Verizon became the second US operator to confirm a shift in its unlicensed spectrum focus to Licensed Assisted Access (LAA) technology despite earlier pursuit of LTE-Unlicensed (LTE-U).

During a tour of Verizon’s lab facilities in New Jersey, engineers and executives told Mobile World Live (MWL) while LTE-U is still being explored, it now holds a “less prominent role” in Verizon’s roadmap. Only one device on Verizon’s network currently has LTE-U capabilities, but LTE-U is not activated in the network, they said.

Echoing similar statements from T-Mobile executives, Verizon leaders said the shift had to do with regulatory control of the technology through standards and broader adoption of the LAA ecosystem.

The shift away from LTE-U marks a stark change of pace for T-Mobile and Verizon, which pushed hard for the timely release of LTE-U coexistence standards from the Wi-Fi Alliance in 2016. The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) certified the first LTE-U devices in February, and T-Mobile even launched LTE-U on its network in six cities in June before changing tack to focus on LAA.

AT&T is also pursuing LAA, most recently noting its use alongside carrier aggregation and MIMO to deliver speeds of 750Mb/s in San Francisco.

Deployment plans
In August, Verizon lit up LAA with carrier aggregation alongside 4×4 MIMO and 256QAM on its commercial network in Boca Raton, Florida to hit 953Mb/s in a real world demonstration. Device and additional field testing are currently underway, with network deployments set to get underway in earnest during 2018, executives indicated.

Mike Haberman, Verizon’s VP of network support, said LAA deployments will be concentrated in high traffic areas. The technology will more likely be implemented on in-building small cells rather than macro cells, he added.

Verizon’s work with LAA uses carrier aggregation across four bands: three unlicensed bands at 5GHz and one licensed band. An operator representative previously told MWL Verizon is looking ahead to five carrier aggregation to add another band of unlicensed to the mix.

On the network side of things, it appears Verizon is working with Ericsson, as an LAA unit on display in the lab carried the Swedish vendor’s Radio 2203 B2 B25 label.

In terms of user equipment, four devices with LAA capabilities are set to be released in the fourth quarter of this year and a number of existing devices can be LAA-enabled through a software upgraded, Haberman said.