AT&T has now provided further information with regard to network improvements through the use of unlicensed spectrum, as the company looks to bolster its network in an increasingly competitive industry. To that end, the carrier has said that it plans to begin selling license assisted access (LAA) "equipment" soon and activation for the unlicensed spectrum such devices would use will take place later on this year. The company had previously revealed that it was looking into using LAA as an alternative to LTE-U and this move does seem to signal a big step in that direction. Although the two technologies share similarities in their use of unlicensed spectrum, LAA is in the process of being certified by the 3GPP as a standard for the wireless industry and offers some benefits over LTE-U.
Moving beyond the initial announcement, a representative from AT&T, Gordon Mansfield, has specified that the incoming LAA devices will be making use of band 46 in the 5 GHz range – a band specifically designed with that range of frequencies in mind. While Mansfield was not prepared to provide any details about exactly what kind of equipment the company will be releasing first, it stands to reason that a company like AT&T would be talking about mobile devices. However, it is also entirely possible that the equipment in question is something else, such as a mobile hotspot. Whatever the equipment turns out to be, Mansfield did mention that being able to tap into the unlicensed spectrum using LAA will bring several improvements. Most notably, AT&T will be able to offer better download speeds to its customers because of the added bandwidth. It is also known that the technology cuts down on interference because LAA equipment has "listen-then-talk" compatibility, which should usher in even more improvements in terms of reliability.
That said, the announcement does not mean that LTE-U and LAA technologies will not both end up being across AT&T's network. In fact, the FCC recently reported that it has begun certifying and authorizing LTE-U enabled devices, freeing up at least part of that unlicensed spectrum for mobile network use. Meanwhile, AT&T is also reported to have gained a decent-sized chunk of 2.4 GHz spectrum at the FCC incentive auction and is expected to have paid out around $2.4 billion once the final tally is in. With 5G looming just over the horizon and an expected influx of connected devices soon to come, AT&T and other carriers will likely need to consider and implement as many options as possible.