As we learned from the last FCC auction, mobile spectrum is expensive. Really expensive. Verizon and AT&T walked away with $20 billion worth of spectrum, while Dish quietly snapped up another $13 billion. T-Mobile was surprisingly quiet, but noted a bit later on they were planning to wait for low-band spectrum to come available via the next FCC auction. Rather than buy spectrum, they’re planning to use unregulated spectrum typically used for WiFi.
So, how can they do that? Alcatel-Lucent recently announced two new technologies for accomplishing the feat, which T-Mobile will reportedly rely heavily on. The first, WiFi boost, will manage your upload/download agenda. You’ll use an LTE cellular network for uploads via your mobile device, but turn to WiFi for downloads.
The second technology is called Cellular Boost, and bounces your LTE signal across WiFi spectrum. That means your existing WiFi connection might take a hit, as more devices would potentially be crowding the spectrum.
To do this, T-Mobile will utilize Alcatel-Lucent’s Small Cells, which are the same kind of tech used in cellular towers or antennae arrays, just in a smaller package.
Two things should be noted, here; the airwaves T-Mobile is accessing are unlicensed, and meant to be shared. The rub isn’t necessarily with T-Mobile’s method, it’s the tech being used. As GigaOm points out, the WiFi industry claims those on a WiFi connection may see disruption of service due to this LTE/WiFi-hopping scheme.
T-Mobile is planning to launch this feature in 2016, so get ready for heated discussion on the topic until then. T-Moible can tap into the unregulated spectrum, but irresponsible management of this LTE/WiFi plan could see the FCC pop their head in to make sure everything is alright. If it’s not, unregulated could become regulated.