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Oct 03 2018

5G-like speeds before 5G? Welcome to the land of LAA!

The anticipation is building. The promise of 5G for many consumers in the know is the ultra-fast speeds they will be able to enjoy. Being able to download a feature film to their smartphone in a couple of seconds or play a high-end multiplayer game on the move is appealing to many.

In today’s ‘I want it now’ culture, it’s tough to have to tell customers they must wait for 5G. Fortunately, there’s a way for operators to provide extra capacity today while they plan their 5G strategies.

It’s called Licensed Assisted Access, or LAA, which brings together licensed and unlicensed spectrum to create much higher capacity than can be offered on licensed spectrum alone. In fact, speeds of up to a blistering 1.45 Gbps are feasible.

More bands means higher speeds

Delivering such speeds ahead of 5G is not unrealistic, wishful thinking, as our recent demo for Verizon shows. For the first time in the US, the demo aggregated 4 x 20 MHz of unlicensed spectrum (3GPP’s maximum allowed bandwidth for LAA), together with two carriers of licensed spectrum, to hit a record speed of 1.45 Gbps.

All this was achieved by the Nokia AirScale base station over a live commercial network. Although LAA could be used with regular macro base stations, this particular demo used just one very compact AirScale Micro RRH.

This is a big deal for subscribers, who, with the right smartphones, will gain huge benefits from access to much higher speeds. But that’s not all. Because some of the traffic is offloaded to unlicensed spectrum, subscribers with legacy LTE devices will also benefit as capacity on the licensed bands is freed up.

Small cells can deliver big performance

An earlier trial in the US for T-Mobile achieved a speed of 1.3 Gbps by aggregating LTE carriers in licensed and unlicensed bands using five-component carrier aggregation.

Again, the tests did not rely on large, high capacity macro cells, instead using a Nokia AirScale solution called the Giga Micro Site that packs a big punch in a small bundle. As with the Verizon demo, this removes the need to find space for extra macro sites, which are growing increasingly hard to find.

Giga Micro Site allows operators to package up to three low power remote radio heads (LP-RRH), plus ancillaries such as antennas and transport, in a single compact enclosure that connects to the baseband. This allows easy deployment in urban hotspots where people with a high demand for speed congregate.

T-Mobile is using LAA to build a foundation for its own 5G network. Following the trial, the operator is deploying small cells that support LAA to improve capacity and build on the LTE-Advanced features it already has across the US.

Other trials have confirmed the kind of results that can be achieved. In the UK, Nokia used a FlexiZone Picocell with an operator’s licensed 5 MHz and unlicensed spectrum to achieve download speeds up to 349 Mbps.

Growing support from devices

More and more user devices are offering LAA connectivity too. The UK trial used handsets from two major vendors and many other companies are also getting in on the act. One particular module, intended for embedding in user devices, uses LTE-LAA and CBRS unlicensed bands and carrier aggregation to deliver 600 Mbps download speed.

Others offer mobile hotspot routers that support LAA.

LAA puts you on track for 5G, without the need to invest in the infrastructure or find sites for macro cells. It’s the solution for operators who want to offer their subscribers the future, today.

Share your thoughts on this topic by joining the Twitter discussion with @nokia and @nokianetworks using #smallcells #lte

About Rita Pallag

Meet Rita, a true marketeer and tech enthusiast. She lives an "always-on lifestyle" and is passionate about connecting with people in today’s modern digital landscape. Rita truly believes in the power of IoT and how it not only complements her everyday life, but is shaping the world. Connect with Rita on LinkedIn