LTE can mooch off of Wi-Fi spectrum with new Qualcomm chipset

The company will demonstrate chipsets for using unlicensed frequencies on an LTE network

A chipset Qualcomm is introducing at Mobile World Congress next week is likely to make mobile operators happy and some Wi-Fi fans nervous.

Amid a scramble for spectrum among cellular carriers, Qualcomm will demonstrate a chipset that lets LTE cells operate in a radio band used by Wi-Fi networks. The new silicon could double the amount of spectrum subscribers can use in certain areas, and it's just the first in a family of chipsets that may eventually tap into five times as much.

The FSM 99xx chipset for small cells, along with a matching transceiver that will go into mobile devices, are among the first products coming for so-called Licensed Assisted Access. LAA, sometimes called LTE-Unlicensed, is one of several emerging techniques to take advantage of the large amount of spectrum available in unlicensed bands used by Wi-Fi. Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile USA and SK Telecom all have shown interest in using LAA. Combining unlicensed spectrum with traditional carrier frequencies will be a major trend on display at MWC.

The benefit of unlicensed spectrum is that it's free for anyone to use, so carriers can tap into it without paying billions in an auction or going through a long licensing process. But that's also what makes it risky, according to the Wi-Fi Alliance. The industry group fears that without the right safeguards, LTE networks could hurt Wi-Fi performance. It's working with the 3GPP cellular standards group on future rules to prevent interference.

Qualcomm says its product is ready to be a good neighbor. Tests at Qualcomm showed that putting up a cellular base station built with the new chipset won't affect nearby Wi-Fi users any more than adding another Wi-Fi access point would, said Mazen Chmaytelli, senior director of business development at Qualcomm. It plans to offer products with future safeguards once they're finished but says they aren't needed to keep Wi-Fi safe.

LAA uses the 5GHz band, the biggest one for Wi-Fi. The system won't let carriers set up LTE networks that just use unlicensed spectrum. It's designed to add some spectrum to a regular licensed network where necessary, and only for downstream traffic. All the data going out to the Internet from the phone still goes over LTE.

Qualcomm says LAA a better alternative to the Wi-Fi hotspots that many carriers install to offload traffic in busy areas. For one thing, Qualcomm tests have shown it's at least twice as efficient, said Mazen Chmaytelli, senior director of business development at Qualcomm. LTE can carry more data with the same amount of spectrum than Wi-Fi can, so it can give users a bigger performance boost. Also, subscribers stay on the cellular network while they use LAA, so they don't have to go through a handoff to a different network, Chmaytelli said.

The Qualcomm chipset uses carrier aggregation, a part of the LTE-Advanced specification that carriers are already using to glue together different chunks of licensed spectrum. Initial deployments will combine 20MHz of licensed spectrum with 20MHz from the unlicensed band. Later, it will be possible to aggregate several times that much spectrum for a bigger performance boost, Chmaytelli said.

In some regions, carriers may start putting up LAA cells in the first half of next year, he said. Those in Japan and Europe have to wait for new rules being written for the next version of LTE to account for a "listen before talk" requirement for unlicensed spectrum there. Chmaytelli expects those carriers to start rolling out networks 12 to 18 months later.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags MWCqualcommmobile

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Stephen Lawson

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?