Alcatel-Lucent Looks to Combine WiFi, LTE

The company's Wireless Unified Networks initiative will improve mobile network performance by blending WiFi and cellular networks.

mobile networks

Alcatel-Lucent wants to make it easier for network operators to leverage both cellular and WiFi technologies to increase bandwidth and improve the user experience.

At Mobile World Congress 2015 (MWC) this week, Alcatel-Lucent officials unveiled the company's Wireless Unified Networks initiative that essentially brings together stand-alone WiFi and cellular networks into a unified single network, a move that will enable service providers and network professionals to better address the growing demand for a better and more consistent mobile experience for everything from voice to video, according to company officials.

It's the latest example of the industry looking for ways to leverage both cellular and WiFi networks as more mobile devices become connected, and the mobile traffic becomes more bandwidth hungry. Cellular operators have increasingly been looking to WiFi networks for offloading some of the traffic, and users have had the ability to manually switch between cellular and WiFi.

Now, service providers are looking at other options, like LTE-U, enabling LTE networks to run on the unlicensed spectrum normally used by WiFi networks. Alcatel-Lucent is a proponent of LTE-U, but officials also see the new Wireless Unified Networks strategy as another path to bringing cellular and WiFi more closely together.

"As an industry, we have historically treated cellular and WiFi as unique technologies," Mike Schabel, vice president of small cells for Alcatel-Lucent, said in a statement. "For example, the industry debates the merits of Voice/Data over WiFi versus Voice/Data over LTE. From a consumer perspective, it should simply be just wireless."

Through the Wireless Unified Networks effort, Alcatel-Lucent is using two technologies to bring cellular and WiFi more closely together. The WiFi boost technology leverages cellular to improve the performance of WiFi networks, while cellular boost uses unlicensed spectrum to enhance cellular performance.

The technologies can be either used independently or at the same time. The WiFi boost combines the downlink capabilities of WiFi with the uplink of cellular, according to company officials. To leverage WiFi boost, end-user devices that are capable of both cellular and WiFi transmission need an update to their operating systems. In addition, software updates are needed to the network to blend the WiFi and cellular access networks to create a unified network.

Alcatel-Lucent officials said that in typical homes, WiFi boost can grow download speeds by up to 70 percent and increase upload speeds, as well. It also doubles the WiFi range.

Alcatel-Lucent officials said the company will put WiFi boost into trial test in the second quarter, and that general availability of the technology will come in the second half of the year.

In addition, Alcatel-Lucent also is further enhancing performance by including a cellular downlink to the WiFi downlink of WiFi boost, which officials said is in line with LTE WiFi Aggregation (LWA), a standard being developed by the IEEE. Adding the cellular downlink also can more than double the download speeds of stand-alone networks, they said.