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FCC gets serious on LTE-Unlicensed appropriation oversight

Posted: 11 May 2015 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Qualcomm? Broadcom? LTE-Unlicensed? FCC? LAA?

The Federal Communications Commission has stepped up to announced its plan to monitor promoters of the new LTE-Unlicensed (LTE-U), compelling them to play fair and square in the unlicensed spectrum with those who depend on Wi-Fi for broadband business. The FCC issued a public notice on May 5, 2015 seeking information on "technologies and techniques LTE-U/Licensed Assisted Access (LAA) will implement to share spectrum with existing unlicensed operations and technologies such as Wi-Fi that are widely used by the public."

Translation: The agency wants to know if truce between the two wireless schemes holds true, and whether LTE-U proponents have made available sufficient evidence [data/analysis] to back up their promise to coexist.

FCC to monitor LTE-U

Aside from the technical coexistence discussions on LTE-U/LAA and Wi-Fi, the FCC's public notice is likely to trigger a whole new industry debate on how best the nation's unlicensed spectrum should be appropriated and used, now that powerful cellular operators with licensed spectrum want to poach it. And who should arbitrate that.

Some worry that if the FCC, who should be technology-neutral, gets into the debate, it might end up having no choice but to take sides. In the most simplistic terms, this particular FCC notice could pit cellular network operators against cable guys, although it also affects other users of the unlicensed spectrum such as Wi-Fi First advocates that include Republic Wireless.

Mike O'Rielly, an FCC commissioner, said: "Today's public notice walks a fine line between reasonable oversight and inappropriate interference with the standards setting process."


The LTE-U technology, developed by Qualcomm, is designed to be deployed initially in the same 5GHz spectrum that accommodates Wi-Fi. LTE-U proponents have said it will provide a "seamless user experience, better capacity and coverage" through a common unified network for both licensed and unlicensed spectrums.

Advocates of LTE-U are the LTE-U Forum, established last year by Verizon together with Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson, Qualcomm Technologies and Samsung. The elite club is restricted, but it includes "some pretty big guns," observed Will Strauss, president and principal analyst at Forward Concepts.

Meanwhile, LAA is in development with a goal similar to that of LTE-U. The new LAA spec, which might not be identical to LTE-U spec, is expected to be finalised by 3GPP in 2016. 3GPP, consisting of telecommunications associations, is developer of the 2G, 2.5G, 3G and 4G standards.

At stake

The Wi-Fi Alliance has been vocal about its concerns over LTE-U. Its members are pushing for details on the LTE-U standard and its specific attributes, rather than just taking the word of LTE-U promoter. "After all, LTE-U will occupy the same 5GHz band [as Wi-Fi] and [those in] the Wi-Fi Alliance are wary of potential interference," observed Strauss.

Stakes are high for everyone in the wireless business.

Judging from opinions publicly voiced by leading chip vendors serving the wireless industry, the LTE-U issue has set Qualcomm and Broadcom at odds.

Existing mobile devices, for example, won't be able to do just a software upgrade to implement LTE-U and LAA, because it needs a new radio. New chips are necessary not just for handsets but also for network equipment in the infrastructure, opening up a whole new round of design races.

If Qualcomm and the LTE-U Forum have their way, they'll offload their data traffic to unlicensed spectrum by leveraging the emerging LTE-U technology. After all, unlicensed bands are "unlicensed," not the Wi-Fi spectrum, in their view.

Aggregating at the Packet Data Convergence Protocol

Aggregating at the Packet Data Convergence Protocol layer represents very deep integration between LTE and Wi-Fi links (Source: Qualcomm)

As logical as it might sound, depending on where you sit in the wireless industry, that argument might not compute.

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