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LTE & Wi-Fi: Options for

Uniting Them for a Better

User Experience
Most national governments consider the radio bands of greatest interest today when it comes to wireless
spectrum a valuable national resource and broadband:
heavily regulate its commercial use. The 2.4 GHz band (λ ≈ 12 cm) has 83 MHz between
Governments typically auction off licenses for 2.400 and 2.483 GHz. This band is almost
the right to transmit over a portion of the uniformly available worldwide and is heavily used
spectrum, which can be very expensive. by consumer devices.
The 5 GHz band (λ ≈ 5½ cm) has 775 MHz between
The traditional business model for cellular 5.150 and 5.925 GHz. This band is gaining
carriers is based on access to this licensed popularity in consumer devices—mostly in
spectrum. They license slices of spectrum from premium and high-end devices for now—but its
the local regulator and sell their customers allocation is fragmented and less uniform across
access to it. After decades of parallel evolution countries.
on the two sides of the Atlantic through The 60 GHz band (λ ≈ ½ cm) has 9,000 MHz
multiple generations of technologies, the between 57 and 66 GHz. This band is relatively new
business has coalesced worldwide around a and promising, though the laws of physics put some
single 4th generation (4G) radio technology limitations on the ways it can be used.
standard called Long Term Evolution,
commonly referred to as LTE. The dominant wireless broadband technology in these
three bands is Wi-Fi, which is based on the IEEE 802.11
However, if a wireless device promises to “play wireless LAN standard. Wireless LAN technology is now
nice,” most regulators will allow it to transmit heavily used for private networks in homes as well as in
on a slice of spectrum set aside for that the workplace. Then there is public Wi-Fi, which is
purpose: the license-exempt, license-free or common in cafés, restaurants, airports, hotels, shopping
simply unlicensed bands. Playing nice means malls, and increasingly on trains and planes. Sometimes
adhering to certain rules that will be verified it is complimentary, and sometimes we have to pay for it.
when the device is certified. The rules are In fact, in several small, densely populated developed
derived from basic human civility: nations such as Singapore, Wi-Fi can be found almost
I will not shout too loudly—there is a anywhere.
limitation on transmit power, with the
Effective Isotropic Radiated Power (EIRP) While cellular carriers have been good at providing
limited to anything between 4W (36 dBm) coverage—especially outdoors—they face both coverage
to 25 mW (14 dBm). and capacity challenges as the demand for broadband
I will share the resource, not monopolize internet access grows.
it—these are rules about the duty cycle, the There can be a coverage problem at the network’s
maximum duration of transmit bursts, edge, in locations where installing radio
minimum duration of silence after infrastructure, such as towers, cannot be justified
transmission, and an obligation to “listen financially.
before talk (LBT).” There is a coverage problem indoors, because the
I will yield to users who have been deemed materials a building is made of—especially stone,
by society to be serving a higher need than concrete, steel and metallized sun-control
I have—as we would pull over to give way film—can block radio signals to and from the
to a fire engine or ambulance, unlicensed carrier’s cell tower outdoors.
spectrum users must move away from a There can be a capacity problem in “hotspots”
frequency if they detect equipment like where many people congregate. This isn’t a
airport weather radar operating on it. problem if the carrier has enough licensed
spectrum to address this demand. However,
While the exact situation varies by country, spectrum licenses are expensive, and budgeting
generally speaking there are three unlicensed spectrum for the capacity demands of hotspots
would leave most of that spectrum unused