FCC's Wheeler Gets Earful on LTE-U

Cable chief technology officers, joined by execs from Google and Microsoft, met with FCC chairman Tom Wheeler to argue that before LTE-U technologies are employed in unlicensed spectrum bands, also used by cable Wi-Fi hot spots, there must be rigorous standards to insure the technology does not impair Wi-Fi.

LTE-U is a way for telcos to offer their own offload of wireless broadband similar to Cable's Wi-Fi play for wired broadband.

Cable operators have argued that standards first need to be in place to prevent the new technology from interfering with existing Wi-Fi, currently their major mobile broadband play, while wireless companies insist it has been tested already, that the two can co-exist, and LTE-U and LAA, which is a licensed-spectrum assisted version, should roll out ASAP.

The cable CTO's, including from Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Charter, and Cablevision, and the computer company execs told Wheeler and his aides that they don't oppose LTE-U, but that it has so far "avoided the long-proven standards-setting process and would substantially degrade consumer Wi-Fi service across the country."

Backers of LTE-U, who have formed a coalition to push for the technology and include wireless companies and Qualcomm, say they have tested the technology and that it won't interfere with Wi-Fi.

Wheeler has urged the two sides to come together to make LTE-U happen without the FCC having to step in.

In a speech to the CTIA Super Mobility conference in Las Vegas in September, Wheeler told an audience of wireless execs that proponents of LTE-U and those concerned about sharing that new technology need to agree on broad-based standards for LTE-U deployment that insure it does not interfere with unlicensed Wi-Fi.

Cable Labs and Google say they have done tests that show that LTE-U will "disrupt" consumer Wi-Fi and that specs for the devices—LTE-U will require new phones and tablets to access—are insufficient to protect consumers.

"[T]he path forward to support innovation, protect consumers, and avoid new regulations is for the advocates of using LTE in unlicensed bands to work through internationally recognized, open, and transparent standards-setting organizations to develop standards and corresponding test procedures that can be used to adequately characterize and verify coexistence behavior."

The wireless companies have signaled they plan to proceed with the rollout of the service, which the FCC does not have to approve. The commission will need to approve the new devices, however.

"The wireless industry relies heavily on Wi-Fi to deliver service to consumers and is committed to innovation in unlicensed spectrum," said CTIA: The Wireless Association VP, regulatory affairs Scott Bergman. "We should all welcome technologies that will help address the continued increase in consumer demands for wireless broadband anytime, anywhere. As testing has repeatedly shown, LTE in the unlicensed bands coexists with Wi-Fi and will benefit consumers."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.