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LTE-U on the horizon to replace pure Wi-Fi: report

By Tony Chan

A new report has identified a growth trend in operators choosing LTE services on unlicensed spectrum bands over today’s pure Wi-Fi architecture. The report by Mobile Experts LLC predicts a “decisive transition” from Wi-Fi to unlicensed services tied to LTE in various ways. 

According to the researchers, mobile operators are now eying emerging LTE-based architectures to combat capacity and coverage challenges. These include licensed assisted access, LTE/Wi-Fi aggregation, LTE on unlicensed bands (LTE-U) and something called LTE WLAN radio level integration with IPSec Tunnel, dubbed LWIP,

“In the past, mobile operators have invested in significant Wi-Fi networks. In the future, we expect even more investment in the unlicensed bands, but it will be redirected toward LAA, LWA, and LWIP,” explained Mobile Experts senior analyst Kyung Mun.

“Some of the new investment will be coupled to small cells, and multiple business models will be involved as enterprises, carriers, and OTT players will be seeking to capture the end user. The competition for unlicensed spectrum use via WI-Fi or LTE-U is a reflection of the competitive dynamics of the different types of operators.”

The trend is consistent with the proliferation of data traffic on the unlicensed bands. “About 80% of mobile data is actually carried over Wi-Fi today, and we expect at least 90% of mobile data to be carried over unlicensed bands in 2020. Unlicensed data traffic tied to LTE control channels will greatly improve on ease of use, and will be far more reliable than Wi-Fi services,” said Mobile Experts principal analyst Joe Madden who added: “The reason for investment is simple: these hybrid combinations of LTE and unlicensed wireless can achieve the low cost of Wi-Fi, and the easy dependability of LTE.”

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