In the last three months Vodafone customers used 400 petabytes of data on their mobile phones for the first time (enough to listen to Spotify non-stop from the Stone Age to the Space Age). In our European markets, this surge in data usage is driven by customers using on average twice as much 4G data as they did on 3G.
More data usage puts pressure on the licensed spectrum which Vodafone buys and so we are pleased to have become the first network in the world to successfully trial delivering LTE on a commercial network by aggregating both licensed and unlicensed bands. This technology will help us to further expand 4G capacity and improve the experience our customers have when using mobile broadband.
The trial took place in conjunction with Vodafone Netherlands on 17 November with the support of Ericsson and Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. a subsidiary of Qualcomm Incorporated. The test used an Ericsson RBS 6402 small cell and a test device powered by the Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ X12 modem. We achieved download speeds of over 274 Mbps by aggregating 20MHZ of licensed spectrum in the 1800 band and 20MHz on the unlicensed 5GHz band.
The unlicensed spectrum can be shared among different technologies (e.g. Wi-Fi). In the trial we were pleased that LTE achieved good co-existence with the existing Wi-Fi system.
Adding unlicensed spectrum to our existing licensed spectrum will enable us to use spectrum more efficiently and increase the capacity of Vodafone networks. The 5GHz unlicensed spectrum band, targeted using this License Assisted Access (LAA) technique, is less crowded than licensed bands, with up to 600MHz of spectrum available. That means our customers would be able to download data faster, a particular benefit when undertaking demanding online activity, such as watching videos or playing games.
Vodafone is committed to developing LAA within the 3GPP standards process and has no plan to roll out the technology in Europe until that is concluded. The standards process involves major operators, mobile network equipment manufacturers and mobile chipset manufacturers who are working to ensure fair share use among the multiple users and technologies (eg.Wi-Fi) that access the unlicensed bands. The LAA standards should be finalised in 3GPP Release13 in 2016.
Following this pioneering trial, Vodafone will continue to lead the telecom industry toward LAA commercialisation across the world. Vodafone is also closely working with Huawei on an additional live trial (which should be completed in 2015) and is encouraging other equipment/chipset vendors and various mobile device manufacturers to build a strong LAA ecosystem to benefit mobile customers.
Author: Dr. Li Lin is a specialist in Single RAN and TSO-Access. He is responsible for in-building solutions, LAA and LTE and Wi-Fi Aggregation for Vodafone Group. Li has 18 years’ professional experience with tier 1 telecommunication operators in both the East and West, covering network strategy and technologies. He holds a PhD degree from Cambridge University in ICT Convergence.
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