The second biggest wireless carrier in America is fully confident that it did the right thing in deciding to prioritize License Assisted Access (LAA) over LTE Unlicensed (LTE-U) technology. Although these forms of LTE wireless technology are expected to be made commercially available at the same time, some are saying that LAA would take lesser time to hit the market as compared to LTE-U.
As explained by Gordon Mansfield, the vice president of RAN and Device Design at AT&T, the mobile operator did consider LTE-U very seriously, even going as far as starting to conduct some early trials with the LTE-U ecosystem. The standards based LAA, however, has shown some advanced progress, and it helps that the tech comes with thorough listen before talk capabilities aligned with established benchmarks.
Just this week, AT&T had revealed that it was launching its 5G Evolution offering in the city of Indianapolis. The wireless carrier’s 5G Evolution happens to take full advantage of LAA, a wireless tech that will surely feature significantly in achieving peak connection speeds of up to 1 gbps (theoretically) at selected small cell sites this year.
As for LTE-U, the technology seems to be more favored by other members of the Big Four, particularly Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile. Unlike LAA, LTE-U was developed without aligning to a rigid set of standards. Less than a month ago, T-Mobile had completed the first LTE-U launch in the United States mobile market, although in select areas only. T-Mobile is also actually planning to roll out LAA, too. Both LAA and LTE-U are poised to start gaining some traction this year, with Samsung’s current flagship devices, the Galaxy S8 and the Galaxy S8 Plus, considered the first ever handsets to be compatible with the two LTE wireless technologies.
For AT&T, going for LAA made sense because it felt that most of the industry will be leaning towards this standards based format. As for LTE-U, it will eventually get there, too, as long its proponents make an effort to at least align somewhat with what the majority is doing. According to AT&T’s Mansfield, right now LAA appears to have more capabilities than LTE-U, and that has no doubt factored also in the carrier’s decision to choose LAA first over LTE-U.
AT&T is currently busy doing trials for LAA and 4 carrier aggregation. On the subject of device compatibility, the thinking is that existing handsets will either receive software updates to become compatible, or there will new phones that will be released that come with support for 4 carrier aggregation.
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