Qualcomm Looks to Unite LTE-U, WiFi in Small Cells

At the Mobile World Congress next week, the chip maker plans to show that combining LTE-U with WiFi will increase the capacity of mobile networks.


Qualcomm will arrive at the Mobile World Congress next week with a chipset for small cells that company officials said will enable LTE to run in the 5GHz WiFi band.

Qualcomm has long been a proponent of extending LTE to the unlicensed spectrum—also known as LTE-U—as a way of giving mobile operators access to more spectrum as they deal with the growth in the number of devices that are connecting to the Internet, the rapid rise in the amount of wireless traffic and the rich data that is running over their networks.

By leveraging the LTE-U, mobile operators would be able to improve network performance and the experience of mobile device users. At the same time, mobile operators would be able to gain additional capacity by using the free unlicensed spectrum, rather than having to spend billions of dollars bidding for expensive LTE spectrum.

Qualcomm said the combination of LTE and WiFi means better performance than using either one by themselves, with an increased range and greater capacity. The 5GHz spectrum, supports 802.11a, n and ac, which leaves a lot of unused spectrum. While the range tends to be short, there is a lot of capacity.

Those who oppose letting mobile carriers use LTE in a WiFi spectrum worry that doing so could hamper the performance of a WiFi network, and that the large cellular operators could come to dominate the unused spectrum.

However, Qualcomm officials said testing at their facilities in San Diego has shown that both WiFi and LTE can peacefully coexist, and that a small cell with the chip maker's new chipset doesn't interfere with nearby WiFi networks. That is good news, according to the officials. Given the amount of growth in the number of mobile devices and the amount of mobile traffic, solutions like this are needed, according to Matt Grob, executive vice president at Qualcomm.

To keep up with the changing environment, "we need a combination of more spectrum, more efficient use of existing spectrum, and more small cells," Grob said in a statement. "Our job is to help the industry make the best use of all available spectrum, using both LTE and WiFi technologies, to increase capacity."

At the Mobile World Congress show, Qualcomm will show off the new FSM99xx family of systems-on-a-chip (SoCs) for small cells that will include integrated LTE-U capabilities. The SoCs will include not only 3G and 4G, but also will support Qualcomm's VIVE 802.11ac/n WiFi technology. The small cells will enable mobile operators to extend the range of the 5 GHz radio band.

The FSM99xx SoCs will be available in the second half of the year.

"Adding LTE-U technology to our small cell solutions will provide additional capacity for operators to augment existing mobile broadband and deliver seamless connectivity experiences," Neville Meijers, vice president of business development at Qualcomm, said in a statement.

Qualcomm on Feb. 26 also announced the FTR8950, a radio frequency (RF) transceiver that enables small cells to operate LTE-U in unlicensed 5GHz bands. The WTR3950 is a 28-nanometer RF solution for existing mobile devices that enables them to use LTE-U in the unlicensed spectrum.

Company officials said they were able to show that LTE and WiFi can exist at the same level without interfering with WiFi performance. Qualcomm engineers created a network at the company's San Diego headquarters that included multiple WiFi access points and LTE-U small cells operating in the unlicensed 5GHz band. The result was performance that was better than LTE or WiFi used individually and that coexisted well with WiFi, the company said.

At the conference, Qualcomm engineers will conduct demonstrations to prove the coexistence between WiFi and LTE-U.