Move over Wi-Fi, here comes LTE-U!

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Have you been reading about all the tension between LTE-U and Wi-Fi? I wish the FCC would just release an authorization to use LTE-U. After all, it is license-free spectrum, right? Let’s look at what’s happening.

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LTE-U is being backed by OEMs like Qualcomm, Nokia, and Ericsson. It is also being backed by the carriers because they see it as a great neutral system host that will handoff seamlessly with the licensed LTE that they have now. I really hope it takes off because it could really open some doors for neutral hosted small cells.

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I have to admit, for the LTE-U group to hand off the sharing and testing to the Wi-Fi Alliance took some balls. They knew that the Wi-Fi groups would go to the FCC and make it a David and Goliath battle, the big carriers against the small Wi-Fi operators like the cable companies. (Do you sense my sarcasm here?) The FCC was probably happy to see this because it was one less thing they had to deal with, and they didn’t need to dump it off to NIST, National Institute of Standards and Technology. CableLabs was doing most of the testing in the beginning, and they had nothing good to say about LTE-U, remember? Articles here and here and here.

A while back T-Mobile asked the FCC to speed up the LTE-U release, found here and here, so that they can move ahead with a new technology. Well, for the bleeding edge of technology, it is really moving slow, isn’t it? The Wi-Fi Alliance has announced its LTE-U plans, again, and pointing out that Wi-Fi might be adversely degraded. Could you imagine if the carriers would have made statements that they would rather stick with GSM or CDMA because LTE would cause too many problems? I see this as new technology that could change things. I get it, the Wi-Fi Alliance is protecting the interests of all their members but let’s move ahead here. It might be good to have a little competition and get the technology out to the real world. Let’s have the end-user decide which is better, Wi-Fi or LTE-U. We all have Wi-Fi and like it, but don’t you think we all want to try something new? While LTE isn’t new, to use it in the ISM spectrum is quite exciting to me. In the words of Rodney King, “Can’t we all just get along?” Apparently not. The delays in the testing of LTE-U has created a lot of tension.

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Well guess what! The testing plan has come back from the WFA, (Wi-Fi Alliance)! They said they would get the results sooner than later. They finally released the test plans, found here if you want to read through it, so maybe we can move ahead. They promised that they will turn around something in a few days! WOW! It took them a long time to get here but now they can turn around testing in a few days.

I admire the LTE-U groups for putting their testing plans in the hands of the Wi-Fi Alliance, but I guess they really wanted the testing to be fair and balanced, just like Fox News. The WFA took a lot of criticism for their processes. If you remember CableLabs was doing early testing and all they seemed to do was criticize LTE-U. Recently Verizon and Qualcomm were not happy with the comparisons, article here, because it made LTE-U look bad, according to Verizon. That is what you get when you throw the testing over to a group that has a lot to lose.

Think about it, Wi-Fi systems are being built to provide alternative access and offloading for the license access. Cable companies who didn’t invest in purchasing spectrum made a simple investment in Wi-Fi like many WISP, Wireless Internet Service Providers, also did. They were able to build a business using license-free spectrum. They spent money on the equipment and access to allow subscribers to get internet access using Wi-Fi. Remember that Wi-Fi is on almost every device out there with a processor.

I am a fan of Wi-Fi because it is in every device. I use it everyday and I love having it in my home. It really works great and is very reliable. However, it is in a license-free band, it would be nice to have alternatives. The problem is that many people expect Wi-Fi to be free, like when they go to Starbucks or use it in their homes.

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Back to LTE-U, in January the FCC put out a statement about moving ahead with LTE-U testing, found here, which made the testing sound positive and exciting. While spectrum sharing concerns were mentioned it impressed that we would move ahead in a timely manner. So here we are.

Luckily Ericsson started testing in Africa where they can see what it can do in a real world setting. This will be a critical band for the 5G migration. Maybe South Africa will offer us answers to the questions about interoperability and spectrum sharing that we just can’t seem to get in the USA.

In the USA back in 2015, several senators working to find out how LTE-U will destroy Wi-Fi, article found here, to make sure that the FCC looks into this. Well, here we are over a year later and we are still trying to figure out what is going on. Do you think this is what Senators Brian Schatz, Richard Blumenthal, Tom Udall, Ed Markey, Maria Cantwel, and Claire McCaskill know what is going on today? In fact, Brian Shatz called for more regulation on unlicensed spectrum. More regulation, that’s just what we need in the unlicensed band. I have to argue with this, seriously, the FCC does a pretty good job, but it’s unlicensed spectrum, how much regulation do the senators think the government should have? If there is more regulation then they would license it, right? Am I missing something here? It’s unlicensed! Wi-Fi can interfere with itself is not managed properly, should we report all of our license settings to the government. Should we capture the configuration of our Wi-Fi routers in our homes and email them to Senator Shatz’s office? If you want to contact the senator from Hawaii, then go to and let him know that you believe that regulation is a good or bad idea. Let him know what you think about more government regulation in unlicensed spectrum.

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So let me know what you think, email when you think of something to say!

Just to cap this off, Commissioner Wheeler did respond, link here, letting the senators who see more regulation as a positive thing, that the FCC is keeping an eye on this and will manage it to the best of their abilities, after all, they are the experts.

So let’s get this straight, LTE-U is going to be the villain in this story because it is the new technology that is being pushed by the big carriers and OEMs. To be honest I don’t’ see it that way. I see a new technology that will open up doors for better efficiency of the spectrum and a foundation for the license free growth of 5G. While many worry about the coexistence of Wi-Fi and LTE-U, I worry about progress. Progress of wireless technology in unlicensed spectrum.

Analogy time: You know, Henry Ford said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses”. Really they wanted cars and it changed the world. If we would have asked the Wi-Fi users what they want, they would say faster Wi-Fi, am I right? It’s all about progress and perspective. We will always have people who push back, but we need to look at the bigger picture. The bigger picture here is the limitations of Wi-Fi and the movement to 5G. Remember that LTE will evolve or be sunset. The carriers want something that will evolve so they don’t need to do a complete system overhaul like they did for 2G and 3G. Those forklift upgrades get quite expensive, although for the deployment teams it means a lot of work!

I am rooting for LTE-U to move ahead in the real world so we can truly see what it’s capable of. Real world usage will tell us if it will be a success or just another WiMax or iDen. I see an opportunity for small businesses to try something new, for IOT to advance, for new companies to enter the market with new technologies that were previously limited. I am an optimist.

What do you think? Let’s move ahead. I am asking the FCC to start pushing and pulling to make LTE-U happen sooner than later. Let’s go FCC, let’s move wireless into the next generation, Generation 5! (You probably call it 5G.)

Let’s move ahead to new possibilities and potentially new ways to communicate. Virtual Reality is pretty cool, but there is so much that we haven’t thought of yet. Maybe Buzz Lightyear, (from Toy Story), will start saying, “to 5G and beyond!” I can’t wait!

Be smart, be safe, and pay attention!

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