the area of a Wi-Fi access point, and support 8 times as many smartphones as a Wi-Fi access point. So, adding a relatively small number of small cells from just one major operator can take 30-40% of smartphones off your Wi-Fi network. This reduction makes the difference between whether you need to upgrade your Wi-Fi network this year or not.

Since a small cell is supporting 64 to 128 active connections (yes, active), a small cell may sometimes struggle to provide very high data rates for someone who wants to sit back and watch a movie on their smartphone or tablet. In these cases, a Wi-Fi access point, with access to lots of unlicensed spectrum and a small number of subscribers, may be able to do better. The question then arises of how to seamlessly converge licensed and unlicensed spectrum to get the best of both worlds. The good news is that the LTE industry is fixing that, with LTE-U and LTE-LAA.

LTE-U and LTE-LAA are technologies that allow an LTE small cell to use unlicensed spectrum when needed. I have underlined “when needed” for a reason. Both LTE-U and LTE-LAA use the carrier’s licensed spectrum as the primary spectrum for wireless communication. All smartphones stay connected on the licensed band. Bursty communication, something that LTE is very good at handling, goes over the licensed band. Voice and emergency services (911) calls go over the licensed band. Web surfing happens on the licensed band. Only when users try to download something that the small cell cannot deliver over the licensed band, does it use the unlicensed spectrum. And when it does, the LTE small cell will do so in a fair manner.

So, if you are a Wi-Fi access point vendor, make sure that you fight LTE small cells tooth and nail. You owe it to your bosses and shareholders! But, if you are an enterprise IT manager, get yourself an LTE small cell system, make your users happy, and save yourself a bagful of moolah.

– Amit Jain, Vice President of Marketing & Product Management