LTE-U vs. Wi-Fi! Carriers vs. Cable Companies! Free Spectrum!

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Michael Buffer says “Let’s get ready to rumble!”

Companies bicker, but now they fight! Can you believe that companies are fighting over unlicensed spectrum? Seriously, who thought this could happen? The people who invested so heavily in Wi-Fi, like Comcast and Google , are angry at the carriers, specifically Verizon and T-Mobile, who want to make the most of the license free spectrum by deploying LTE-U. Who knew 5.8GHz would be so valuable? The unlicensed spectrum battleground! 

Hey Comcast, if you want to take out an opponent, then buy T-Mobile so you have one less carrier to worry about. Just a suggestion. 

Why would deployment teams care? All of you that work in deployment will care because if LTE-U takes off then it will mean a lot of work because it should be all new equipment deployed. I don’t know who will be the first to roll it out, but it will need to be engineered and built. If they don’t do it then it’s Wi-Fi as usual, with all of the updates and hopefully some new spectrum soon.  Think of it! If the cable companies roll it out first and they are in the best position to do so, then they could command the spectrum, or try to. From what I have seen, it takes the carriers a long time to deploy anything. The cable companies are nimble, they could do it quickly if they wanted to spend a few more $$$$$$$$$. Money is the issue, read on to find out more. 

Why do Wi-Fi groups care? These people spent a fortune building out Wi-Fi and they are counting on all the people with smartphones and tablets to subscribe to their service. They were also hoping to get the carriers offload traffic to make more money on the side. This may hurt their business and they are also worried, (in the US), that the LTE may tramp on the Wi-Fi signal. There is no listen before talk in the US, which is you ever worked in Wi-Fi you see daily on your spectrum analyzer. I think that most companies don’t bother with spectrum analysis for Wi-Fi anymore, what is the point? Seriously! 

Some background.  I believe you all know what spectrum Wi-Fi runs on and that Wi-Fi is the only thing there. I think most of you know what LTE-U is, but for those of you that don’t know, here is my take. LTE-U  is where Qualcomm (and Ericsson) worked together to create unlicensed LTE format in the 5.8GHz band where Wi-Fi currently runs. They are doing this to make the carriers systems and smart phones run more efficiently and because, (so they say), they can push more bandwidth through the same band. The carriers will be happy because it adds a great deal of efficiency to how they manage spectrum. Of course they say is will be a win for the consumer because they can access more data in the “free” bands. Hey, if Qualcomm says  it then it must be true, right? 

Technical report on LTE-U found here.

3GPP LTE information.

Linksys explains 2.4GHz and 5.8GHz.

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So the FCC has to determine if Wi-Fi and LTE-U (and/or LAA), can coexist. Can they, of course, but the issue here is probably not technology, it has more to do with business and politics, in my opinion. You would be given the option to buy a Wi-Fi or LTE access point for your house, wouldn’t that be cool? You know you would get LTE just because it is the latest and greatest. You would try to get it before anyone else did just to say you had it first. I wouldn’t because I am cheap and I would wait for the price to drop. But hey, that’s just me. I just gave up my iPhone 4s a few weeks ago because it worked and it was reliable.

So what is the big deal? The FCC has to approve LTE to be run in this spectrum. No big deal, right? Wrong!!!! Apparently some Wi-Fi groups see this as a threat! It could be the end of Wi-Fi as we know it. They think that the Wi-Fi civilization would end. Would it, who knows? I remember when most Wi-Fi units were in the 2.4GHz range, and many may still be there. By the way, did you know that your microwave heats up the food using the 2.4GHz band? It just uses a massive amount of power. Just something to think about next time you have a 2.4GHz Wi-Fi unit sitting next to your body. Don’t worry, the power difference is huge! Microwaves put out massive power and then bounce it around to make sure your Ramon noodles are hot. Sorry, back to the point.

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The FCC has to make a big decision. On one hand they have the carriers who pump a lot of money into the economy and who finally found a way to make real money in this band. Then you have all the Wi-Fi advocates that sell a lot of hardware to people like me who love Wi-Fi access at home. I really do. To be honest, I think I would put in a LTE box at home if it worked the same and had more bandwidth. I don’t care, I just want great speed to upload blogs like this and to watch stupid videos on YouTube and to download my music! Isn’t that what a free society is all about, great internet access? Do most people care about the pipe? The only part of the pipe they care about is the monthly price, right? 

So who is in favor of LTE-U? So far, Verizon and T-Mobile! They love the idea and they let the FCC know that it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread, (that is before we had to have sliced whole wheat bread because white bread is bad for us). I understand Verizon’s position because they want people on LTE because that is their bread and butter, they want the best performing system and they know that when people roam to Wi-Fi performance drops dramatically, making the system look bad when in reality it’s the Wi-Fi coverage. I think that T-Mobile is realizing that as well when they release Wi-Fi calling. I think that they see that Wi-Fi calling in a home with one Wi-Fi hotspot works very well but in a public place, like a train station or hotel lobby, it really sucks because of coverage and interference. I believe that with LTE-U they may be able to clean that up, but this is only speculation on my part.

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Who is against LTE-U? Comcast and Google who already deployed tons of Wi-Fi hotspots. I also see that Republic Wireless and Cablevision are against it and for good reason because they just invested tons of money in Wi-Fi hoping to make money in offloading to the carriers, but if the carriers go LTE-U, then they may build out their own systems and not use any of these people. They would have to share the band with LTE and no longer get to have Wi-Fi hotspots along with all the other Wi-Fi providers out there. Google already dog-tags_clearbackgrondwrote a letter to the FCC explaining how the carriers would look at the Wi-Fi providers like the cable companies as competitors. I don’t know about that argument because in a capitalist society competition is considered good. So is Google saying that the carriers should partner with the cable companies? Not a bad idea, but if the FCC would not let AT&T take over T-Mobile, would they allow Verizon and Comcast become solid partners or merge? Maybe, who knows, but I don’t ever see that happening. Rumor has it that Comcast is looking into buying T-Mobile, making them a competitor or the other carriers anyway.

Who is neutral? Apparently both AT&T and Sprint. AT&T has a conundrum because they deployed tons of Wi-Fi, signed Wi-Fi roaming agreements with Sprint and T-Mobile, and yet they see the benefits in LTE-U, they really do. Sprint I think has too many other things to worry about, For instance Marcelo Claure is working to create a profitable company by following Softbank’s plan, so I understand why this is not a top priority. If I were him I would let T-Mobile worry about this issue.

Click Here to Understand the Scope of Work

How will the FCC make this decision? I think they will look at the arguments, and trust me the carriers are very powerful on capital hill with the help of PCIA and CTIA, so they have a strong edge in that department. They will look the Wi-Fi advocates and possibly listen to Comcast, who has lobbyists but they are not always popular with the Feds. Google, who is also against LTU-U has many friends in capitol hill, and they may use them if they decide to pick a fight, I really don’t know why they are fighting this but I know if they want to fight they will convince us that they are doing it for the greater good in society, that seems to be a common argument with them and I usually fall for it. Then the FCC will weigh in to see what effect this will have on future auctions, will LTE-U actually make the carriers utilize more free bands and lessen the need for licensed bands? This is the economics of the FCC . I don’t think they have anything to worry about since they just soaked the carrier for billions, which you and I will see as a slight increase in our mobile phone bills. I know they sold off assets to pay for it up front, but these carriers are smart, they will make the money back quickly after they deploy. It really feeds the economy with the deployment services (billions of dollars for RF, tower, and engineering workers) and then all of the commercials of who has better coverage, (millions for advertising companies), and plans will be on TV and on YouTube, I’m just saying.

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Something to think about, if the carriers do win and LTE-U or LAA is deployed, then the deployment teams will see income from a brand new deployment, a new market, new hardware on the scene. This will really stimulate work for the teams that previously deployed Wi-Fi or LTE. They could be called into action to engineer and install equipment for carriers. The OEMs of Wi-Fi would have a new product to build and sell. I see the economic stimulus for the field works.

Who really wins? Probably the OEMs that make Wi-Fi gear. They will sell more product. Ubiquity will make a cheap product that most people will deploy and Ruckus will make carrier grade product. Then you have all the other in between. The cable companies will probably deploy their own gear or they already have contractors doing it. The carriers will go through the lab testing phase, then through the field testing phase then finally deploy. The carriers will probably put it out to bid, lowest qualified bidder, so make sure you understand your Scope when you deploy! 

So what do you think? Is this really a big issue for you, the end-user? Or is this just a political issue? Are the carriers really trying to take over the world and starting with Wi-Fi or are they trying to help out the consumer by lowering device costs? Do you see Comcast and Google trying to save Wi-Fi as we know it or are they holding on to an old technology by refusing to change or give up their investments?  What will the FCC do? Will they weigh their decision only on technology or will they follow the political road and let the lobbyists fight it out on Capitol Hill? I guess we will see.

Stay informed!

This is something you may want to read, a letter that is signed by Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson, Qualcomm, T-Mobile, and Verizon. Competitors working together for the common cause of supporting LTE-U!

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