South Africa's Vodacom goes live with LTE-U - a tiny bit

Vodacom in South Africa has launched a commercial LTE-Unlicensed, or LTE-U, site using unlicensed spectrum in the 5.8 GHz band in a section of Sandton City, a large shopping center  in Johannesburg, according to Tech Central. But even though it's said to be commercially available, the handsets and routers still need to catch up, so it will be some time before users can try it out.

The size of the deployment is also tiny -- only available in the forecourt outside Checkers Hyper at the Sandton mall. Vodacom's technology partner is Huawei.

TechCentral also reports that Vodacom has deployed the technology at its campus in Midrand to showcase what it is capable of. In the controlled test environment at the campus, using a prototype handset, Vodacom was able to demonstrate a 217 Mbit/s peak download speed (and a ping of 31 ms) to TechCentral.

The operator conducted the test using 10 MHz of licensed spectrum at 1.8 GHz coupled with two carriers, each 20 MHz, in the unlicensed 5.8 GHz band. "We have gone as high as 245 Mbit/s in this building," said Nicholas Naidu, executive head of access network engineering, according to TechCentral.

Naidu said that LTE-U is still in its infancy, and once smartphones and mobile broadband routers start to permeate the market, Vodacom will step up its rollout of infrastructure. While there are worries among Wi-Fi providers that mobile operators could end up flooding unlicensed spectrum bands when deploying LTE-U, Naidu said the intention is to co-exist in harmony with Wi-Fi technology and not degrade Wi-Fi services. He said the technology is also only suitable for small cell sites, such as in shopping centers, airports and business premises. It is not likely to be used for outdoor coverage over large areas.

In the U.S., operators also have talked about deploying LTE-U in enterprise-type settings. Currently, efforts are underway to come up with a fair coexistence test plan, which the Wi-Fi Alliance hopes to finalize this summer. Carriers like Verizon and T-Mobile US have shown interest in deploying LTE-U.

One of the biggest topics of debate has been around what level one would expect an LTE-U device to become aware of nearby Wi-Fi and potentially defer transmission, according to the Wi-Fi Alliance. Where that threshold is set has important implications for coexistence with Wi-Fi. The guiding principle over all of it is to make sure the introduction of LTE-U has no greater impact on Wi-Fi than if a second Wi-Fi network were to be introduced. The alliance also is in the process of identifying a third-party test house that can serve as an independent test laboratory.

For more:
- see this Tech Central article
- see this Telegeography post

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