*This Editor’s Note will appear in the March/April Edition of WDD.
There’s an unlicensed revolution well underway in wireless. With an eye toward 5G, many carriers across the globe are starting to turn to unlicensed technologies like Licensed Assisted Access (LAA) and LTE-Unlicensed (LTE-U) for carrier aggregation to extend both their reach and ability to offer gigabit speeds in more places.
But before we get in too deep, let me break it down a little further in the event that I’ve completely lost you. This is a little oversimplified, but there are generally two types of spectrum in wireless: licensed and unlicensed.
Traditionally, major wireless carriers have operated on spectrum licensed to them by the FCC, which means they have dedicated airwaves to transmit data. Of note here is that licensed spectrum also comes with a slew of technical regulations from the FCC, including power limits. But other wireless technologies – hello, Starbucks WiFi! – operate on unlicensed spectrum, which means they’re subject to interference from other users on a shared band (generally the 5 GHz band in the U.S.). Now, wireless carriers are seeking to jump on that shared unlicensed band to enhance their own coverage and capacity through the use of LAA and LTE-U. Those two technologies allow carriers to utilize 4G LTE radio communications in unlicensed spectrum using a listen-before-talk (LBT) protocol to coexist with other WiFi devices on the same band.
Still with me? Good.
With that out of the way, let’s talk test and measure. In order to accommodate the unlicensed spectrum, the way in which engineers select test solutions is
expected going to change. For instance, standard test tools must be redesigned with advanced capabilities that allow for testing multi-technology devices.
Taking the evolving standards and test requirements into consideration, engineers must be able to easily create and execute customized test cases, no matter what the device. To learn more about just how critical testing is to ensure a successful rollout of unlicensed spectrum, read our March/April 2017 cover story “Testing Critical In Successful Rollout Of Unlicensed Spectrum Usage.” You’ll find that in order for the technology to be fruitful and meet the needs of carriers and consumer alike, device and network performance must meet a much higher standard.
These changes that are being bestowed on the unlicensed spectrum strongly attest to the degree of change that’s sweeping through the wireless industry. We’ll have to wait and see to what degree these modifications affect usage and efficiency, but the requirements of these higher standards strongly indicate that we’re in the midst of seeing the next evolutionary step in spectrum technology.
Until next time,