The industry's LTE-Unlicensed cheerleaders are banding together to ward off the threat of FCC regulation and make another push at persuading opponents the technology won't interfere with WiFi.
The coalition, dubbed Evolve, includes LTE-U's biggest champions Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM), T-Mobile US Inc. and Verizon Wireless , along with wireless industry associations CTIA and Competitive Carriers Association , vendor Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) and relatively recent LTE-U convert AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T).
The group says its goal is to "educate consumers and policymakers on the benefits of unlicensed spectrum and new technologies for unlicensed spectrum" via speaking engagements, dialogue with policymakers and consumer education on LTE-U and its release 13 version Licensed Assisted Access (LAA). Both technologies allow operators to run LTE in unlicensed spectrum for more bandwidth and faster speeds, but necessitate sharing the space with WiFi devices already using it. Cable companies and WiFi providers have been the biggest opponents of the technology. (See LTE-U Is Nicer to WiFi Than WiFi – Qualcomm.)
"This is a coalition of companies -- big and small companies that compete intensely and that most of the time don’t agree with each other on public policy issues," Dean Brenner, Qualcomm's senior vice president of government affairs, said on a call with media Monday. "LTE-U and LAA have tremendous performance benefits for the American people. They will improve broadband, and there's unity that no one in this group has the slightest interest in doing anything that would impact WiFi."
The companies have been spreading this message for the past several months, both on their own and together in many cases, but the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is the real target of the Evolve coalition. (See Qualcomm Wants FCC to Stay Out of LTE-U Fray.)
The FCC put out a request for comments on LTE-U back in May, noting that it would suggest rules and regulations if opponents of the technology couldn't be convinced that it won't overtake their spectrum and degrade the WiFi experience. The Evolve companies want to avoid FCC regulation at all costs and, in launching their coalition, stressed that the FCC has designated that unlicensed spectrum be available to all. (See Operators, Vendors Advise FCC on LTE-U.)
According to Steve Sharkey, director, chief engineering and technology policy at T-Mobile, LTE-U opponents have focused on the standardization process and the fact that LAA won't be available for two to three years with the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) 's release 13 standards, but they should be focusing on whether there is a problem here -- and "ample testing supports there is not a compatibility problem and the two [LTE-U and WiFi] can coexist." (See T-Mobile Expects LTE-U to Feature Listen-Before-Talk.)
The FCC doesn't have to approve LTE-U technology to deploy it in the US, but manufacturers will have to register their equipment with LTE-U radio transmitters on board with the FCC as part of a standard procedure, Brenner said. The concern, according to CCA President and CEO Steven Berry is that the industry will get behind on testing while debating LTE-U policies with the FCC.
"The signal from the FCC is that they're watching this and interested in how the parties are working together and interested in test information, but there is nothing they have to do," Sharkey added. "They have the technology to move forward and it's fully compliant with FCC rules. They are just looking to see if there are issues as it develops."
Qualcomm has promised the first LTE-U chipsets will be available by the end of the year. David Young, vice president of public policy at Verizon, said the carrier will do field testing of indoor enterprise small cells with LTE-U with plans to deploy it early next year. T-Mobile's Sharkey said it will test LTE-U this year and do field trials in the beginning of next year. (See Qualcomm Unveils Fastest 4G + WiFi Modem, Qualcomm Brings LTE-U to Small Cells , Ericsson Preps LTE-U for Verizon, T-Mob & SK Telecom and T-Mobile Assembles LTE-Unlicensed Team.)
— Sarah Thomas, , Editorial Operations Director, Light Reading