8 operators commercially launches LTE in unlicensed spectrum

Globally eight operators have commercially launched LTE in the unlicensed spectrum say LAA, LTE-U and LWA and there are around 40 other identified trials going on around the world.

GSA has been able to identify four commercial LAA networks. Two of them are in the US, one operated by AT&T and one by T-Mobile. AIS Thailand, also has an operational LAA network and the Russian telecom MTS launched its Licensed Assisted access service in May 2018.

Elsewhere, Bell Mobility in Canada has announced plans to support LAA technology by aggregating unlicensed 5 GHz spectrum with LTE in licensed bands to provide higher transfer speeds. Seven other telecom operators have disclosed similar levels of LAA-readiness. These include China Mobile, Vodafone Turkey, South Africa’s MTN and Vodacom, Verizon Wireless in the US, Singapore’s Singtel and TIM in Italy.

There have been three LTE-U network deployments. T-Mobile’s (US) network was launched in June 2017 covering Bellevue, WA; Brooklyn, NY; Dearborn, MI; Las Vegas, NV; Richardson, TX; and Simi Valley, CA. The operator had previously announced plans to continue to roll the network out through 2018 using carrier aggregation, 4×4 MIMO and 256QAM in the 5 GHz unlicensed band, but interestingly T-Mobile announced in November 2017 that it plans to shift its focus away from LTE-U toward LAA deployment in the first half of 2018.

Thai operator AIS also offers LTE-U service as a part of its LTE-A network. Vodacom in South Africa deployed LTE-U in its network on a very limited scale in Midrand in 2016, but it too has recently announced plans to deploy LAA (currently under test in the same location) on a national scale.

Redzone Wireless in the US has announced plans for an FWA broadband service capable of Gigabit speeds that combines both licensed LTE (at 2.5 GHz) and unlicensed wireless broadband technologies (at 5 GHz and 60 GHz) on a single tower and integrates them with a proprietary operational support system (OSS). It has already launched a network combining LTE at 2.5 GHz with unlicensed spectrum at 5 GHz to deliver speeds of 450 Mbps.

Commercial Deployment of LTE in Unlicensed SpectrumOperator – Technology
AIS (Thailand)LAA
MTS (Russia)LAA
T-Mobile (US)LAA
AIS (Thailand)LTE-U
T-Mobile (US)LTE-U
Vodacom (South Africa)LTE-U
Chunghwa (Taiwan)LWA

Source: GSA

As per latest report, 73 products capable of supporting LTE in unlicensed spectrum bands. Additions are Telit’s LAA-supporting module LM960, Novatel Wireless’s LTE-U USB modem MiFi U730L US and Samsung’s indoor small cells. SpiderCloud’s LAA small cells SCRN-220 AND SCRN-250 were used by US operator Sprint to support its 1.9 GHz spectrum band for enterprise and venues. The addition of support for Sprint’s 2.5 GHz band is planned for mid-2018.

The CBRS ecosystem is emerging. In September 2017, Samsung announced a new small cell portfolio including CBRS products, expected to be available soon. Ruckus Wireless (Arris) has announced a new CBRS portfolio including small cells. Meanwhile the US-based telecom operator Verizon Wireless has stated that CBRS-enabled smartphones should be available by the end of 2018.

There continues to be steady interest in the various technologies supporting the use of unlicensed spectrum for LTE services – in particular LAA and more recently CBRS – with advanced network trials, planned deployments and a growing ecosystem of chipsets, network infrastructure and devices. The supporting eco-system needs to improve to enable further growth of LTE in unlicensed spectrum market.


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