Sens. Raise Red Flag Over LTE-U WiFi Impact
Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) may diverge from cable ops over the state of the set-top market, but he and a bunch of other Senate Democrats are on the same page when it comes to seeking government involvement and oversight in LTE-U sharing of unlicensed WiFi spectrum currently powering cable's principal mobile broadband play.
In a letter to FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, Markey joined a group of other Senate Democrats (Sen. Brian Schatz [D-Hawaii] was lead senator on the letter),advising him that "without proper coordination and management, LTE-U may harm Wi-Fi operations. Thus, we support continued FCC oversight and leadership in this area in order to protect consumers from potential harm.” They said they favored a continued light-tough approach to regulation, but said the FCC needs to insure the two can peacefully coexist.
The FCC has created a path to digital citizenship for LTE-U (the U is for unlicensed) to share the unlicensed bands, but also sought comment on how it should proceed.
With reports that wireless companies are preparing to deploy LTE-U, the senators advise the FCC to first convene "a series of meetings led by the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology to ensure that constructive dialogue between technical experts continues in an open and neutral forum and to promote continued work on effective spectrum sharing mechanisms."
Cable ops have advised that the government keep close tabs on the standards process to make sure that the new unlicensed broadband play by wireless carriers does not interfere with their (now millions) of Wi-Fi hot spots.
Qualcomm, which is developing and promoting the technology, says they can co-exist and cable concerns are overblown.
Also signing the letter were Sens. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.).
WiFi Forward praised the senators' letter.
"We applaud Senators Schatz, Blumenthal, Udall, Markey, Cantwell and McCaskill for their leadership on this issue. Wi-Fi and technologies powered by unlicensed spectrum are critical to connecting consumers and businesses large and small to the power of the Internet -- but Wi-Fi is under threat," the group said. "These technologies have been so successful in part because all users of unlicensed spectrum are motivated to coexist, but some carriers are rushing to implement LTE-U devices that are designed to take advantage of Wi-Fi’s politeness in a way that could knock consumers off the air. We are encouraged by the FCC’s interest in this issue and look forward to working with the Commission to ensure consumers have access to technologies they’ve come to depend on, as well ensure that the unlicensed bands remain a sandbox for innovation in the future."
CTIA: The Wireless Association credited the letter to cable industry efforts to impede deployment of the new technology.
"The cable industry’s continued efforts to inhibit the roll out of new wireless services that could help deliver consumers better service and new Internet of Things offerings is disappointing," said CTIA SVP and General Counsel Tom POWer. "LTE-U is pro-consumer and pro-competition, and will co-exist with other users of unlicensed. There is no need or basis for the FCC to intervene. The FCC does not approve particular technologies for use in the unlicensed bands, and cable’s request flies in the face of their own rhetoric that unlicensed spectrum works because of 'permissionless innovation.' Unlicensed should remain free for all to innovate and deliver new services to consumers, not just cable broadband subscribers."
The full text of the letter is reprinted below:
Dear Chairman Wheeler:
We are writing today in regards to the Commission’s Public Notice to examine the effect new technologies, namely LTE Unlicensed (LTE-U), could have on existing operations in spectrum bands for unlicensed devices. It is critical that this examination be open and thorough to make sure that these new technologies operate fairly and do not impede the availability of the unlicensed spectrum necessary for robust Wi-Fi and other unlicensed technologies or otherwise degrade operations.
Consumers and the larger wireless ecosystem have come to rely greatly on Wi-Fi and other unlicensed technologies. In the 20 years since the FCC unlocked spectrum for unlicensed technologies, consumer use of innovative communications technologies like Wi-Fi and use of the Internet has skyrocketed. Today, nearly half of all Internet traffic worldwide travels over Wi-Fi connections and Wi-Fi use is expected to continue to grow over the coming years. And the proliferation of Internet of Things technologies that rely on unlicensed spectrum will further increase unlicensed spectrum utilization.
Several factors have made unlicensed spectrum an incredibly beneficial resource to consumers and businesses. For instance, one of the important attributes of unlicensed spectrum in the U.S. has been that it is a regulated with a very light touch. This very open environment has enabled innovation; however, it has also required cooperation among competing technologies and serious work by industry led standards groups to minimize harmful interference. And, as unlicensed spectrum usage increases, the need for all stakeholders to proactively work together to address interference issues will only grow.
At this juncture, stakeholders have indicated that there is an absence of consensus as to the likely real-world effect on millions of Wi-Fi devices by carrier-scale deployment of these LTE technologies. We are concerned that without proper coordination and management, LTE-U may harm Wi-Fi operations. Thus, we support continued FCC oversight and leadership in this area in order to protect consumers from potential harm.
It remains critical for industry to work together, including through their traditional standards-development bodies, to resolve concerns over interference. In the meantime, we recommend that the FCC initiate a process that allows industry to develop an effective sharing solution—as has been developed with other technologies in the past—to avoid any unnecessary consumer dislocation. This could include a series of meetings led by the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology to ensure that constructive dialogue between technical experts continues in an open and neutral forum and to promote continued work on effective spectrum sharing mechanisms. We encourage you to act on this request expeditiously, given reports that some wireless companies plan to begin deploying LTE-U technologies in the near future.
Thank you for your continued efforts to preserve the vitality of the Nation’s unlicensed bands.
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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.