Everyone wants faster LTE data, and carriers want to give it to them (and protect and expand their subscriber base at the same time). T-Mobile's latest attempt to expand its network is what it's calling "LTE-U" in a new press release. After the FCC certified compatible network hardware from Nokia and Ericsson, T-Mobile announced that it will be rolling out support for the high-frequency network additions in the spring of this year.

LTE-U presumably stands for "unlicensed," wherein network operators use currently unassigned portions of the 5GHz spectrum to augment their wider LTE networks. The system uses the first 20MHz of the 5GHz band, far higher in frequency than standard LTE signals, to offer more bandwidth in the data connection. Currently 5GHz is mostly reserved for short-range communications like high-speed Wi-Fi, but the technology in development by Nokia and Ericsson identifies and opens up small, unused portions of the spectrum to boost connections to smartphones and other mobile devices at up to gigabit speeds. It's a technique that's been in testing for some time - T-Mobile Germany (a related but separate company to the American carrier) was the first to run a trial program of the technique.

The idea is still fairly new, with only a small amount of consumer devices made having support for data connections on these ultra-high frequencies. Complex processing is needed to make sure that high-speed LTE on this system doesn't interfere with existing wireless electronics on the 5GHz band. But if your phone is new enough, it might already support LTE-U, at least on the hardware level: Qualcomm's X16 LTE modem (included on the Snapdragon 820 chip and newer designs, in phones like the Galaxy S7/S7 Edge, LG V20, and Google Pixel, among others) includes preliminary support for data connections on unlicensed high-frequency bands. Existing T-Mobile phones will probably need a software update to enable this functionality.

LTE-U or "LAA" will make the biggest difference in congested urban environments - the high-frequency band won't have especially good penetration into rural areas. But it could decongest crowded city LTE networks while speeding up compatible phone connections at the same time. Expect to see "LTE-U" capability highlighted on new T-Mobile-branded phones released after Mobile World Congress later this month.

Press Release

Bellevue, Wash. — February 22, 2017— Building on its track-record of launching advanced technologies first, T-Mobile (NASDAQ: TMUS) today announced the Un-carrier is now deploying LTE-U technology in its LTE network, following today’s FCC certification of equipment from strategic partners Ericsson and Nokia. This move paves the way for the Un-carrier to introduce new network capabilities and devices for consumers this spring.
With LTE-U, starting this spring, T-Mobile customers will be able to tap into the first 20 MHz of underutilized unlicensed spectrum on the 5GHz band and use it for additional LTE capacity. T-Mobile already has more capacity per subscriber than AT&T and Verizon, and the addition of LTE-U will only extend that lead and further improve the Un-carrier’s blazing-fast speeds. And, LTE-U will make it possible for T-Mobile to bring its forthcoming Gigabit LTE to more places across the country.
"T-Mobile’s network is second to none, with more capacity per customer than the Duopoly … and LTE-U will only accelerate our lead,” said Neville Ray, CTO at T-Mobile. “T-Mobile’s built a track record of introducing new innovations first, including deploying more LTE Advanced technologies than anyone in the US. All that innovation means one thing – a fantastic customer experience. That’s why T-Mobile customers are the most satisfied in US wireless!”
Today’s FCC certification follows more than three years of extensive research, development and testing to ensure LTE-U works well alongside Wi-Fi technologies. Starting in December 2016, T-Mobile was already testing LTE-U equipment as part of early field trials, so the Un-carrier has been ready to hit the ground running to bring this new technology to customers!
“We continue to push the boundaries of bringing new technologies in the unlicensed arena. Nokia is committed to working alongside T-Mobile to bring new solutions to market,” Ricky Corker, Nokia EVP and Head of North America said. “We stand ready to enhance T-Mobile’s leadership proposition and show what the future of mobile communications can be for Un-carrier customers."
LTE-U devices and equipment intelligently tap into and share underutilized unlicensed spectrum without affecting other users on the same band, including those using conventional Wi-Fi. LTE-U constantly seeks the least utilized channels to maximize efficiency and performance for everyone. As demand on the Wi-Fi network increases, LTE-U backs off, and as Wi-Fi demand wanes, customers can tap into that unused capacity for LTE.
“Ericsson welcomes the FCC's approval of LTE-U. The use of this technology will bring an even better customer experience while using LTE,” said Glenn Laxdal, Head of Network Products, Ericsson North America. “Ericsson has been working in close collaboration with our partners to ensure that this technology will work in harmony with Wi-Fi, utilizing unlicensed spectrum in an optimal way."
T-Mobile’s LTE network is recognized as America’s fastest according to multiple independent third-party studies (Speedtest.net, Twin Prime, the FCC and OpenSignal) These tests are also based on billions of real-time, crowd-sourced tests by millions of real customers, not paid consultants, using their own devices where they live, work and play.
Learn more about T-Mobile’s unrelenting work in delivering a bigger, better network to its customers here. Or, for more information on T-Mobile’s network, visit www.t-mobile.com/coverage.

Image source: Mike Mozart/Flickr