Wireless Cos. Form LTE-U Coalition

Wireless companies have formed a new coalition to promote LTE-U and LAA, technologies that will let them compete with cable WiFi hot spots.

The new coalition, called EVOLVE, will promote the consumer benefits--increased data speeds, improved coverage of the technologies--through lobbying in Washington and consumer education.

Founding members of the coalition are Competitive Carriers Association, CTIA–The Wireless Association, Alcatel-Lucent, AT&T, Qualcomm Incorporated, T-Mobile, and Verizon.

Cable operators have argued that standards first need to be in place to prevent the new technology from interfering with existing Wi-Fi, 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.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has encouraged both sides to come to a meeting of the minds, saying it is preferable to the FCC stepping in to mandate a way for ward. 

"Like all American consumers, EVOLVE members support WiFi and understand the important role it plays in meeting consumers’ broadband demands," the new coalition said in a statement. "LTE-U and LAA were designed from the ground-up to operate cooperatively with WiFi and other signals. In fact, when tested together, Wi-Fi performed the same or even better with LTE-U than Wi-Fi does alone."

LTE backers have been at odds with the forces of cable WiFi over opening up spectrum currently used by cable ops for their primary WiFi play to telcos looking to create their own broadband hot spots via LTE-U (U for "unlicensed").

At a CTIA Super Mobility conference in Las Vegas, Wheeler talked about the FCC's role in promoting LTE-U. He said there were "many flavors" of the technology, but that the keys were getting maximum efficiency out of both licensed and unlicensed. "If they can work together to achieve that," he said, "that's good." But, he said, "if some of the things that are envisioned end up affecting the ability of Wi-Fi to deliver, that's bad."

Wheeler put in a plug for dealing with that tension through the traditional route of a broad-based standards process—something the cable operators have been seeking assurances would be the FCC approach.

“Americans need better broadband, and they need it now,” said Dean Brenner, SVP, government affairs, for Qualcomm, which pioneered LTE-u and has been pushing for rolling out the technology ASAP. “That is because the Internet is entering a new phase of growth, in which so many more devices are connected and share rich data, making it necessary to increase mobile broadband capacity by 1,000 times. We applaud and join EVOLVE in its commitment to permission-less wireless innovation and the decades-long public policy that has made unlicensed spectrum so successful."

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association had no comment, but Wifi Forward, a group that includes NCTA heavy hitters Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Charter, said it was fine with talking about co-existence.

"Everyone should have the ability to utilize and share the critical unlicensed bands," the group said in a statement. "WifiForward welcomes diverse and robust conversations on how we can best promote, protect and advance innovation in these bands. We welcome efforts that enhance the wireless experience while successfully coexisting with other Wi-Fi technologies."

The following are the new coalition's stated aims.

1 "Innovation in unlicensed spectrum will continue to fuel the continually evolving high-tech industry and empower consumers with even more choices in products and services.    

2. "The FCC has designated that unlicensed spectrum is available for everyone – using any technology – and continues to be crucial to the evolution and growth of mobile communications. It is important for all participants in the unlicensed space, both existing and new entrants, to coexist and play well together. 

3.“Permission-less innovation” means that new technologies should be encouraged to leverage unlicensed spectrum to drive a competitive mobile marketplace that provides for ubiquitous connectivity in the burgeoning Internet of Things market.

4. "Wi-Fi is a critical component of wireless networks and provides important connectivity for consumers. New technologies using unlicensed spectrum need to work cooperatively with Wi-Fi today, tomorrow and into the future. Likewise, current-generation technologies must accommodate new innovative technologies that also operate in unlicensed spectrum.

5. "Together, the unlicensed policy framework and permission-less innovation are a resounding success, producing a continuously evolving stream of new technologies, devices, apps, products and services. 

6. "Consumers depend on unlicensed spectrum for a variety of uses – Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, telematics, consumer electronics, and manufacturing – and benefit when new innovations in the unlicensed space improve and enhance their rapidly increasing digital demands.

7. "The best way to address spectrum congestion is a strategy of abundance and sound policy. Unlicensed spectrum is one of several important components to meeting consumers’ demand in broadband, both mobile and fixed. The federal government must continue to make additional spectrum available for unlicensed use."

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.