IHS Markit Report Analyzes the LTE-U Market Opportunity

By Stéphane Téral, senior research director, mobile infrastructure and carrier economics, IHS Markit, and Richard Webb, research director, mobile backhaul and small cells, IHS Markit

IHS Markit’s LTE-U Market Development Report analyzes the market opportunity for LTE-U, including license assisted access (LAA), LTE-WLAN aggregation (LWA), LTE WLAN integration with IPSec tunnel (LWIP) and MulteFire. Covered in the report are the unabated development of LTE-U spectrum and the options for combining Wi-Fi and LTE. The report also tracks service provider trials and deployments.

  • Long Term Evolution–Unlicensed (LTE-U) report addresses key technologies and provides  in-depth analysis on market and technology trends
  • The unabated need for capacity means unlicensed spectrum must be harnessed to support LTE services and, later, 5G
  • Whether LTE and Wi-Fi can work together in harmony is yet to be determined

The technologies covered in the report for leveraging licensed and unlicensed spectrum include:

  • LTE-U (3GPP Release 10) – Aggregation of frequency division duplex (FDD) and time division duplex (TDD) licensed carriers with unlicensed carriers, including Wi-Fi; 5G is the initial target
  • License assisted access (LAA) – LTE-U that meets “listen before talk” (LBT) regulations and minimum bandwidth occupancy; the 3GPP created Release 13 because LTE-U Release 10 cannot be adopted in Japan and Europe
  • LTE-WLAN aggregation (LWA) – Aggregation of a new or existing Wi-Fi link (2.4GHz and 5GHz) with a licensed LTE carrier
  • LTE WLAN integration with IPSec tunnel (LWIP) – A 3GPP Release 13 feature that enables Wi-Fi to be more optimally integrated into an LTE access network
  • MulteFire – Combines the high performance of LTE with the deployment simplicity of Wi-Fi

It’s a big jungle out there, and the chief goal of combining licensed and unlicensed spectrum is to boost throughput and enhance user experience. There is a LTE spectrum crunch and unlicensed spectrum is critical to the mass deployment of LTE-Advanced Pro (LTE-A Pro) services. In fact, only one in four carriers has enough LTE spectrum to deploy LTE-A Pro services!

Implications for End-User Devices

Adoption could be challenged by smartphone design implications. LTE-U and LAA-capable smartphones will require additional radio frequency (RF) componentry. The RF transceiver will need to be redesigned to support the new unlicensed spectrum and all the various permutations of carrier aggregation with the anchor licensed LTE frequencies.

And in terms of vendor readiness, only one vendor has announced chipsets that support LTE-U and/or LAA. Pending the successful rollout of the initial LTE-U networks in the U.S. and Korea, other LTE chipset makers are anticipated to support LTE-U and LAA in their upcoming flagship chipsets.

Everybody Loves Wi-Fi!

Wi-Fi has very long and powerful legs. But what about legacy Wi-Fi networks? LWIP is the answer: LTE plus Wi-Fi equals super enhanced mobile broadband. The unabated need for capacity means unlicensed spectrum must be harnessed to support LTE services and, later, 5G. Multiple network operators (MNOs) have several ways to use unlicensed spectrum to enhance LTE performance: carrier versus link aggregation; and the neutral host model versus carrier owned. Different LTE-U options could enhance the operational model and overall business case for small cells as part of a network densification strategy.

However, the use of unlicensed spectrum by LTE is not without controversy. Wi-Fi is contested spectrum, so there is the potential for friction. In order for fair coexistence, rules are needed or it could delay widespread implementation. And standards are still being finalized and could give the market and injection of activity.

Mobile broadband needs LTE and Wi-Fi, but can they play well together? Stay tuned.

For More Information

For information about purchasing this report, contact the sales department at IHS Markit in the Americas at (844) 301-7334 or [email protected]; in Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) at +44 1344 328 300 or [email protected]; or Asia-Pacific (APAC) at +604 291 3600 or [email protected]

Qualcomm is an advocate of LTE-U:  

“LTE in unlicensed 5GHz spectrum is ideal for new small cell deployments and offers higher capacity and coverage and enhanced user experience in a unified LTE network.”