Qualcomm wants LTE deployed on unlicensed spectrum

Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) is interested in exploring the possibility of deploying LTE services on unlicensed spectrum, according to CEO Paul Jacobs.

Carriers that have deployed LTE around the world have done so on their own licensed spectrum, while unlicensed airwaves have mainly been reserved for technologies such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. However, without getting into too many technical details, Jacobs said the chip giant is interested in using unlicensed airwaves to deliver faster wireless services.

Speaking at a meeting Wednesday with analysts, Jacobs was quick to state that the move is not designed to "step on" Wi-Fi, which Qualcomm makes a great deal of money supporting. However, according to the Wall Street Journal, he said the two technologies can coexist and improve data delivery, while minimizing interference. "It's a better neighbor," he said.

It's unclear how LTE would be deployed on unlicensed spectrum, but the technology could result in a better experience for the user. "All the user would experience is faster and more reliable connectivity than they had before," Patrick Moorhead, an analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy, told the Journal.

According to Electronics Weekly, Jacobs explained the reasons behind the move: "We paid for that very sophisticated LTE receiver in the devices, it's a better receiver than the receiver that's been used for Wi-Fi. That means you get better capacity and better coverage out of an LTE unlicensed deployment."

"Regulators around the world are putting out unlicensed spectrum as we drive it with small cells to small cells more like a Wi-Fi access point in terms of deployment," Jacobs added. "You see a lot of companies that are looking at you getting access to spectrum and they'll be able to use both licensed and unlicensed bands with the small cell technology."

It's unclear which bands could be used for unlicensed LTE services. One that has been bandied about is the 3.5 GHz band, which is being eyed for small cells in the United States.

Tirias Research analyst Jim McGregor told FierceWireless Qualcomm likely would want to use unlicensed LTE service to power connected devices, including cars, as part of its push into the Internet of Things. "In a lot of those cases, it's probably going to be cost-prohibitive to use licensed spectrum," he said.

In some cases, such as in-car infotainment systems, McGregor said, Qualcomm could be looking to supply both application processors and modems. "Either way, being able to support that with as much as silicon as possible is to their benefit," he said.

For more:
- see this WSJ article (sub. req.)
- see this Electronics Weekly article
- see this Xconomy article 

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Article updated Nov. 21 at 2:40 p.m. ET with additional analyst commentary.