And so the debate, nay, war, between proponents of LTE-U on the one side and Wi-Fi on the other has just entered a new, and perhaps more tumultuous stage. Pressed to make a move after numerous delays, the Wi-Fi Alliance has finally released the latest version of its test plan to ensure the interoperability of LTE-U and Wi-Fi spectrums. But as far as Qualcomm, one of the main advocates of LTE-U, is concerned, that plan is rubbish, failing to take into account proposals from the other side and turning a blind eye to the situation entirely.
Let’s backtrack a bit to see why there’s this much debate around something that, on paper, should benefit Internet users. With the meteoric rise of mobile devices and mobile data usage, the conventional licensed spectrum for data has become very congested. LTE-U, or LTE Advanced in Unlicensed spectrum, aims to offload some of that traffic to the 5.8 GHz spectrum, which is wider and faster. But “unlicensed” here doesn’t mean “unused”. That is actually the spectrum used by a wide variety of wireless connections, specifically Wi-Fi.
So, on the one hand, you have LTE-U advocates trying to push for technology in favor of mobile data. On the other hand, you have Wi-Fi proponents, mostly represented by the Wi-Fi Alliance, blocking it for fear that LTE-U will severely impact the quality of Wi-Fi services. The back and forth debate between the two has become so bad that the FCC was even asked to become an arbiter. The commission, however, preferred to make the two resolve the matter themselves first. And apparently that has failed.
Both sides have tried to come up with a compromise position that will ensure the harmonious co-existence between two competing users on the unlicensed spectrum. Qualcomm and other LTE-U allies have conducted tests for proof and submitted it to the Wi-Fi Alliance to incorporate into their own proposed test plan. But what came out instead, according to Qualcomm SVP for Government Affairs Dean Brenner, was totally out of this world.
“The latest version of the test plan released by the Wi-Fi Alliance lacks technical merit, is fundamentally biased against LTE-U, and rejects virtually all the input that Qualcomm provided for the last year, even on points that were not controversial. We saw that a Wi-Fi group yesterday called this new version of the plan a compromise. In truth, we submitted a compromise proposal which the Wi-Fi Alliance rejected in its entirety and instead issued this plan, which has the clear purpose of trying to keep the benefits of LTE-U away from consumers and off the unlicensed spectrum, which is supposed to be for all of us.”
Brenner claims that the Wi-Fi Alliance’s test plan implies a scenario where Wi-Fi access points are all made by a single vendor, using the same hardware and software, and communicating in harmony with Wi-Fi enabled devices. Qualcomm’s tests claim otherwise, showing that even Wi-Fi access points themselves don’t share the spectrum fairly. Brenner accuses the alliance of completely ignoring input coming from others, muddling the matter with inconsequential points, and refusing to meet LTE-U half way.
Those are pretty much fighting words and the FCC might eventually have to step in at last. T-Mobile and Nokia, from the LTE-U camp, have already filed a motion for the commission to approve of LTE-U devices considering the delay in the Wi-Fi Alliance’s test plan. Though now that the plan is out, they might be filing a different motion instead, one that would compel the Wi-Fi Alliance to actually implement a compromise, not a one-sided plan.