LTE-U Is Nicer to WiFi Than WiFi – Qualcomm

SAN DIEGO -- LTE-U isn't just compatible with WiFi. It's a better neighbor for WiFi devices than other WiFi devices are, say Qualcomm executives and engineers.

Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM) developed the technology along with Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC), and they have been waging a political and PR war with WiFi advocates, who say the emerging technology needs further proof, including Federal Communications Commission (FCC) intervention, to ensure that LTE-U doesn't interfere with the vast existing WiFi infrastructure.

Qualcomm brought about a dozen tech journalists to its headquarters here this week, to feed us breakfast and lunch and try to convince us about several points:

  • LTE-U has already been extensively tested, and not only does it not interfere with WiFi, WiFi performance actually improves slightly in some cases if you replace a single WiFi access point with LTE-U on a wireless network containing multiple access points.
  • LTE-U is a better neighbor to WiFi access points than WiFi access points are to themselves. WiFi access points often interfere with one another, but LTE-U is designed to go out of its way to be polite.
  • The testing process has been open, with the wireless community as a whole encouraged to participate and find flaws.
  • Qualcomm has horses in both races, with an extensive existing business selling WiFi chips -- that it doesn't want to jeopardize -- and an emerging business in LTE-U.

What Could Go Wrong?
Mingxi Fan, Qualcomm VP of engineering and corporate R&D, beckons us to enter his torture chamber. Click on the photo for a brief slideshow of our visit to Qualcomm.
Mingxi Fan, Qualcomm VP of engineering and corporate R&D, beckons us to enter his torture chamber. Click on the photo for a brief slideshow of our visit to Qualcomm.

LTE-U is a variant of LTE that runs in the unlicensed spectrum, sharing that spectrum with WiFi. Qualcomm and LTE-U advocates claim LTE-U provides greater bandwidth, along with more manageability and security, than WiFi. However, WiFi advocates are urging caution and want the FCC to step in to require more testing and certification before deploying LTE-U.

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The conflict pits Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU), Ericsson, Qualcomm, Samsung Corp. , Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) and others against organizations including the Wi-Fi Alliance, Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) and CableLabs . (See Why Some Operators Think LTE-U Is Rude.)

Lobbying the FCC
LTE-U advocates submitted a letter to the FCC Wednesday urging the commission to reject an "unprecedented" request by the Wi-Fi Alliance to withhold certification of LTE-U equipment until the Wi-Fi Alliance develops a coexistence test plan and completes its own evaluation of LTE-U's impact on WiFi. (See Operators, Vendors Advise FCC on LTE-U and Qualcomm Wants FCC to Stay Out of LTE-U Fray.)

The Wi-Fi Alliance's requested delay "would have far reaching, negative consequences for the public, the industry, and Commission policy," says the letter, signed by representatives of Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson, Qualcomm, T-Mobile and Verizon. "Allowing an organization that certifies interoperability for one particular technology to become the gatekeeper for another technology to use unlicensed spectrum would jeopardize the Commission's entire framework that has made unlicensed spectrum so successful as an open platform for permission-less innovation." The companies signing the letter say they're members of the Wi-Fi Alliance, with strong commercial interest in WiFi success, but were not approached by the Wi-Fi Alliance about that organization's position on LTE-U.

The Wi-Fi Alliance responded Thursday that it stands by its initial request: "There are billions of Wi-Fi users worldwide, so it is of critical importance for FCC and other regulatory bodies to be satisfied that LTE-U deployments will coexist fairly before approving such devices for use in unlicensed spectrum," the organization said in a statement signed by Ed Figueroa, Wi-Fi Alliance president and CEO.

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