OTI raises concerns about Verizon, Qualcomm testing pre-certified LTE-U

New America's Open Technology Institute (OTI) is warning the FCC that its proposed rules for the 3.5 GHz band could allow the spectrum to be used in an anti-competitive manner.

In an April 9 filing, OTI suggests that there is a strong need for preemptive "rules of the road" concerning the shared nature of the General Authorized Access (GAA) bands in order to avoid another Section 333 Wi-Fi blocking controversy down the road.

Representatives of Microsoft and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) and Michael Calabrese, director of New America's Wireless Future Project, recently met with Commissioner Mignon Clyburn and her senior legal advisor, Louis Peraetz, about the 3.5 GHz proceeding, according to an ex parte filing.

During the meeting, Calabrese reiterated OTI's concern about reports that companies, including Qualcomm and Verizon, are testing pre-certification versions of LTE-U technology that could be used by licensed services to dominate GAA in an anticompetitive manner. "Mobile carriers will have both the ability and strong incentives to aggregate GAA spectrum as a free adjunct to their licensed networks, initially as one-way Supplemental Down Link channels, both lowering their costs for licensed spectrum while for the first time being able to charge consumers for the use of unlicensed spectrum," the filing states.

OTI and Public Knowledge raised particular concerns regarding Qualcomm's effort to ensure that the control channel for LTE use of unlicensed spectrum--including, potentially, the GAA portion of the 3.5 GHz band--is anchored in a licensed frequency and gives carriers an advantage over unlicensed users.

"Moreover, based on our understanding, individual carriers will have the option to configure their LTE-U equipment to dominate GAA bands," the filing states. "Even if LTE-U can in theory share GAA (or other unlicensed bands) with 802.11 Wi-Fi technologies, carriers will have the option to introduce just enough latency to frustrate consumer use of real-time applications, such as FaceTime video calling. Carriers would have powerful incentives to use LTE-U to deter mobile market entry by 'Wi-Fi First' providers, such as wireline ISPs, a development that would also undermine intensive use of this breakthrough small cell band and harm a far wider range of small cell users, including community networks as well as individual business and household users."

On the commission's agenda for this Friday's open public meeting is the proposed 3.5 GHz rulemaking. Senior FCC staff have said the proposal as written does not ban the use of LTE-U/LAA. The Report and Order would add new spectrum-sharing technologies to make 150 MHz of contiguous spectrum available in the 3550-3700 MHz band for wireless broadband and other uses. The proceeding has been in the works for over two years, with several rounds of public comment.

Qualcomm is urging the FCC to reject requests made by various parties to prohibit deployment of any particular version of the so-called LAA/LTE-U technology in the proposed GAA tier. Qualcomm notes in its April 9 filing that it successfully demonstrated the technology at Mobile World Congress 2015 in Barcelona, Spain. Qualcomm maintains that there is no sound legal or policy justification for the commission to prohibit any technology in the band.

T-Mobile US also argues that the rules should be technologically neutral and not disfavor LTE-U or LAA. The "uncarrier" argues that Wi-Fi and LAA can coexist by each technology's permitting similar, not superior, access to GAA spectrum.

For more:
- see this filing

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