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Future-proofing the 4G Infrastructure: LAA-LTE

The deployment and uptake of LTE (Long Term Evolution, commonly known as 4G), operating on various licensed spectrums, has been growing rapidly around the world.  However, as demand increases for more The deployment and uptake of LTE (Long Term Evolution, commonly known as 4G), operating on various licensed spectrums, has been growing rapidly around the world.  However, as demand increases for more network speed and capacity, operators are looking for new ways to future-proof existing LTE infrastructure.  One such proposal is to use the unlicensed parts of the spectrum within which Wi-Fi technology operates to boost LTE's spectral efficiency and reliability.  This technology is being referred to as Licence Assisted Access ("LAA-LTE").

LAA-LTE was first proposed in December 2013 and has been debated by members of the international standards group 3rd Generation Partnership Project ("3GPP") on several occasions throughout the year.  While approved in principle, progress of LAA-LTE is slow because of concerns from some 3GPP members, typically from those with significant investments in Wi-Fi hotspot infrastructure, about the interplay between Wi-Fi and LTE in the unlicensed bands.  Co-existence issues and the potential for leakage into neighbouring bands will also need to be considered.

Whilst LAA-LTE is in its infancy and remains in debate between 3GPP members, telecoms counsel should make themselves aware of this technology as it may, in particular, bring with it regulatory requirements arising from operation in the unlicensed spectrum throughout the world (such as the use of dynamic frequency selection and transmission power control).  Depending on the outcome of debates concerning LAA-LTE's coexistence with Wi-Fi, potentially contentious considerations may also arise over spectrum sharing.

Details of the LAA study can be found on the 3GPP website, and the study item here.

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