Verizon announces LTE-U trials with SpiderCloud

Operator will use SpiderCloud enterprise small cells in trials of the controversial LTE-U technology. A commercial product is expected by early 2017.

SpiderCloud E-RANEnterprise wireless network provider Spidercloud Wireless has said Verizon will begin trials of LTE-U technology using its small cells in the summer of this year. The small cells vendor said it will have a commercialised 5GHz LTE-U offer available by early 2017.

Mike Gallagher, CEO of SpiderCloud, said that the company’s E-RAN architecture – in which individual small cells each with their own baseband are controlled by a services node – would lend itself well to the split second timing required for ensuring LTE-U can act “fairly” in unlicensed spectrum. The gist is that because SpiderCloud originally set up its cellular nodes to act more like WiFi than traditional small cells, they will be well-suited to LTE-U.

In contrast, he said, solutions such as Ericsson’s Radio Dot System and Huawei’s Lampsite system – that distribute baseband capacity over fibre to remote radio nodes – will not be able to act with the required level of timing.

Gallagher said that both the way that Spidercloud has built its product and its architecture to mimic WiFi means it can deliver LTE-U in the most efficient and least disruptive way.

“Like WiFi, we have a baseband in our Access Points and they already do active sensing, so we are uniquely able to listen before we insert a session into channel. Others cannot do this because they have a centralised baseband, so by the time it [the remote baseband] listens, it will be too late – it will not be able to change or insert a session into the channel. Architecturally we can deliver that.”

Ericsson would likely not agree with that assessment as the Radio Dot System is one of the products, along with its 6402 picocell, to which it says it is adding LAA support. (LAA is the pending 3GPP specification of LTE in unlicensed bands that imposes tighter Listen-Before-Talk requirements on the LTE radio than LTE-U.) Gallagher said he could not comment on other vendors’ claims but said, of the Radio Dot System LAA, “I look forward to seeing that commercially.”

In November 2015 Vodafone, Ericsson and Qualcomm said they had trialled LAA on the picocell product, with no mention at that time of the Radio Dot System.

The SpiderCloud trial is the latest recent LTE-U announcement from Verizon, with the operator announcing in late January that it had gained temporary authority from the FCC to conduct LTE-U trials, conducted with Qualcomm, at two of its sites in Oklahoma and North Carolina.

In an interview with Network World in late January, Patrick Walsh, the company’s assistant vice president for federal regulatory affairs, said that Verizon was planning a limited trial deployment late this year. “The initial deployment will be very limited, the only product that we have right now is an in-building enterprise solution,” Walsh said, which was clearly a reference to the Spidercloud trial announced today. Verizon is an existing customer of SpiderCloud, already using the company’s solutions as an option for providing large scale in-building enterprise wireless coverage.

Although there are concerns over LTE-U’s ability to “play nice” with WiFi in unlicensed spectrum, SpiderCloud’s Gallagher told TMN that he saw LTE-U as complementary, not disruptive, to WiFi.

“It’s 100% complementary. Enterprises have corporate WiFi over which they run specific applications and they will continue to do that and grow. LTE-U gives a carrier the ability to take advantage of unlicensed spectrum for more spectrum and bandwidth for additional services. There’s an appetite for faster speeds and, in certain markets, more spectrum. This is a very interesting way to solve that problem.”

Gallagher added that he saw most of the political issues with LTE-U affecting usage in 3.5GHz rather than 5GHz, which he described as “not as controversial”. He added that although LAA is a little further out in terms of specification finalisation, he is confident the company would be able to upgrade to LAA in software as well as it can for LTE-U.