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.

MWC-2015-ticker

Qualcomm readies the first 4G chips to use the Wi-Fi airwaves

At Mobile World Congress next week, Qualcomm will unveil its first 4G silicon designed to tap the 5 GHz unlicensed airwaves used by Wi-Fi. The technology is called LTE-Unlicensed, and it’s becoming a bit of a sore point with the Wi-Fi industry, which feels the mobile carriers are encroaching on its turf. But Qualcomm and other mobile network vendors look to making the event in Barcelona a big showcase for the technology.

Specifically [company]Qualcomm[/company] is announcing a new radio transceiver for mobile devices that can pick an LTE signal out of the 5 GHz band. It’s the only upgrade that current mobile devices sold in the U.S. need to access an LTE-U network (Europe and parts of Asia have further requirements). Qualcomm has also developed a new baseband chip for small cells – miniature base stations used indoors or in high-traffic areas – that can cobble together LTE transmissions in both the unlicensed and licensed bands, said Mazen Chmaytelli, senior director of business development at Qualcomm.

The reason carriers like [company]Verizon[/company] and [company]T-Mobile[/company] are interested in LTE-U — and its more sophisticated cousin LTE-License Assisted Access — is because it will let them add more capacity to their networks in without buying new airwaves. The Unlicensed airwaves are meant to be shared with all comers as long as everyone follows some simple rules. You have to transmit at low power, which means no LTE-U blasting from cell towers, just small indoor cells. And you have to play nice with the others in the band, so no drowning out nearby Wi-Fi radios.

The problem, according to Wi-Fi Alliance, is that LTE-U networks would be highly organized, centrally managed entities operating in a world of largely independent Wi-Fi access points. Carriers could take advantage of that situation to take more than their fair share of capacity from that shared band. If the Alliance is right, that could mean slower speeds or spottier connections for you when accessing public Wi-Fi, but if you’re on your carrier’s 4G network you could find your speeds improving.

Source: Shutterstock / iconmonstr

Source: Shutterstock / iconmonstr

If you’re going to trust someone to not behave like an ass in the unlicensed bands, though, Chmaytelli posits that someone is Qualcomm. “We’re not just a big player in 3G and 4G,” Chmaytelli said. “We are also a big player in Wi-Fi.”

Qualcomm owns Atheros, a Wi-Fi chip maker. Creating a technology that would purposely disable or undercut the performance of its other commercial products just isn’t in Qualcomm’s best interests, Chmaytelli said. Much of the development work Qualcomm has done so far on LTE-U has been on ensuring mutual co-existence with Wi-Fi, Chmaytelli added.

[company]Alcatel-Lucent[/company] and Qualcomm are planning a trial for the second half of the year that would put Qualcomm’s new chipset into Alcatel-Lucent’s small cells. Plus we could see several carriers announce their own trials at MWC. The first LTE-U capable handset or modem, however, probably won’t make it into the market until 2016.

MWC-2015-ticker