FCC gives green light to controversial LTE-U

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FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has given telcos in the US the green-light to turn on LTE-U in their basestations, allowing devices to access the less-trafficked, unlicensed parts of the 5 GHz frequency band.

T-Mobile will be the first carrier to test out LTE-U in the spring, following the FCC’s certification of equipment from Ericsson and Nokia. T-Mobile customers will now be able to tap into the first 20 MHz of unlicensed spectrum on the 5 GHz band and use it for additional LTE capacity. The FCC announcement follows three years of research to understand whether LTE-U plays nicely alongside wifi.

Many critics point out it could lead to interference and congestion in the 5 GHz band. This claim has been rubbished by some of the more vocal tech organizations who, funnily enough, will benefit from the development. Whitepapers and conference speeches can claim all sorts of benefits and downsides, but we’re about to find out first hand who is right.

“Today, the Commission announced authorization of the first-ever LTE-U devices in the 5 GHz band,” said Pai. “This is a significant advance in wireless innovation and a big win for wireless consumers. LTE-U allows wireless providers to deliver mobile data traffic using unlicensed spectrum while sharing the road, so to speak, with WiFi.

“This is a great deal for wireless consumers, too.  It means they get to enjoy the best of both worlds: a more robust, seamless experience when their devices are using cellular networks and the continued enjoyment of Wi-Fi, one of the most creative uses of spectrum in history.”

LTE-U devices, in theory, identify the least utilized channels to maximize efficiency and performance. As demand on the Wi-Fi network increases, LTE-U backs off, and as Wi-Fi demand wanes, customers can tap into that unused capacity for LTE.

The announcement is another example of the new-FCC approach, which appears to be the polar opposite view of previous Chairman Tom Wheeler. Pai has never been shy during his time at the FCC, but in his first couple of weeks he is really putting his stamp on the office.

It seems like a perfect scenario to generate additional capacity as the network becomes increasingly strained under the mountain of traffic, though how this works in the real-world remains to be seen.

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