AT&T to trial LTE-U by early 2016

LAS VEGAS--A top AT&T (NYSE: T) network executive said the company will trial LTE-U technology later this year or in early 2016, but the company will not deploy the technology until it can ensure that there is fair-use sharing with Wi-Fi.

In an interview with FierceWireless, Tom Keathley, senior vice president of wireless network architecture and design with AT&T, said that the company will learn from its LTE-U trial and then decide whether to deploy the technology. "There will be no devices until early next year anyway," Keathley said. "So the timing is reasonable."

Keathley added that while he believes that it is possible to do fair-use sharing with Wi-Fi with LTE-U, he wants assurance of that before the company deploys the technology. And he said that AT&T might just wait to deploy Licensed Assisted Access (LAA), which has listen-before-talk capability.

AT&T's decision to trial LTE-U is interesting because the company previously has said it was in no rush to test and deploy the technology. In April, Keathley told FierceWireless that the company was willing to wait for LAA, which will have listen-before-talk capability. The 3GPP is currently working to standardize LAA, which will likely be enabled in LTE Release 13.

Unlike rivals Verizon Wireless (NYSE: VZ) and T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS), AT&T has been less bullish on LTE-U. AT&T currently owns and operates around 34,000 Wi-Fi hotspots at restaurants, bookstores, hotels and locations.

Wi-Fi advocates worry that the control and scheduling in LTE-U will always be handled in the licensed channel since it is centrally-scheduled, meaning that carriers will hold the balance of power over how much spectrum is devoted to LTE and how much is devoted to unlicensed Wi-Fi.

T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) has said it will deploy LAA in 5 GHz spectrum in 2016. The operator is teaming up with Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) and Alcatel-Lucent to use LTE in the unlicensed spectrum, with trials beginning this year using LTE-U enabled small cells from Alcatel-Lucent. In addition, Verizon has said it will deploy LTE-U in 2015 in the 5 GHz and 3.5 GHz spectrum.

Related articles:
 AT&T in no hurry to test and deploy LTE-Unlicensed
Qualcomm CTO thinks LTE-Unlicensed and Wi-Fi can coexist peacefully, targets mid-2016 for LTE-U phones
Verizon's LTE-U Forum completes LTE Unlicensed tests on way toward carrier's 2016 deployment in 5 GHz, 3.5 GHz
T-Mobile sets LAA deployment for 2016
Verizon, SK Telecom join T-Mobile in testing unlicensed LTE, but Wi-Fi Alliance urges caution
Ericsson, T-Mobile push unlicensed LTE into limelight as '4.5G' technology for IoT