Wi-Fi Alliance takes lead in controversial LTE-U test development

Heading into 2016, the Wi-Fi Alliance is confident the industry can reach a consensus on LTE-U in unlicensed spectrum, and it's demonstrating its ability to bring a diverse set of stakeholders to the table that are committed to develop a testing system that ensures LTE-U products fairly coexist with Wi-Fi. All of which is key if the industry is to avoid tighter scrutiny by the FCC.

"We're certainly optimistic on how things are progressing," Kevin Robinson, vice president of marketing at the Wi-Fi Alliance, told FierceWirelessTech, adding that the Wi-Fi Alliance is intent on solving a set of difficult problems. "Don't get me wrong, there's still significant work to be done," he said. But increasingly, the industry is recognizing that the Wi-Fi Alliance is the forum for addressing concerns related to LTE-U coexistence.

Quite a bit has changed since August, when a dustup occurred after the Wi-Fi Alliance announced its Co-Existence Evaluation Program for developing a comprehensive coexistence test plan. At the time, Verizon (NYSE: VZ), T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS), Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM), Ericsson (NASDAQ: ERIC) and Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) fired off a letter to the FCC saying the Wi-Fi Alliance's proposal amounted to the alliance trying to be a "gatekeeper" for technology in unlicensed spectrum. Representatives from Verizon and Qualcomm also pointed out that even while they were (and still are) members of the Wi-Fi Alliance, they were not apprised of the Wi-Fi Alliance's evaluation proposal until it was filed with the FCC.

Now, however, those differences appear to have been hammered out. After a November workshop sponsored by the Wi-Fi Alliance that brought together about 100 people from 54 different companies, one of the things that came out of the workshop was general agreement on the need for additional clarity in the LTE-U specification, as well as broader testing and a commitment from stakeholders to collaborate, according to Robinson. A lot of technical discussions and debate still need to happen, but it's at least moving to a place where tests can be developed.

Dean Brenner, senior vice president, government affairs at Qualcomm, said all the LTE-U Forum companies are working hard with the Wi-Fi Alliance and the hope and goal is to develop a common set of tests that could be used for coexistence lab testing that everyone can accept. "We're very much on the same page," he told FierceWirelessTech.

Verizon and T-Mobile have expressed a desire to roll out LTE-U in 2016, and AT&T (NYSE: T), Verizon and T-Mobile are among the members of Evolve, a coalition launched in September to promote the benefits of unlicensed spectrum and new technologies like LTE-U and License Assisted Access (LAA). LAA is being developed as a standard through 3GPP.

What kind of testing is sufficient to prove something is going to work fairly and not interfere? That's the million-dollar question. Developing a test regime to ensure Wi-Fi and LTE-U devices coexist well together is a difficult problem and there's a lot of work to be done to develop that test regime, which requires all the stakeholders to come together, Robinson said.

The Wi-Fi Alliance's objective is to determine how much testing is adequate. To date, a lot of what's been done is focused on basic scenarios and studies conducted in controlled environments. The Wi-Fi Alliance wants to develop a recipe to test devices so that anyone can use it, whether they're in China or Silicon Valley, and they don't need a PHd to follow the instructions.

The Wi-Fi Alliance plans its next invitation-only workshop on Feb. 10 in San Jose.

Related articles:
Wi-Fi Alliance pushes ahead on coexistence guidelines for LTE-U
Verizon, T-Mobile and other LTE U supporters castigate Wi-Fi Alliance certification proposal
Qualcomm responds to interference concerns: LTE-U won't interfere with cable Wi-Fi
Verizon's LTE-U Forum completes LTE Unlicensed tests on way toward carrier's 2016 deployment in 5 GHz, 3.5 GHz