Ericsson's new network software update to pave the road for LTE-U deployments

Ericsson (NASDAQ: ERIC) is unveiling a new network software update for carriers that will pave the way toward the deployment of LTE-Unlicensed (LTE-U) technology and improve indoor coverage. Ericsson also expects a separate software update will improve deep indoor and rural coverage of Internet of Things devices.

The benefit of the software updates, which Ericsson periodically releases, is they let carriers add enhancements to their networks without having to deploy new hardware, noted Steve Shevell, head of product marketing for Ericsson's radio business unit.

Shevell said that Ericsson's Consumer Labs surveys show that only three in 10 consumers find that their voice coverage indoors is sufficient, and that they expect carriers to improve their experience. That will only become more challenging as more data traffic moves indoors as well and as more buildings are constructed from energy-efficient materials that make it more difficult for wireless signals to penetrate.

Some of the key enhancements of Ericsson's "Networks Software 16A" update, which is designed to improve LTE network performance, include two uplink enhancements that will enable mobile operators to utilize 64 Quadrature Amplitude Modulation (QAM) on uplink to provide a 50 percent improvement in peak uplink speeds of 75 Mbps. Additionally, it enables uplink carrier aggregation, which can double uplink data speeds. Combined, these improvements provide peak uplink data rates up to 150 Mbps, which is a 200 percent improvement, Ericsson said.

The software update also includes support for LTE-U, which uses LTE on unlicensed spectrum. Along with Ericsson, Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU), Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM), Verizon Wireless (NYSE: VZ) and T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) have been among the most vocal proponents of LTE-U. Wi-Fi advocates fear it will interfere and degrade Wi-Fi in unlicensed spectrum, but the LTE-U camp says the concerns are overblown and that LTE-U backers have taken steps to ensure Wi-Fi is not harmed.

Verizon and T-Mobile have both said they intend to launch commercial LTE services into unlicensed spectrum starting next year. The carriers hope to offer customers faster and more reliable data connections by expanding communications from their own licensed spectrum and into unlicensed spectrum. 

Shevell said that the 16A software release is expected to be released to carriers in the first few months of 2016 through the company's software model that offers carriers continual software updates. He said the software will pave the way toward LTE-U deployments. "We're seeing demand from our customer base for LTE-U," he said, adding: "The way to deploy it is now clear."  

Ericsson says there are more than 230 million cellular machine-to-machine subscriptions for IoT devices today and the company expects there to be 26 billion connected devices in 2020. However, Shevell noted that there are lot of "roadblocks" to getting there, including cost of devices, limited battery life and weak reception in rural areas and within buildings.

Ericsson's other release, dubbed "IoT Networks Software 16B," is designed to reduce IoT device costs through the support of LTE Category 0, which effectively limits functionality and capability to those specifically required for IoT applications, such as large-scale sensor and smart meter deployments. Ericsson claims the reduced complexity cuts device cost by 60 percent compared to LTE Category 4. The vendor also said that the new software will improve IoT device battery life through a power-saving capability that introduces a deep sleep state, while Extended Discontinuous Reception (DRX) for GSM extends the sleep cycles in inactive mode. Further, Ericsson said the software will enhance indoor coverage for GSM solutions to enable the usage of IoT applications in remote locations and deep within buildings underground.

Shevell said those improvements are "relevant to all sorts of IoT use cases," including transportation, logistics, fleet tracking, smart meters and smart agriculture. "We feel like we can start knocking those roadblocks and laying the foundation for operators to build IoT businesses," he said. Ericsson said the new IoT software will be available to carriers in mid-2016. 

For more:
- see these two separate Ericsson releases

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