January 28, 2016 — The battle between LTE-U and Wi-Fi will continue, even escalate – there is a lot at stake. LTE-U is designed to let cellular networks boost data speeds over short distances. Additionally, because no added rights that have to be purchased, LTE-U would allow carriers to extend their core networks at a fraction of the cost of their existing systems.
But they stomp on Wi-Fi signals. Because upper unibands can have a watt, or more, of transmit power in outdoor usage, they can overpower the shared Wi-Fi bands. Testing has shown that to be the case, and an LTE-U network can “override any Wi-Fi signal in the area, creating enough interference to block nearby corporate networks and public Wi-Fi hotspots – not good!
Proponents of LTE-U argue that it is a legitimate competitor to Wi-Fi technology, and should therefore be allowed to operate in the same spectrum. That is not the argument. The argument is that if it is going to share, then it has to be a good neighbor, and it is tuning out that such is not the case.
Wi-Fi currently uses an 802.11 listen-before-talk (LBT) contention-based protocol. LTE-U relies on an arbitrary duty cycle mechanism. LTE-U needs to adopt the same LBT protocol so everyone can just get along and share the medium. In the United Kingdom, they have acknowledged the problem and have regulated the 5 GHz spectrum. Is that what has to happen here?
Carriers are rushing LTE-U into the market because it is a cash cow. They want to get it out before the FCC has a chance to rule, because they know LTE-U, as it stands today, is a flawed platform and if they end up having to re-engineer the access protocols, it will cost them a lot of money. If the carriers succeeded, traditional Wi-Fi vendors will be forced to look for clean spectrum. The FCC, and industry leaders need to stop the 800 pound gorillas from bullying their way into the spectrum, and regulate the 5 GHz band.
Ernest Worthman is the senior editor of AGL’s Small Cell Magazine