Mobile carriers have recently taken the spotlight by resurrecting the once thought dead “unlimited” subscription plan. Now T-Mobile is making a big splash again, but in a different way. It has announced an upcoming addition to its service that promises to significantly improve the quality and reliability of its Internet service, bringing the carrier closer to providing gigabit LTE speeds. It will, however, accomplish this by utilizing the rather controversial LTE-U spectrum that has divided the tech community for quite some time.
LTE-U is shorthand for LTE for unlicensed spectrum. “Unlicensed”, however, doesn’t mean “unused”. The 5 GHz band that this spectrum occupies is actually used by a variety of wireless technologies, including but not limited to Wi-Fi. For years, proponents and opponents of LTE-U have been arguing about how LTE-U can adversely affect the quality of Wi-Fi networks in its attempt to improve LTE quality.
The arguments got so heated that the FCC eventually had to mediate and instruct both sides to come up with a way for LTE-U and Wi-Fi to peacefully coexist. Various tests were conducted and arguments continued. But at the end of the day, the FCC certified the first ever LTE-U devices, effectively putting its stamp of approval on the network technology.
T-Mobile’s LTE-U will only make use of the first 20 MHz of that 5 GHz spectrum. It also promises to give way to Wi-Fi as the need arises. When Wi-Fi demand increases, LTE-U will “back off”. This ensures that Wi-Fi usage still has the highest priority on the unlicensed spectrum.
T-Mobile plans to make the new network capabilities available this spring. Naturally, the new LTE-U technology will require LTE-U capable devices as well. For that, it has the support of the likes of Nokia, Ericsson, and Qualcomm, who have similarly been pushing for LTE-U approval.