March 12, 2015 — In the last year, allowing users to make voice calls and send and receive text messages via a Wi-Fi network has gained momentum among carriers. Perhaps the most aggressive on this front has been T-Mobile, making it a part of its ad campaign, but Sprint has also provided Wi-Fi calling for more than a year. Carriers with the best coverage and supposedly the least need for Wi-Fi coverage, AT&T and Verizon, will follow the trend sometime this year. The seminal event bringing Wi-Fi into the cellular fold was Apple’s release of its iOS 8 platform last fall, which allows Wi-Fi calling on iPhone 6.
“Blending the capabilities of Wi-Fi and cellular to achieve performance gains beyond standalone networks, we can embark on new, exciting discussions around the go-to-market strategy for in-building wireless that embraces both technologies while improving the consumer and enterprise experiences,” said Peter Jarich, VP of Consumer and Infrastructure Services, Current Analysis.
With 80 percent of tablet-based devices having a Wi-Fi connection and a huge amount of cellular data offloaded to Wi-Fi, carriers need another way to tie users to their networks. As carriers embrace Wi-Fi, it only makes sense that equipment providers will follow suit and several made their intents known at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona earlier this month.
Ted Abrams, Wi-Fi Wireless CTO, said the OEM’s announcements fit into his company’s vision of the future of purpose-built carrier grade Wi-Fi networks that are set out for the next generations of licensed-spectrum use.
“Probably the best example is the way T-Mobile is paving the way toward License Assisted Access,” Abrams said. “Their plan to offload traffic to the 5 GHz Wi-Fi frequencies is right in line with our game plan to build our networks with high-band [5.8 GHz] first, and then low-band only opportunistically. The convergence of Wi-Fi and LTE is the solution to the problem of capacity and subscriber need for speed.”
Alcatel-Lucent announced its ‘Wireless Unified Networks’ strategy that blends the upload and download of Wi-Fi and cellular to increase system capacity in high-traffic or low-signal locations.
As opposed switching users between cellular and Wi-Fi to load-balance the network, Alcatel-Lucent’s “Wi-Fi boost” technology combines the downlink of Wi-Fi with the uplink of cellular. Using LTE Wi-Fi Aggregation (LWA), download speeds can be more than doubled compared with standalone network capabilities. Wi-Fi boost capabilities will be trialed in the second quarter of 2015 with commercial availability in the second half of 2015.
Alcatel-Lucent is developing “cellular boost” technology, which uses unlicensed spectrum bands to enhance the cellular network. Standards are being developed to allow LTE users to coexist with Wi-Fi users on the unlicensed spectrum, known as LTE-Unlicensed (LTE-U) and Licensed Assist Access (LAA), which will guide Alcatel-Lucent’s small cell development. The LTE-U standard provides the carriers with some network management control on the unlicensed frequencies.
The OEM plans to support trials in the second half of 2015 and to commercially introduce the technology in early 2016.
J. Sharpe Smith is the editor of AGL Link and AGL Small Cell Link.