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T-Mobile bolsters speeds with unlicensed LTE rollout


T-Mobile is launching support for unlicensed spectrum to bolster download speeds in smartphones and tablets on its network.

T-Mobile has announced the first rollout of its unlicensed LTE strategy in the U.S., which lets carriers attach themselves to spectrum in the 5GHz range that is traditionally used for Wi-Fi signals.

T-Mobile is the first national wireless provider to make LTE-U available to customers. LTE-U uses publicly available 5 GHz airwaves to bolster existing LTE capacity and give a speed boost to what is already America’s fastest, most advanced 4G LTE network. T-Mobile LTE-U is live in select locations in Bellevue, WA; Brooklyn, NY; Dearborn, MI; Las Vegas, NV; Richardson, TX; and Simi Valley, CA, with more rolling out later this year.

The idea behind LTE-U is quite simple: the spectrum used by Wi-Fi standards, typically 2.4GHz and 5GHz, are not “controlled” the same way that cellular airwaves are overseen by the FCC, since companies don’t have to purchase access to them. That leaves practically any company or product to claim a stake in those signals, including cellular companies after the FCC certified LTE-U equipment back in February.

T-Mobile has been testing LTE-U for some time, using it to augment, not replace, existing licensed bands. LTE-U bands combine with licensed spectrum in compatible phones to seamlessly increase throughput using carrier aggregation.

Another standard, License Assisted Access, is another form of the LTE-Advanced standard technically under the auspices of LTE-U, but uses a much more rigid set of guidelines to achieve greater speeds. LAA is still in testing, and even T-Mobile isn’t ready to issue wide support for the burgeoning standard just yet, but the potential implications are huge given that, according to Ericsson, there are hundreds of megahertz of unused, unlicensed 5GHz spectrum that, with the use of small cells and other precise equipment, can increase speeds over 150Mbps. T-Mobile claims that in its initial public tests of LAA in the Los Angeles area, it “showed blazing 741 Mbps download speeds using 80 MHz of aggregated spectrum.”

Expect to hear more from T-Mobile about its LTE-U and LAA strategies in the coming months — especially in relation to how far behind AT&T and Verizon are in achieving the same thing.

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