Perhaps it is obvious why mobile service providers such as T-Mobile are interested in a new technique allowing simultaneous use of licensed Long Term Evolution spectrum, as well as unlicensed Wi-Fi spectrum.
LTE-U, also known as licensed-assisted LTE, would allow easier management of access operations, for example. It also is possible to simply allow users to switch dynamically between the mobile and Wi-Fi networks, but LTE-U arguably allows for better bandwidth usage and easier management.
It might someday be advantageous for cable TV operators in some markets, as well. U.S. cable TV operators already are deploying huge networks of public Wi-Fi hotspots anchored by consumer Wi-Fi routers.
Assuming operators can federate those networks (possibly other networks as well) effectively, it might someday be possible to build a mobile network that relies on Wi-Fi as a primary access, with a fall back to a mobile network when required.
Cablevision Systems Corp. is trying something even more radical, dispensing entirely with any mobile access, and relying exclusively on Wi-Fi.
The longer-term strategic issue is how to supply a “thin” Long Term Evolution or mobile network capability. At least initially, cable operators might lease wholesale capacity. But that is unlikely to appeal as a long term option.
Cable operators in the U.S. market are famously averse to basing their business operations on any other carrier’s networks. So even if wholesale access is a short term necessity, it is unlikely to be the preferred long term approach.
The options obviously involve sourcing something beyond wholesale capacity from a mobile carrier. Comcast might ultimately decide to buy an existing mobile service provider. If that is financially too burdensome, Comcast could lease tower space and backhaul capacity to create its own radio network.
LTE-U could be a crucial tool in that regard.