September 9, 2015 — There is a regulatory squabble brewing at the FCC concerning LTE-U access to Wi-Fi Spectrum. The issue involves proposals to enable mobile devices, especially phones, to use frequencies that are currently used by Wi-Fi and other unlicensed services.
The idea behind LTE-U is that mobile phones can hop over to those unlicensed frequencies if their primary cellular frequencies are too congested to use. The proposals currently on the table call for dedicated LTE access points operating in the same spectrum as Wi-Fi.
This has been on the table for a while and is targeted at the 5 GHz band, where everybody is jockeying for their slice of the spectrum. The issue is interference between, primarily, these two technologies. Few studies have been conducted (except for Google, and who would expect them not to spin it in their favor?) that present much solid evidence either way that the two will interfere with each other. Finally, there is some real work going on in the testing arena, specifically at Qualcomm, where LTE-U is undergoing a series of tests. But that hasn’t stopped the players from squaring off.
The players are who you would expect. The Wi-Fi Alliance, which is the respected standards body, wants to set its own standards and do testing before the FCC approves any LTE-U products; makes sense to me. Of course, the vested players in LTE-U, the gang of four – Verizon, T-Mobile, ATT and Sprint, do not agree with the Wi-Fi Alliance.
The carriers are, in their usual greedy fashion, simply looking to bully their way into the unlicensed spectrum for financial gain. But that is what companies like that do, unlike the Wi-Fi Alliance, which has no vested dollar interest in having LTE-U as another player, as long as it doesn’t pollute the Wi-Fi platform.
The Wi-Fi manufactures are also looking on with great interest, since if it turns out that LTE-U can have some detrimental effect on Wi-Fi, and Wi-Fi is gets some new bounds, it will affect their product design, likely making it less transparent and more costly.
This is kind of an interesting playground. I think the Wi-Fi Alliance is just making sure Wi-Fi stays undisturbed, since it is so prolific. And it is mature, cost-effective and proven. However, that doesn’t mean they have a hall pass to be the unlicensed spectrum overlord. In the wild west of unlicensed spectrum, a lot can go wrong if everybody doesn’t play nice.
And, as much as I am not a fan of the gang of four, I do think they have a right to use that spectrum as well. But I think they came second and have to be the ones who bow to Wi-Fi. For them, it is just a place to dump data when their systems get bogged down. Where Wi-Fi is a primary platform for any number of uses.
Well, I’m keeping my ear to the rail on this…stay tuned.