T-Mobile is planning to extend LTE's longevity with the roll out of the LTE-U standard, scheduled for this spring. Thanks to LTE-U technology, T-Mobile customers will be able to take advantage of "underutilized unlicensed spectrum" on the 5GHz band.
T-Mobile 5GHz LTE
After a controversial process designed to make sure that use of the 5GHz band on cellular networks won't interfere with Wi-Fi networks, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) authorized on Wednesday, Feb. 22, the first LTE for unlicensed spectrum (LTE-U) devices. Immediately after the FCC decision, T-Mobile said that its customers will be able to use LTE-U for additional LTE capacity into the first 20MHz of underutilized unlicensed spectrum on the 5GHz band starting this spring.
According to Hot Hardware, this will allow T-Mobile to provide a basis for its plans to blanket the country with Gigabit LTE, offering even faster speeds on its nationwide wireless network. In anticipation of FCC certification for LTE-U that was just granted, T-Mobile has been field testing LTE-U since December 2016.
In fact, the company has been discussing its LTE over 5GHz plans since late 2014. If not for the controversy over potential interference, T-Mobile likely would have deployed LTE-U much earlier. However, an industry fight has been set off by the plan to bring LTE to unlicensed Wi-Fi spectrum.
LTE-U Deployment Plans
Back in 2015, LTE-U deployment plans have been opposed by the Wi-Fi Alliance and cable companies. In order to prevent interference, industry groups worked together to develop the so-called "Coexistence Test Plan." Even though the new testing is voluntary rather than required by the FCC, the Wi-Fi Alliance declared that it is satisfied with the result.
The LTE-U devices have been approved after FCC staff has certified that they are in compliance with FCC rules. These devices and Wi-Fi operations can co-exist in the 5GHz band, as has been demonstrated by voluntary industry testing. The FCC's decision opens the possibilities for a technical breakthrough in the shared uses of this spectrum.
Other hardware manufacturers, including Ericsson, Nokia and Qualcomm are already in the race to fill the gap between LTE and 5G. T-Mobile is deploying LTE-U technology from Nokia and Ericsson. Both companies had their equipment certified by the FCC on Feb. 2.
Various companies expressed their support in bringing the new LTE-U standard to the market, for the benefit of their customers. Ricky Corker, Nokia EVP and Head of North America, said that the company is committed to work alongside T-Mobile in order to bring new solutions to market. Ericsson North America's Glenn Laxdal, Head of Network Products, said that Ericsson is working in close collaboration with its partners in order to ensure that this technology will work in harmony with Wi-Fi.
Without affecting other users on the same band, LTE-U devices and equipment can tap intelligently into and share underutilized unlicensed spectrum. According to Ars Technica, LTE-U has been proved to work without affecting the users of conventional Wi-Fi, as the technology constantly seeks the least utilized channels in order to maximize performance and efficiency for everyone. Customers can tap into that unused capacity for LTE when Wi-Fi demand diminishes. LTE-U backs off as demand on the Wi-Fi network increases.