T-Mobile and Nokia are clocking some impressive speeds thanks to licensed assisted access (LAA). The companies report that they achieved download speeds of 1.3 Gbps using Nokia’s commercial AirScale platform to support 14-layer transmissions.
The achievement shows how wireless companies like T-Mobile can leverage licensed and unlicensed spectrum assets to boost performance for customers in high-traffic urban locations. LAA usually is associated with small cells in busy airports, malls, enterprises or other places with a lot of traffic.
"We are working to deploy small cells that support LAA and build on the LTE-Advanced features we've deployed across the country, laying a foundation for 5G. Our priority is ensuring customers have the best mobile experience, so we are accelerating LAA and five carrier aggregation to give them even higher speeds and greater network performance," said Neville Ray, chief technology officer at T-Mobile, in a press release.
T-Mobile revealed at the end of last year that it would be ramping up on the LAA front during the first quarter of this year ahead of its 5G nationwide deployment. T-Mobile said at the time that it was going to be using AWS and PCS spectrum for the LAA rollout, paired with unlicensed spectrum in the 5 GHz band.
The tests conducted with Nokia at T-Mobile’s lab in Bellevue, Washington, used commercial Nokia AirScale Micro RRH connected to an AirScale system module. They said speeds of 1.3 Gbps were achieved by aggregating LTE carriers in licensed and unlicensed bands using five-component carrier aggregation, 256 QAM, 4x4 MIMO and LAA on 14 antenna layers.
"Nokia is providing a path towards 5G that allows operators like T-Mobile to attain gigabit speeds with LTE by leveraging all available licensed and unlicensed spectrum,” said Marc Rouanne, president of Mobile Networks at Nokia. “With LAA, we are helping T-Mobile gain higher download peak rates than could be achieved with licensed spectrum alone. This adds capacity beyond the spectrum licensed to this operator, and the existing network sites are used with limited TCO investment."
T-Mobile is among those who fought for the ability to deploy LTE-U, a precursor to LAA that did not go through the 3GPP standards process like LAA did and therefore was subject to more controversy. But the LTE-U handsets out in the field can be upgraded to LAA through software updates, so the companies that pursued the LTE-U route didn’t do it for naught.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai on Thursday cited the FCC’s approval of LTE-U devices as one of the innovative things the commission has done under his leadership. The comment came in an item related to how the commission is supposed to respond to petitions or applications in a timely fashion.
T-Mobile is expected to reveal more about its 5G strategy at Mobile World Congress 2018, where Ray is scheduled to host a session with media and analysts on Tuesday.