LTE-WiFi debate exposes spectrum land grab: Page 3 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.

The bottom line is that “cellular operators don’t want WiFi to start behaving like LTE,” according to Bolaria. The memo circulated among 3GPP’s working group members is nothing but “a preemptive strike,” he concluded.

Real Wireless’ Baines questioned some scenarios laid out by Burstein in his article. Burstein assumes that if standalone access is allowed on the unlicensed spectrum, “users and competitors can bypass the telecoms, cutting the revenue.”

Baines noted, “I think [Burstein] underestimates how expensive LTE is, and so he sees the non-carrier aggregated as some 'easy entry’ for competitive operators, which it isn't. LTE core is hard and expensive. You can’t just ‘cut out the telco.’ Or rather you can, but it is WiFi and Skype.”

Carrier aggregation

In an article posted on CableLabs’ website, Ian MacMillan, principal architect at CableLabs, discussed LTE-U as “a potential competitor on the horizon” for WiFi.

He reminded his readers, “Few technologies today are as key to how we communicate as WiFi. Worldwide about 50% of Internet traffic relies on WiFi and about 3% relies on mobile networks.” As more consumer products come equipped with WiFi it’s expected that WiFi will continue to increase its percentage of network traffic, he noted.

One of the things about LTE that worries MacMillan is not just LTE-U but LTE’s ability to support carrier aggregation (CA). CA “is intended to allow mobile operators to combine the various licensed spectrum bands they own into a single data connection between user and network. More spectrum equals more and faster data,” he explained.

MacMillan wonders happens when cellular operators decide to use CA “to not only combine licensed spectrum but also add in the unlicensed spectrum primarily used by WiFi today.” Of course, this could simplify WiFi and LTE integration, he said, because “it would all be LTE!”


MacMillan said: “This sounds great for mobile network operators, but what would it mean for WiFi users?”

Curiously, MacMillan is optimistic. He noted, “It’s unlikely that LTE-U would actually be deployed by a mobile network operator without some form of fairness-mechanism, because the backlash from consumers and industries would be very undesirable.” However, he did caution: “Even with a fairness-mechanism, more network technologies would be contending for the same amount of unlicensed spectrum, which could mean your WiFi connection is not as fast or responsive as it could be.”

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