Alcatel-Lucent’s new network concept mixes Wi-Fi and LTE

Like many network equipment makers at Mobile World Congress this week, Alcatel-Lucent is pushing the controversial idea of carriers setting up shop in the Wi-Fi airwaves. But while Alcatel-Lucent is just as gung-ho as everyone else in the mobile industry about building LTE networks in the unlicensed bands, the Franco-American company is also proposing an alternative: carriers could just stick to Wi-Fi.

On Monday at the show, Alcatel-Lucent announced a network architecture called Wireless Unified Networks – or WUN for short — that combines LTE and Wi-Fi into the same connection. Wi-Fi’s plentiful capacity and speeds are used for downloads, while upstream traffic is sent over the LTE network. According to Alcatel-Lucent wireless CTO Michael Peeters, the setup optimizes both Wi-Fi and LTE for their respective uplink and downlink task thus pumping better performance either network.

For instance, Peeters claimed that on the typical home Wi-Fi network speeds to the mobile device could increase as much as 70 percent and its range could be potentially, because the network would only be transmitting, never receiving, when in WUN mode. And by using LTE on the uplink, upload speeds also increase dramatically especially on the fringes of the Wi-Fi network where signals are poor and potential interference from other Wi-Fi networks is high, Peeters maintained. WUN is actually the first step in an emerging technology standard called LTE-Wi-Fi Aggregation (LWA), which would merge the downstream transmissions of both networks to create even fatter pipes.

To make WUN work, though, is going to require some tinkering with all of the networks involved. Devices will need an OS software update and routers and access points to need to be reconfigured, so carriers won’t be able to pull this off without the full cooperation of the Wi-Fi and smartphone camps. Alcatel-Lucent has already landed the support of one major Wi-Fi networker, though. Though Ruckus Wireless stopped short of committing to install the WUN upgrade in its access points, it did say it supported Alcatel-Lucent’s efforts to merge wireless technologies.

WUN is currently in trials with two major operators, Peeters said, and Alcatel-Lucent expects to start selling the technology to in the latter half of 2015.