Qualcomm announced its LTE-U chips, which use the unlicensed 5 GHz spectrum currently in use by Wi-Fi networks. LTE-U could become a threat to Wi-Fi networks if it ends up increasing the congestion in the available Wi-Fi spectrum, but Qualcomm said that the technology will actually work in harmony with the Wi-Fi signals.
Today, some carriers boost their cell towers with Wi-Fi, but Wi-Fi is not the same technology as LTE, so the transition between the two is not quite seamless. LTE-U is meant to solve this issue because it's simply LTE that works over another band, that is unlicensed rather than licensed, so everyone can use it, including carriers. Carriers could install many small LTE-U cells everywhere that would end up boosting the signal of their big towers that work on the licensed spectrum.
Another advantage for smartphone users is that they don't have to login to different Wi-Fi networks to benefit from a stronger signal. On the other hand, using data on LTE-U will likely count against your data bill. So far, only Verizon and T-Mobile have signed up for LTE-U deployments, but AT&T and Sprint will probably follow them soon, too.
The main motivation to use LTE-U for both Qualcomm and carriers is to address the explosion of mobile data demand over the next decade. The company said that forecasts put mobile data consumption at 1000x what it is today within 10 years, so new solutions and technologies will need to account for that growth.
“As the Internet enters a new phase of growth, in which more devices are connected and share richer data, there is a need to cost effectively address the challenges of a 1000x increase in mobile data traffic. To do this, we need a combination of more spectrum, more efficient use of existing spectrum, and more small cells," said Matt Grob, executive vice president, Qualcomm Technologies, Inc., and chief technology officer. “Our job is to help the industry make the best use of all available spectrum, using both LTE and Wi-Fi technologies, to increase capacity."
The first chipset family to integrate the LTE-U technology will be the FSM99xx, and it should be available in the second half of this year to mobile device makers. Consumers will be able to use LTE-U technology in their smartphones in the first half of 2016. Qualcomm also announced the FTR8950, which is the first RF solution for the small LTE-U cells that the carriers will be deploying. The company will offer more details at MWC next week.