OTI Slams 'Anti-Wi-Fi' Coalition

The New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute is no fan of the new Evolve coalition of mobile wireless carriers pushing for the rollout of LTE-U, a wireless technology using unlicensed spectrum to compete with cable Wi-Fi and improve wireless' speeds and rural reach.

Michael Calabrese, director of the Wireless Future Project at the Open Technology Institute, called it an "anti-Wi-iF coalition

In June, OTI joined with Public Knowledge, Free Press, and Common Cause to warn the FCC that LTE-U could degrade existing Wi-Fi, sayins “mobile carriers will have both the ability and strong incentives to use LTE-U and LAA to engage in anti-competitive behavior harmful to consumers," while for the first time charging them for use of the unlicensed spectrum.

“It is more than a bit ironic that the mobile carriers are finally recognizing the enormous and undeniable benefits of unlicensed spectrum as part of a campaign for a technology that could hobble the use of Wi-Fi by potential competitors," said Calabrese in a statement about the creation of the coalition. "Consumers now use Wi-Fi to transmit the majority of mobile device data traffic.  This has avoided the predicted spectrum crunch and makes mobile broadband more affordable.  Our public interest coalition fears that if carriers use LTE-U to control access to the unlicensed commons, consumers could end up paying more and missing out on the potential competition of Wi-Fi first offerings by wireline providers and MVNOs such as Republic Wireless.”

OTI says that If the FCC approves LTE-U--it's backers say the FCC only has to approve LTE-U devices, not the "permissionless" use of unlicensed 5 GHz spectrum---they could move downlink data onto unlicensed spectrum as an add-on to their licensed spectrum.

"Since LTE-U’s control channels would operate from the mobile carrier’s licensed spectrum, Wi-Fi operators are concerned that carriers have no incentive to share the public spectrum fairly with Wi-Fi and could decide to use it to undermine Wi-Fi-first business models that compete with carriers," OTI said.

Evolve members said on a conference call Monday (Sept. 28) that they have every incentive to insure they co-exist with Wi-Fi since they are users of the technology, too. They say tests already in the FCC's hands show LTE-U and Wi-Fi can peacefully co-exists.

The FCC is all for boosting wireless speeds and better reaching rural areas.  FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has advised the wireless and cable industries to work together, saying they don’t want the FCC to step in to set standards. Cable operators say they just want to make sure that LTE-U does not interfere with existing Wi-FI in the 5 GHz band, but some wireless operators argue they just want to try and block a potential Wi-Fi competitor.

It would take a while for LTE-U to take hold. It requires users to have new phones or tablets.

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.