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Spectrum battle: LTE vs Wi-Fi

Posted: 12 May 2015 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Wi-Fi? LTE-Unlicensed? LTE-U? LAA?

The Federal Communications Commission released a public notice last week requesting for information on LTE-Unlicensed (LTE-U) and Licensed Assisted Access (LAA), which the media took as a technical debate on the possibility of peaceful co-existence between two competing wireless technologies: LTE-U/LAA and Wi-Fi.

Cellular operators are proposing LTE-U/LAA so that they can use LTE in the unlicensed frequency bands currently used by Wi-Fi. Their mission is to offload the exploding data traffic on cellular networks to Wi-Fi.

We suspected that there were fairness issues lurking in the LTE-U/LAA vs. Wi-Fi debate. Powerful cellular operators with licensed spectrum now want to poach the unlicensed spectrum. However, there was little evidence. We weren't sure if cellular carriers are pushing the new standard to prevent competition from unlicensed spectrum users for their primary broadband businesses (i.e., Wireless First advocates and cable operators).


Now we have new information.

'Smoking gun'

Dave Burstein, editor at DSL Prime, A Wireless Cloud & The DOCSIS Report, recently unearthed a document circulated among 11 carriersincluding AT&T, T-Mobile USA, Sprint, China Mobile, KT, Telefonica, Orangewho attended one of the 3GPP's working group meetings in Belgrade, Serbia in late April.

The document, "Precluding stand-alone access of LTE on unlicensed carriers" proposes a) to revise the 3GPP's own rule that LTE-U could be used by any carriers (including those operating on the unlicensed spectrums), and b) and to prohibit non-LTE carriers from using LTE-U.

Burstein told EE Times, "Telcos want LAA to require a control signal in licensed LTE spectrumwhich others, like Wi-Fi-first mobile service providers like Republic Wireless, don't own."

LAA, a new standard currently in development at 3GPP, is similar to LTE-U, allowing licensed cellular operators to use for data traffic the unlicensed spectrum that currently accommodates Wi-Fi.

As background, the document even points out: "Stand-alone deployment in unlicensed spectrum implies drastically different business models from nowadays and might impact the value chain."

Translation: As Wi-Fi technology gets better and starts embracing new techniques developed for LTE-U, broadband operators such as Republic First and cable operators like Comcast could become more and more like cellular operators, thus disrupting the competitive landscape.

Burstein interprets the 3GPP's fear of "drastically different business models" expressed in the document as "the smoking gun that the telcos are doing this to clobber competition."

Not everyone agrees with Burstein.

When asked about the 3GPP proposal suggesting cellular operators' desire to take "stand-alone access to unlicensed spectrum" out of the emerging standard (Rel 13), Rupert Baines, consultant at Real Wireless, a firm consisting of independent wireless experts, told EE Times, "Yes, that is the proposal." But his take was: "Those proposals are about making sure LAA stays closely linked to licensed LTE." Baines said that Burstein "ascribes sinister reasons to it. I think he is wrong. There are sensible reasons why this is a better architecture."

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