T-Mobile champions co-existence amid calls for FCC intervention in LTE-U

While a group of senators is putting pressure on the FCC to assert more oversight on LTE-Unlicensed (LTE-U) technology developments, T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS), one of the intended users of the tech, says it continues to advocate for co-existence.

"We continue to champion co-existence and have been innovating in the unlicensed band for many years now, having worked with partners to bring Wi-Fi calling to market for the first time in 2007," the company said in a statement provided to FierceWirelessTech. "As the FCC traditionally monitors technology deployment in a technology-neutral way and LTE is designed to share use of unlicensed spectrum, there is no reason for the FCC to change course by proactively blocking or delaying the deployment of LTE in the unlicensed bands."

T-Mobile is one of the companies, along with Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM), that met with reporters in Washington, D.C., last week to discuss why they want the FCC to stay out of LTE-U technology decisions. At a CTIA-organized briefing, Qualcomm and T-Mobile officials argued that LTE-U can coexist happily with Wi-Fi and that opponents of the technology have not marshalled sound technical reasons for opposing it.

Meanwhile, the group of six senators is calling on FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler to assert more oversight on potential interference LTE-U could have on Wi-Fi. "As unlicensed spectrum usage increases, the need for all stakeholders to proactively work together to address interference issues will only grow," the senators wrote, led by Sen. Brian Schatz (D--Hawai'i). "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."

Joining Schatz in his support for more FCC oversight are Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.). "Wrecommend 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," the senators wrote. "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."

Not surprisingly, WiFiForward and the Wi-Fi Alliance were quite pleased with the senators' move. "Sen. Schatz's observation that there is an absence of industry consensus about the real-world effects of unlicensed LTE deployments is accurate and is a point of grave concern for the Wi-Fi industry," the Wi-Fi Alliance said in a statement. "We support all efforts to achieve industry consensus on fairness mechanisms. We will participate in collaboration activities in any suitable forum. We support the Senator's recommendation that FCC initiate a process to ensure constructive dialogue continues in an open and neutral forum and to promote continued work on effective spectrum sharing mechanisms."

New America's Open Technology Institute also expressed support. "Our consumer coalition has told the FCC we fear mobile carriers have both the ability and strong incentives to use LTE-U as an anti-competitive counterattack against Wi-Fi as a carrier substitute," said Michael Calabrese, director of the Wireless Future Project at New America's Open Technology Institute.

"Carriers have powerful incentives to use LTE-U to deter mobile market competition from 'Wi-Fi First' providers, such as cable companies and Google," Calabrese said in his statement. "Even without blocking Wi-Fi, carriers can use LTE-U to introduce just enough packet delay to frustrate consumer use of real-time applications, such as video calling. Carriers can also for the first time use LTE-U to force consumers to pay them for the use of the unlicensed spectrum that powers Wi-Fi today."

While LTE-U supporters argue that the LTE technology can be a good neighbor to Wi-Fi -- and sometimes even better than Wi-Fi itself -- those in the unlicensed community are not buying it. "Wi-Fi is incredibly important to numerous consumer technologies. Nearly every laptop, smartphone and Internet-enabled device relies on Wi-Fi and other similarly open technologies like Bluetooth," Charles Duan, staff attorney at Public Knowledge, said in a statement. "Unlicensed spectrum is the foundation for these communication technologies like Wi-Fi, and so we are troubled to see developments like LTE-U that might interfere with or even drown out existing Wi-Fi devices. FCC action is necessary to protect the open spectrum spaces that have enabled extraordinary innovation."

But CTIA is not happy with the senators' push, and it points the finger squarely on the cable industry for creating a ruckus where none is justified. "The cable industry's continued efforts to inhibit the rollout of new wireless services that could help deliver consumers better service and new Internet of Things offerings is disappointing," Tom Power, SVP and general counsel for CTIA, said in a statement. "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."

Qualcomm said it didn't have a separate comment on the senators' action but referred to CTIA's statement as one it supports. Qualcomm Technologies and Verizon (NYSE: VZ) are among the companies that formed the LTE-U Forum in 2014 to develop, test and demonstrate the technology. Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU), Ericsson (NASDAQ: ERIC) and Samsung also participated.

In May, the FCC took the relatively unusual step of releasing a public notice seeking comment on LTE-U and Licensed Assisted Access (LAA) after it heard concerns about potential interference in unlicensed bands.

For more:
- see this release
- see this Wi-Fi Alliance statement
- see this Wi-Fi Forward blog
- see this CTIA statement

Related articles:
Qualcomm, NCTA continue to battle over FCC regulation of LTE-U, LAA
Verizon, Qualcomm lobby for LTE-U, Wi-Fi coexistence scheme
Qualcomm runs more tests to prove LTE-U, LAA are not Wi-Fi's enemy
Qualcomm responds to interference concerns: LTE-U won't interfere with cable Wi-Fi