Nokia Networks, in partnership with T-Mobile US, said it’s developing a “pre-standards” licensed assisted access (LAA) solution – otherwise known as LTE-U – that allows LTE to exploit unlicensed spectrum in the 5GHz frequency band (commonly used for Wi-Fi).

T-Mobile US is an early LAA enthusiast, seeing it as a way to expand LTE coverage and so catch up with AT&T and Verizon Wireless in terms of 4G footprint.

CTO Neville Ray, in a January blog, said T-Mobile US was working with various chipset, device and radio infrastructure partners with a view to launching LTE in unlicensed 5GHz spectrum in the “near future”.

Coinciding with Ray’s blog, Ericsson announced it would be making LAA available in its small cell portfolio in the fourth quarter this year.

Ericsson added that T-Mobile US was testing its LAA equipment as part of the operator’s trials.

Nokia is keen to show off its LAA credentials, too, using the T-Mobile announcement to highlight the fact it will be demonstrating its solution at this year’s Mobile World Congress (MWC), using ‘Nokia Flexi Zone’ small cell technology (which is already deployed by T-Mobile).

The MWC demo, said Nokia, will include carrier aggregation between LTE in licensed and unlicensed spectrum, as well as the technology’s co-existence with Wi-Fi.

Nokia further insisted that “LAA brings all of LTE’s efficiencies and seamless mobility to the unlicensed band while ensuring smooth co-existence with Wi-Fi services”.

Avoiding interference between LTE and Wi-Fi, when using the same spectrum, is one of the main challenges for LAA, but Ray seemed confident that obstacles were being overcome.

“Nokia Networks’ early demo not only shows the next generation of small cells, but is a critical first step to staying ahead of the increasing LTE capacity demand,” he said.

LAA is planned for 3GPP industry standardisation in mid-2016, while Nokia said it aims to integrate LAA capabilities into its small cell portfolio by the end of 2015 (the same timeframe as Ericsson).

In his January blog, Ray said there was “approximately 550MHz of underutilised spectrum in the 5GHz Unlicensed National Information Infrastructure [UNII] band, which is available for any use within the FCC’s rules for the UNII band”.