Is LTE-U a Technical or Competitive Issue?

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    There is nothing like a good old-fashioned controversy over highly technical and confusing technology to keep things interesting.

    On one side of one such debate is the cellular ecosystem, which is pressed to accommodate the ever-increasing amount of data its subscribers are consuming. On the other side is the Wi-Fi ecosystem.

    The cellular side wants to use unlicensed spectrum in the 5GHz band to support a new approach, appropriately called LTE-unlicensed (LTE-U). That spectrum is the home of Wi-Fi. At Computerworld, Bret Swanson, the president of Entropy Economics LLC and a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute’s Center for Internet, Communications, and Technology Policy, suggests that the game plan for the cellular folks is for the spectrum to support small cells. The issue that is being raised, by Swanson and others, is whether the objections made by the Wi-Fi side are based on science or business concerns.

    Swanson’s position is clear. He feels that the controversy is more of a marketplace than a lab issue. Carriers thinking of using LTE-U, he writes, are being careful to play by the rules of the unlicensed realm:

    The early results are encouraging. In real-world tests so far, LTE-U delivers better performance than Wi-Fi, doesn’t degrade nearby Wi-Fi performance and may in fact improve the performance of nearby Wi-Fi networks.

    The cellular industry is saying all the right things. FierceWireless reported this week that Tom Keathley, AT&T’s senior vice president of Wireless Network Architecture and Design, said that AT&T would trial LTE-U this year or early next year. The company won’t use the approach until it is certain that “there is fair-use sharing with Wi-Fi,” the story said.

    The story doesn’t define what is meant by “fair-use” and whether the term was used by Keathley or Sue Marek, who wrote the piece. She also noted that AT&T has been “less bullish” on LTE-U than other cellular carriers.


    In another story, FierceWireless reported on research from the Signals Research Group presented at the CTIA Super Mobility 2015 conference in Las Vegas this week. It found that the impact of LTE-U on real-time applications using Wi-Fi “was relatively modest and largely comparable to the impact of introducing a new Wi-Fi access point into the channel.”

    The issue seems destined to be with us for a while. At the conference, the Networks Division of Samsung Electronics America and Verizon announced that they will test LTE-U femtocells. The tests will conclude by the end of the year and commercial products will be introduced in 2016, the release said.

    This is an obvious case in which the issue can easily be settled by FCC engineers. Hopefully, that will happen sooner rather than later.

    Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.

    Carl Weinschenk
    Carl Weinschenk
    Carl Weinschenk Carl Weinschenk Carl Weinschenk is a long-time IT and telecom journalist. His coverage areas include the IoT, artificial intelligence, artificial intelligence, drones, 3D printing LTE and 5G, SDN, NFV, net neutrality, municipal broadband, unified communications and business continuity/disaster recovery. Weinschenk has written about wireless and phone companies, cable operators and their vendor ecosystems. He also has written about alternative energy and runs a website, The Daily Music Break, as a hobby.

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