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FCC Allows Further Testing of LTE Service in Unlicensed Spectrum Used by Wi-Fi

The Wi-Fi Alliance says it remains concerned about commercial deployment, but didn't oppose the request to allow further testing.

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Today, cellphones often have the ability to grab data over Wi-Fi or over LTE. But if Verizon and Qualcomm have their way, phones may soon use the same LTE technology even when they are operating over airwaves typically occupied by Wi-Fi.

The Federal Communications Commission on Friday approved further testing of the approach, known as LTE-U (U for unlicensed), which has been at the center of a struggle between tech heavyweights.

For months now, Verizon, Qualcomm and others have been pushing LTE-U, promising that it would allow for more efficient data use by cellular devices while also insisting that it can be a good neighbor with Wi-Fi devices.

Opponents, including Wi-Fi advocates, Google and various cable companies, meanwhile, have been leading a charge against the effort, saying LTE devices could overwhelm the airwaves, shutting out Wi-Fi and other uses. Both sides have put forth a variety of scientific arguments to bolster their business-related reasons for supporting or opposing LTE-U.

The FCC is giving Qualcomm permission to test gear at two Verizon facilities, saying the move will give device makers an opportunity to show they won’t interfere with Wi-Fi and other unlicensed spectrum users. The agency has been studying the issue for some time now, but has been trying to avoid taking sides.

“The Office of Engineering & Technology and the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau have encouraged the industry to address and resolve these concerns, and considerable progress has been made,” the FCC’s Julius Knapp said in a blog post.

Qualcomm said it was pleased with the FCC’s move as well as a letter from the Wi-Fi Alliance that indicated the group did not oppose Qualcomm’s application. “We are collaborating with the Wi-Fi Alliance to develop a coexistence test plan, and we anticipate using that plan for joint lab and field tests to validate that LTE-U will not have any adverse impact on Wi-Fi. We would like to thank the FCC and the Wi-Fi Alliance for working with us to reach this important result.”

That said, the Wi-Fi Alliance isn’t saying it is okay with commercial deployment of LTE-U. The Wi-Fi Alliance said it “remains concerned about the widespread introduction of LTE-U devices” and hopes that “before the [FCC] approves the routine use of LTE-U products, the commission will evaluate the results of testing in real-world scenarios to demonstrate that LTE-U devices can coexist fairly” with others.

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