FCC Commissioner says agency should stay out of LTE-U debate

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- FCC Commissioner Michael O'Rielly sided with Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) and T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) in the debate over whether or not the FCC should regulate LTE Unlicensed (LTE-U) and related technologies.

During a keynote address at the 2015 Competitive Carriers' show, O'Rielly told the audience that, while he appreciates the Wi-Fi community's concerns about LTE-U, he also believes that the standards process is successful and should continue to be conducted independently. "This needs to be worked out through the stakeholders," O'Rielly said. "The Commission should not intentionally or unintentionally influence or take sides or have any say in what technologies can and should be deployed."

O'Rielly comments are particularly timely as operators such as T-Mobile US and Verizon (NYSE: VZ) have said they will deploy LTE-U later this year or in early 2016. Representatives from T-Mobile and Qualcomm have said that the FCC should not regulate LTE-U because it can co-exist with Wi-Fi.

Nevertheless, proponents of Wi-Fi, such as the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, have said that Qualcomm has not engaged in meaningful collaboration with the unlicensed community, and that its proposals thus far on LTE-U/Wi-Fi coexistence are not fair or equitable.  

The debate over LTE-U's ability to coexist with Wi-Fi has sparked an inquiry from the FCC. In May, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said that the commission was going to initiate a separate proceeding to look specifically at LTE-U/LAA. At the time, Wheeler said that many commenters in the agency's proceedings on 3.5 GHz were concerned about the technology, which is being examined in the standards-setting process.

In a separate panel discussion following O'Rielly's comments, T-Mobile Senior Vice President of Government Affairs Kathleen Ham said that the operator believes that the nature of the unlicensed spectrum band is to be an innovation band and it would be unfortunate if the FCC stopped that innovation. "We make heavy use of Wi-Fi. There is no way we are going to deploy a technology that is going to interfere with that," she said, adding that the cable industry has built a business model on Wi-Fi hotspots. "It's clear they don't want the wireless industry to compete with them and encroach on spectrum that they didn't pay for," Ham said. "Wireless has a history of paying for spectrum in auctions," she added.

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