Operators are finally seeing the fruits of their endeavors to launch LAA equipment using unlicensed spectrum, with T-Mobile reporting that it’s seen speeds increase 5 to 10 times since it launched LAA in the fourth quarter of last year.
T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray confirmed the effect on its network in a tweet on Thursday.
We launched LAA in 4Q 17 and have seen material impacts in speed performance – increasing speeds 5-10X— Neville (@NevilleRay) February 8, 2018
Ray said during the company’s fourth-quarter conference call that the performance capabilities T-Mobile is seeing in markets like New York are “very, very promising.” In fact, he said T-Mobile is “driving LAA very hard” this year.
T-Mobile announced last year that it would be focusing on its LAA deployment in the first quarter of 2018, upgrading small cells it’s already rolled out and installing a new modular solution with a single touch point.
Other operators are deploying LAA as well. Verizon Mike Haberman told FierceWirelessTech earlier this month that the operator will continue to deploy LAA strategically. It doesn’t make sense to blanket every market with it; its deployment will be driven by demand.
AT&T launched LAA in downtown Indianapolis last year and said it plans to launch the technology in at least two dozen additional metro markets this year. It did not specify which markets.
Sprint has been mostly quiet about its use of LAA but former COO Günther Ottendorfer tweeted before his departure last year that Sprint had successfully implemented LAA, achieving 120-140 Mpbs. Ottendorfer referenced Sprint’s deal with SpiderCloud whereby the carrier is offering a small cell solution from SpiderCloud that supports Sprint’s 1.9 GHz PCS spectrum.
SpiderCloud goes a bit further than the LAA standard approved through 3GPP and taps into self-organizing/self-optimizing network technology, adapting its system to the changes in the Wi-Fi environment in an indoor enterprise setting.
LAA is a 3GPP Release 13 technology ratified as part of LTE Advanced Pro. It uses carrier aggregation in the downlink to combine LTE in unlicensed spectrum (5 GHz) with LTE in licensed spectrum, which provides for faster data rates and a better user experience.
Operators initially pursued LTE-U in part for its time-to-market advantages, but it also caused an uproar in the Wi-Fi community due to fears it would not play nice with Wi-Fi in unlicensed spectrum. LAA was less worrisome because it was developed through 3GPP and has the prioritization function to minimize interference between cellular networks and other traffic in shared spectrum space; it ended up becoming available relatively quickly despite the standards process.
LTE-U supporters still say they learned a lot and developing the technology was not time wasted, plus LTE-U is software-upgradeable to LAA. The first LTE-U products were certified by the FCC in February 2017.