While it may not be visible to most, the impact of LTE in the unlicensed bands has really penetrated the consciousness of the technical leaders in the mobile operator community. We think LTE in the unlicensed bands has presented mobile operators with an interesting alternative to Carrier Wi-Fi.
This appears to be due to two main forces:
- Mobile operators want a beautiful and seamless user experience for their subscribers. This desire prevents any Wi-Fi monetization through advertisement insertion or collection of subscriber’s personal information.
- Mobile operators want to leverage their end-to-end technology investment from the core to the edge of the RAN. This desire is squashed by the parallel technology chain that must be built and supported for Carrier Wi-Fi authentication, operations and traffic management. Further, it requires the creation of parallel operations lifecycle processes to keep it running at desired KPI’s.
LTE in unlicensed bands, whether it is LTE-U or LAA, is a technology designed for small cells. This is due to the typical licensed band RF coverage of a small cell matching up nicely with the coverage of LTE-U/LAA at 5Ghz and creating a blanket dual-carrier effect. The need to build any additional core systems are eliminated as the unlicensed bands are seen by both the network and the UE’s as just another different chunk of spectrum to be aggregated by LTE-A capabilities.
As a leading supplier of LTE small cell systems for medium to large buildings,
we are fielding inbound requests from mobile operators seeking an LTE-U/LAA enabled small cells platform. Why? Because the kinds of indoor environments that SpiderCloud addresses are the ones where carriers are bracing for a capacity crunch! Mobile operators are not facing a capacity crunch at coffee shops and small offices for which they need to supplement their licensed spectrum with unlicensed. They are dealing with a capacity crunch at places where hundreds or thousands of people congregate.
But, Art! What about the “Wi-Fi-mageddon” that we heard may end all communications on earth? So, we are confident the IEEE, 3GPP and LTE-U Forum will hammer out a good solution for co-existence. Not only are there vendors that straddle both technologies, but there are other examples of successful unlicensed spectrum sharing in other bands (ISM comes to mind). Once the co-existence issues are worked out, the discussion will shift to building small cell systems that can exist with ad-hoc Wi-Fi networks, and deliver much-needed mobile capacity, in locations where the need is greatest.
It is useful to note that Carrier Wi-Fi will continue to do a booming business in amarket of terrestrial operators without spectrum. Additionally, as more enterprises move Wi-Fi outside their perimeter (connecting to enterprise data centers via remote access VPN even within a campus), operators that have wireless and terrestrial operating companies have an opportunity to supply turnkey managed wireless services composed of Wi-Fi+Small Cells.
In summary, LTE-U is an earthquake for many business and technical reasons. To learn more, please read David Chambers’ (ThinkSmallCell) latest white paper on the Mobile Operator CTO decision and the Enterprise landscape. We sponsored this work to help you get a deeper dive on the potential decisions, and hope you find it useful.
– Art King, SpiderCloud Wireless, Director of Enterprise Services & Technologies