LTE's backers vow to KILL OFF WI-FI and BLUETOOTH

I am made all things to all men

Putting the boot into Wi-Fi

Wireless ethernet is an even tougher nut to crack. The popularity of the protocol is indisputable, as is the fact that Qualcomm’s patent holdings in Wi-Fi are quite minimal. Hence, a two-pronged approach is needed.

First up is functionality. With LTE Release 12 comes “Local IP Access”, or LIPA, which provides an LGW in the eNB, and we all know where that leads.

Just in case we don’t: LIPA is aimed at femtocells or similar — LTE base stations (or eNBs) provided by the network operator and plugged into one’s home broadband to ensure coverage. Normally data flowing into a femtocell goes to the network operator, for passing onto the internet, but if the femtocell has a Local Gateway (LGW) then it can ask permission to distribute data onto the local area network instead.

So, that lets an LTE device access the printer beside it, without routing traffic to the network operator and back (as would be required with cloud printing).

The second prong is to get some of that unlicensed radio spectrum that Wi-Fi uses so effectively. The plan here is called LAA (Licensed-Assisted Access) and involves setting up a second, parallel, LTE connection in an unlicensed band where Wi-Fi usually lives, and offloading data traffic onto it.

The 3GPP is aware that interference with existing Wi-Fi won’t be tolerated, so careful steps must be taken — for as long as people insist on using such an outdated technology.

The FCC wants to know where you are, and LTE is here to help

Location tracking is an area where satellite systems would seem to have gained an unassailable lead. When E911 was introduced — requiring US operators to locate any handset making an emergency call — various triangulation techniques were proposed, but the decreasing cost of GPS led to it being embedded in every phone.

These days, a clear view of the sky is all that’s necessary to know where one is. However, a clear sky isn’t always available, particularly indoors where an increasing number of “mobile” 911 calls are originating. The FCC wants to be able to locate a mobile, even when it’s indoors, and the 3GPP is seemingly happy to help.

With LTE Release 13 an operator will be able to locate any phone within 50 meters horizontally, and three meters vertically. That second parameter is important when the caller is in an apartment block, and something that GPS won’t ever be able to provide.

One standard to rule them all?

So, will every other radio standard bow down to the inevitable dominance of the LTE? Probably not. The 3GPP creates standards to let mobile operators sell location services, compete with TETRA networks, replace WLANs, and compete with Bluetooth, but having the standards is the easy part.

A decade ago the network operators had Wireless Village, a messaging platform which promised interoperability and enhanced functionality, but they failed to back it. Five years ago the operators had Joyn, but even Telefonica, one of Joyn's most adamant backers, deployed a competing (and incompatible) technology in the UK. The fact is, network alliances are eminently fissiparous; working together goes against the grain.

SMS was made interoperable because customers asked for it, but there is no clarion call for LTE printing, no-one demanding that LTE tell them when passing a Starbucks. Mobile operators are happy to talk about the Internet of Things, but only to fill their legacy networks. Sigfox, for its part, is innovating, by building national Internet of Things networks on proprietary standards, and it’s hard to imagine mobile network operators being sufficiently agile to compete.

LTE could indeed be the standard to do it all, but there's an enormous gulf between the documented specification and the commercial service, and operators will need a leap of faith to cross it. ®

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