Google, Broadcom, Boingo, others push FCC to scrutinize LTE-U

In the ongoing war over the use of LTE in unlicensed spectrum, a group of companies, including Google (NASDAQ: GOOG), Boingo Wireless and Broadcom, is once again urging the FCC to push for a solution that won't have a negative impact on consumers of Wi-Fi.

Citing what it calls the LTE-U (LTE Unlicensed) proponents' "disregard for the standard-setting bodies" and potential to cause significant harm to American consumers, the group says the commission should "carefully scrutinize this conduct and ensure that Wi-Fi users remain able to experience the full benefit of their networks and current and future devices."

Doing so would be consistent with FCC policy and promote consumer welfare, just as standards-based innovation has done so well in the past, said the letter to the FCC signed by Boingo, Broadcom, Google, Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA), consultant Paul Nikolich and Ruckus Wireless.

The letter refers to the "miracle of Wi-Fi" that is in many ways the product of putting into action what scholars have called a "commons management principle," which maintains openness, does not discriminate among users and eliminates the need to obtain approval or a license to use the resource. "The Wi-Fi standard-setting process has been successful in effectuating this principle precisely because its etiquette and protocol standards were developed with the participation of all affected parties," the letter states.

However, the companies assert that the leading proponents of LTE-U have taken the opposite approach in the face of substantial concerns about harmful interference to a large class of existing users. While work in the 3GPP to develop standards for coexistence between Licensed Assisted Access (LAA) and Wi-Fi is ongoing, LTE-U proponents have chosen to "press forward unilaterally" to deploy their own non-standardized form of unlicensed LTE in the United States, according to the group.

LTE-U proponents insist that the LTE-U Forum has established sufficient safeguards to allay any interference concerns, but "these claims have not been subject to the rigors of peer review through standard-setting bodies like the 3GPP," the group stated. The LTE-U Forum's development was "conducted behind closed doors without the open collaboration that generally characterizes the standard-setting process," the letter added. "This falls far short of the multi-stakeholder approach that the Commission has sought to promote, and that LTE-U proponents previously endorsed."

LTE-U was developed outside the standards bodies via the LTE-U Forum with Verizon (NYSE: VZ), Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM), Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU), Ericsson (NASDAQ: ERIC) and Samsung as initial members. T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) has also thrown its support toward the forum's efforts, and last month a coalition that includes many of the same in addition to AT&T (NYSE: T), CTIA and the Competitive Carriers Association (CCA) launched Evolve, a coalition designed to promote the benefits of unlicensed spectrum and new technologies like LTE-U and LAA. 

The Evolve coalition just announced Nokia Networks (NYSE:NOK) as a new member, shortly after 4G Americas announced its support for the coalition's seven guiding principles for "continued innovation in unlicensed wireless spectrum." Evolve has been busy the past several weeks launching a new website, introducing itself to the media and expanding its resources.

The group stands in contrast to the backers of the pre-existing WiFiForward, which includes Google, Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA), Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT), Broadcom, NCTA, Open Technology Institute New America, Public Knowledge and Ruckus, among others.

The cable industry in particular has been critical of LTE-U, saying it doesn't include the key "listen before talk" feature that LAA will feature when it becomes a standard out of the 3GPP. LTE-U proponents have repeatedly said that they have made efforts to include "everyone" in discussions about the technology, and they're pushing back attempts by any one entity to decide what's permitted in unlicensed spectrum as long as it meets the FCC's criteria. They also insist that LTE-U is not going to be harmful to Wi-Fi, pointing to their own Wi-Fi vested interests.

For more:
- see this FCC filing
- see this release

Related articles:
AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile throw support behind new LTE-U, LAA coalition
Nokia working with Google in 3.5 GHz spectrum
AT&T to trial LTE-U by early 2016
Google touts Spectrum Access System for 3.5 GHz spectrum management