The latest chapter of the Wi-Fi vs. LTE-U saga unfolded this month as the Wi-Fi Alliance (WFA) announced that, after many months, it was finally closing in on an approved LTE-U coexistence test plan but surprised everyone by suggesting that the test plan should also include LTE-LAA. To understand why this is so aggravating, we need to take a little trip in the not-so-way-back machine.
A year ago, when the whole LTE-U brouhaha erupted, the Wi-Fi proponents advanced two primary complaints.
First, the Wi-Fi proponents argued that LTE-U had not been standardized, but instead was an un-scrutinized proprietary technology. It was further argued that the unlicensed community always worked together cooperatively and that the LTE-U proponents had somehow violated that unwritten code.
As a preliminary matter, that’s simply not the case. There are many unlicensed devices that are not particularly cooperative with Wi-Fi. One report estimates that 76% of the interference into home Wi-Fi systems comes from baby monitors, microwaves and cordless phones; and no one manufacturing those devices had to seek permission from the WFA to proceed or submit to WFA co-existence testing. I would also note that LTE-U relies on LTE Releases standardized in 3GPP.
But setting that aside, it is indisputable that LTE-LAA has gone through the 3GPP process and has now been standardized on a global basis. Everyone, including all the WFA members, had an opportunity to sit at the 3GPP table while the standard was being discussed, submit whatever technical submissions they wanted to, and a global standard has now emerged.
Second, the Wi-Fi crowd argued that LTE-U was unacceptable because it didn’t contain a “listen before talk” protocol. LTE-LAA does. Enough said.
Yet, despite having fully met the two complaints that the Wi-Fi crowd insisted were at the core of their LTE-U concerns, we now learn that they apparently believe that LTE-LAA must likewise be subject to a WFA co-existence test plan.
Over the years Part 15 has always stood for the principle of permission-less innovation. Any device consistent with the Part 15 rules was promptly authorized. It was a clear regulatory paradigm that led to an explosion of unlicensed devices. With LTE-U, that paradigm was subject to a tectonic shift toward a “mother-may-I” standard, with the role of mother being played by an ever-changing number of actors.
Let me be clear on one point – AT&T has no interest in undermining the vibrant Wi-Fi ecosystem that exists today. Well over 100 million devices connect to our network and the vast majority of those devices include a Wi-Fi client. But with LTE-LAA, the “mother-may-I” paradigm must be rejected so the wireless industry can move forward. Make no mistake, the rest of the world is not waiting for permission – Deutsche Telecom conducted the first LTE-LAA over-the-air trials last November in Germany.
With LTE-LAA, the asserted objections to LTE-U have been fully addressed. Any pending or future application for equipment authorization for a LTE-LAA device that otherwise meets the Part 15 requirements should be granted in normal course. Any other result could do permanent damage to the incredibly successful Part 15 paradigm, result in the U.S. falling behind the world in the development of LTE unlicensed technologies and deny American consumers important advancements in mobile broadband.