Ericsson pushes plan to send wireless apps over unlicensed 5GHz spectrum

Picocell device that uses Licensed Assisted Access and costs $2,000 is expected later in 2015

Ericsson's RBS 6402 Indoor Picocell

Ericsson's RBS 6402 Indoor Picocell is expected to cost about $2,000 and be available late this year.

Credit: Ericsson

Ericsson announced wireless technology today at International CES that's designed to improve coverage and speed for bandwidth-hungry smartphone applications such as streaming video.

Ericsson is creating a small cellular device that will cost about $2,000 when available later this year that relies on software called Licensed Assisted Access. LAA is part of an emerging specification of the international 3GPP standards body that's designed to help wireless carriers offer greater potential for LTE-Advanced networks now being rolled out around the world.

LAA allows wireless network traffic to work over both licensed and unlicensed spectrum, thereby giving carriers greater flexibility in improving application performance for smartphone users.

LAA will be incorporated in the Ericsson device, called the RBS 6402 Indoor Picocell. It's expected to be available in late 2015 for carriers and others. The 6402 is about the size of a tablet computer and is designed for use in smaller buildings of 50,000 square feet or smaller to improve wireless coverage. Ericsson is also adding LAA to its existing Radio Dot System for medium and large buildings.

LAA technology must also be incorporated into smartphones to be effective; Ericsson officials said smartphones with LAA capability should also appear by the end of 2015.

In a typical example of how LAA will work, a worker using a smartphone to watch streaming video who walks into a building while on a licensed outdoor cellular network (perhaps using 700 MHz spectrum) will have no trouble keeping the video stream once indoors. Once indoors, the user's video stream will be automatically connected to the 6402 device, which will allow the stream to continue over an unlicensed 5GHz band.

The 5GHz spectrum is often used by Wi-Fi networks inside of buildings, but the LAA technology will automatically share traffic being switched from the cellular network with users already on the Wi-Fi network.

"You as a smartphone user might have a video conference under way and may want to access it in a seamless and unimpeded way; when you enter an LAA building with added spectrum and added end user speed, you will do nothing and it will be available to you," said Eric Parsons, head of Ericsson's mobile broadband radio business unit.

An LAA indoor connection to a smartphone could initially use only 4% of the 5GHz band and potentially provide a 150Mbps speed increase to smartphone users, Ericsson said. By adding additional blocks of 4% of the 5GHz spectrum, speeds would increase even more.

LTE wireless is often described as 4G -- or Fourth Generation -- wireless, while Parsons said that LAA is a 4.5G technology, halfway on the path to 5G, which is expected to greatly expand speeds by about 2020. LAA brings both licensed and unlicensed spectrum together for a harmonized connection for the first time, he said.

Even though 5G wireless is not a recognized specification of any technology authority, networking vendors are working to boost over-the-air speeds to 5Gbps, five times faster than Google Fiber's 1Gbps wired connections and more than 200 times faster than many of today's standard LTE connections, which can range from 5Mbps up to 100Mbps.

Ericsson said it ran a test last summer that achieved a 5Gbps wireless connection. Many other vendors such as Huawei, ZTE, Cisco and Qualcomm are working on 5G technologies.

Ericsson said it believes it will be the first to market with a commercial launch of an LAA device this year. LAA, sometimes referred to as "unlicensed LTE at 5 GHz" will reportedly be used by T-Mobile, possibly in 2015, according to a report from Dec. 17 by Fierce Wireless.

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