Workshop review: Small Cells and License Exempt Spectrum: Carrier Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi Calling and LAA

Small Cells World 2015 and Small Cell Forum ad hoc plenary took place in London last week. Once again, experts came together to share knowledge across small cell, Wi-Fi, and backhaul technologies.

However, some of the strongest technical discussion occurred during the annual Small Cell Forum Friday workshop – this year titled Small Cells and License Exempt Spectrum: Carrier Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi Calling and LAA. Those that attended were treated to expert debate and presentation from industry leaders including Caroline Gabriel, Mark Grayson, Monica Paolini, and Simon Saunders. It was evident from the session that moving forward solving the HetNet will drive the Small Cell Forum activities as small cell deployments expand globally.

Small cell deployments have entered the period of continued growth with the industry moving towards the integrated HetNet. With this increase in densification, integration of all the available technologies is critical to support the significant growth of IP traffic globally. LTE Unlicensed supports a high spectral efficiency with solid device management and performance under traffic load. Operators will have a choice of technologies between LAA and LWA. LAA uses carrier aggregation principles with the Licensed and the unlicensed spectrum bands both operating LTE to increase the overall bandwidth of the offered service where as LWA integrates the Licensed LTE service with legacy Wi-Fi services to aggregate the offered bandwidth. Some of the most recent efforts in the industry have been to ensure fair operation of the LAA technology in the presence of legacy Wi-Fi service through listen-before-talk functionality.  Operators are driving towards these abilities to increase the bandwidth and overall performance to cellular subscribers, but not with performance impact to Wi-Fi subscribers.

The productive debate over the merits of LAA, LWA, and general Wi-Fi service associated with Small Cells is expected to produce significant discussion and industry direction over the next few Small Cell Forum plenary sessions, starting with the meeting in September in Rome.  

While unlicensed spectrum is mainly utilized for Wi-Fi access today, cellular mobility use is expected to support subscriber performance amid the exponential traffic growth. Supporting this ever increasing traffic demand requires efficient operation with all available spectrum.  With small cells deployments rapidly expanding, there is no better opportunity to set the industry direction than with participation in the Small Cell Forum.