AT&T recently joined a coalition of high tech companies and wireless operators designed to help educate consumers and policymakers about the benefits of using unlicensed spectrum to enhance speed, service quality and coverage for consumers.  Two new unlicensed technologies – LTE-U and LTE-LAA – are being developed to harness the availability of unlicensed spectrum to complement LTE technologies deployed in licensed bands in ways that will directly benefit U.S. wireless customers.

Recent claims, however, have been made suggesting that these new technologies will cause interference with and could ultimately undermine the Wi-Fi networks that are currently broadly deployed in homes, offices and public spaces around the country.  Some have even argued that wireless companies that rely on licensed bands shouldn’t have access to unlicensed spectrum at all, particularly in the 5 GHz band.

Such arguments are contrary to public policy and the law, and fly in the face of the long history of innovation and permission-less use of unlicensed bands.

First, as to the rules, the FCC’s regulations for unlicensed devices were written to encourage free and permission-less innovation. As long as a device meets certain minimum technical standards, it is permissible.  Both new unlicensed technologies are being designed to meet those standards.

Second, and more importantly, LTE technology is specifically being developed to coexist with other unlicensed technologies and devices.  AT&T is committed to ensuring this coexistence.  AT&T and other wireless operators have more than 300 million devices deployed, many of which currently rely on Wi-Fi operations as an important part of the customer experience.  It would run directly contrary to wireless industry interests to introduce new technologies that will cause interference with those Wi-Fi operations.

AT&T believes that any new technologies should play fair and any legitimate coexistence concerns should be addressed.  AT&T has recently announced its plans to test LTE-U and is fully engaged in the standardization effort behind LTE-LAA.  Wi-Fi-centric concerns about either technology should be fully understood and tested to ensure fair use sharing.  We’d like to see testing conducted by a cross-section of unlicensed stakeholders so any co-existence concerns can be fully vetted.

But the answer to any co-existence challenges, should they exist, will not be found in the heavy-handed regulatory response that some seem to be encouraging.  Unlicensed bands have long served as the playground for disruption and innovation in new wireless technologies.  A light-touch regulatory framework has served that purpose well to the benefit of U.S. wireless consumers.  There’s no reason that should change now.


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