LTE-U or LTE on the Unlicensed spectrum. To be even more technically specific, on the 5 GHz band. It is either the future of mobile data connections or will bring forth Internet apocalypse. Tech companies from all corners of the industry are split on the matter and have even asked the Federal Communications Commission to mediate. The FCC still hasn’t taken a formal stance yet, but, in the meantime, it will be allowing those from the pro LTE-U camp to continue some tests and try to prove their position.
At face value, it might seem odd that there would be opposition to technology that will help bolster Internet speeds on mobile devices and prevent the impending congestion due to increased usage. However, LTE-U is, at least for its detractors, a two-edge sword that could very well also ruin the Wi-Fi half of Internet connections, those that don’t rely on cellular networks.
LTE-U relies on utilizing the 5.8 GHz spectrum to implement strong and fast Internet connections on smartphones and devices. The problem with this technology is that this “unlicensed” spectrum isn’t actually unused. In fact, it is widely used, the very same spectrum used by Wi-Fi and even garage door openers. For critics that include Google, Microsoft, and even Comcast, LTE-U will be a ticking timebomb that could wreck havok on Wi-Fi networks for the sake of bolstering cellular ones.
Both camps have put forth technical papers for and against LTE-U but the FCC is being extra careful not to set its foot down yet if it can avoid it. Its decision, which could open the door for one but close the other, could very well affect the future of wireless connectivity not just in the US but elsewhere too. For now, it is giving LTE-U proponents, like Qualcomm, Verizon, and Samsung, the green light to do more tests, but in a limited, small scale way.
Qualcomm and Verizon are allowed to test LTE-U gear in only two Verizon facilities, nothing more. It suggests that the two take the opportunity to really prove to its critics, specifically the Wi-Fi Alliance, that LTE-U will not interfere with Wi-Fi connections. The Wi-Fi Alliance, however, still remains unconvinced. Until then, LTE-U remains at an impasse and cellular data users will have to make do with LTE-A for the meantime.