Ready or not, T-Mobile wants to push ahead into unlicensed bands

6 August 2016 by Steve Blum
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Standard-setting groups have been trying to work out a peaceful coexistence strategy for traditional WiFi and carrier-class mobile data traffic in unlicensed bands. The mobile industry’s primary thrust is the LTE-U protocol, which would use the same basic technology as licensed 4G cell sites in the same bands as WiFi, with, it is hoped, sufficiently intelligent, active management of transmissions so as not to crowd out everyone else.

The Federal Communications Commission has to certify that the equipment being used meets its rules for operating in unlicensed spectrum, and it has held off doing so until the Wi-Fi Alliance comes to an agreement with mobile industry groups, including the LTE-U Forum, on coexistence plans. That process has not moved as quickly as originally hoped – no surprise – and now T-Mobile wants the FCC to move ahead next month, agreement or not…

It has been more than a year since the Wi-Fi Alliance announced that it was creating a cooperative process to evaluate coexistence between LTE-U and Wi-Fi devices, and the Commission has held off approving devices in anticipation of results from the process. Although the test plan is fundamentally complete, we have seen numerous deadlines come and go without finalization of the procedure…The delay in approving LTE-U devices is stifling innovation and investment in the communications ecosystem – one of the most vibrant segments of our economy that directly affects all Americans. There is no reason, therefore, to wait beyond September 2016 to permit use of this innovative new technology.

There are two ways to look at this. Either mobile carriers have the same right as anyone else to use unlicensed frequencies so everyone should get on with it, or WiFi has become such a ubiquitous public amenity that it deserves some sort of special protection in those bands. The FCC’s plan to wait until industry negotiations are complete is a worthy attempt to steer a middle course, but it seems to be at the point where it has to decide which way to finally turn.

T-Mobile filing, with Nokia LTE-U presentation