Big wireless providers elbowing their way onto the same unlicensed spectrum as your Wi-Fi isn’t going to be the headache that many predict, according to Qualcomm senior vice president of business development Neville Meijers.
“What we’re not trying to do is take away spectrum from anybody,” he told Network World in an interview at CTIA’s Super Mobility 2015 conference. “We’re just trying to share that spectrum and make the overall system more efficient.”
LTE-U – short for LTE unlicensed, and related to LAA, or license-assisted access, a related technology – is a proposed wireless standard that would see carriers use LTE signals in the same 5GHz frequencies as modern Wi-Fi equipment. Though 5GHz signals don’t propagate nearly as widely as licensed LTE frequencies, the trend toward many smaller, localized cells instead of single “macro-sites” for a given area means that LTE-U could help the carriers substantially ease the demand on their licensed spectrum.
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Despite assurances from the big carriers and from Qualcomm – which originally proposed the LTE-U standard – consumer advocates have staunchly opposed the technology, saying earlier this summer in FCC comments that it could seriously degrade Wi-Fi performance and encourage anti-competitive behavior.
Meijers said that such concerns are groundless – for one thing, as a mobile chipmaker, Qualcomm has a foot firmly in both the mobile and Wi-Fi camps.
“That’s why we’ve taken such care that coexistence does work and it shares the medium fairly,” he said. “Because it’s really important to us to ensure that if our customers … go out there and start using this technology, that there’s no backlash, that all of a sudden somebody who has a Wi-Fi access point says ‘I can’t get on that access point.’”
Qualcomm SVP Neville Meijers
In addition, Qualcomm has consistently argued that the technology won’t actually have an impact on existing Wi-Fi networks, providing internal study results that it says bear out its points – the company is also publishing what it says is the first independent study demonstrating LTE-U’s harmlessness here at the CTIA event.
“People are using more and more data, and networks are under huge pressure. What we’re trying to do is make the overall system more efficient, by the introduction of a more efficient technology,” Meijers said.
Moreover, he made the point that there might not be much opponents can do about it – the 5GHz spectrum in question is unlicensed, and carriers have as much right to use it as anybody else.
“[Unlicensed spectrum] doesn’t belong to anybody – Boingo uses it to make money, hotels charge for it, consumers put it in their homes and utilize it,” said Meijers. “Why shouldn’t [carriers] have the choice to do that?”
The FCC could weigh in – chairman Tom Wheeler, in an on-stage interview earlier in the day, said that the industry needs to come up with a comprehensive standard that protects unlicensed 5GHz users, or run the risk of the FCC stepping in.
But for the moment, plans for LTE-U seem to be in high gear – a Wall Street Journal report from mere weeks ago said that Verizon and T-Mobile are both planning to introduce the capability into some of their base stations as early as next year.