LTE-WiFi debate exposes spectrum land grab: Page 2 of 4

May 11, 2015 // By Junko Yoshida
LTE-WiFi debate exposes spectrum land grab
When the Federal Communications Commission issued a public notice last week seeking information on LTE-Unlicensed (LTE-U) and Licensed Assisted Access (LAA), many media outlets tended to frame the news as a technical debate on the possibility of peaceful co-existence between two competing wireless technologies: LTE-U/LAA versus WiFi.

Not everyone agrees with Burstein.

When asked about the 3GPP proposal suggesting cellular operators’ desire to take "standalone access to unlicensed spectrum" out of the emerging standard (Rel 13), Rupert Baines, consultant at Real Wireless, a firm consisting of independent wireless experts, commented, “Yes, that is the proposal.” But his take was: “Those proposals are about making sure LAA stays closely linked to licensed LTE.” Baines said that Burstein “ascribes sinister reasons to it. I think he is wrong. There are sensible reasons why this is a better architecture.”

Jag Bolaria, a principal analyst at The Linley Group, added that Burstein is generally on the mark.

Bolaria explained, “There are certain things cellular can do better and WiFi can’t.” LTE, for example, can do handoffs well, but it’s difficult for WiFi to do similar handoffs with another WiFi access point, he noted. Further, LTE can use the spectrum much more efficiently than WiFi.

'Preemptive strike'

But Bolaria pointed out that cable operators like Comcast, who have no cellular spectrum but have many WiFi access points, could improve the technology and expand their capabilities, using techniques developed for LTE-U. Non-cellular carriers, in essence, “could potentially offer their customers voice and other services – similar to those offered by cellular operators,” he said. Thus, those currently operating in the unlicensed spectrum could become a threat to cellular networks’ business in the future.

He added, “Technically, I don’t see how 3GPP can prohibit non-members from using LTE-U. It is after all a publicly available standard.” But by deliberately deciding that “Non-carrier aggregated LAA operation is not supported in Rel-13” as proposed in the memo, cellular operators’ marketing machines could turn on the heat, declaring that whatever cable operators or WiFi-first service providers are doing in the future using LTE technique “aren’t standard-compliant,” Bolaria noted.

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