Mobile chipmaker Qualcomm wants wireless carriers to set up new technology that would offer cellphone users better reception in places like subway tunnels and shopping malls.
The San Diego, California company said on Thursday it will start selling components this year featuring LTE technology adapted for a smaller scale than traditional cellphone base stations mounted on metal towers bristling with antennas and other electronics.
LTE, or Long-Term Evolution, is the increasingly common modem technology that cellphones use to communicate with carrier networks. The newer "LTE Unlicensed", or LTE-U, adapts that technology to be used over short distances by sharing radio spectrum that is used by WiFi.
Qualcomm sees the addition of new technologies like LTE-U to its smartphone chips as key to staying competitive and giving consumers reasons to upgrade their smartphones.
Thousands of LTE-U base stations, which look similar to a wifi router, could be set up in buildings and out-of-the-way places to alleviate poor phone reception and relieve strained carrier networks as people use smartphones to download more and more video and other media.
T-Mobile has said it plans to use LTE-U as the technology matures to improve its mobile network. Intel and other companies are working on their own LTE-U products.
"We have to explore all options to increase network capacity because we're running out of spectrum, and the amount of data we're transmitting is going through the roof," said Tirias Research analyst Jim McGregor.
Some carriers have already augmented their LTE networks by investing in routers installed around cities to make wifi available to their customers outside of their homes.
Qualcomm and other proponents argue that adopting LTE-U will provide much faster performance for phone users and save carriers money they would have had to spend on additional LTE cellphone towers.
“The performance is better. It's not a large cost adder and it also provides a lot of advantages flexibility to the operators,” said Qualcomm Chief Technology Officer Matt Grob.
He said Qualcomm has overcome trouble with LTE-U signals interfering with wifi signals, a problem that in the past has drawn criticism of the technology.
Using the 5 GHz band used by wifi and LTE-U does not require a regulatory license but it does require that certain standards be met.