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FCC Gives Nod to Qualcomm and Verizon to Test LTE-U at 5 Ghz

February 1, 2016 - Written By Tom Dawson

When it comes to frequencies and LTE bands it can become awfully confusing. In fact, over the past five years or so the average consumer has had to become at least some what familiar with they single-band from their dual-band to get better WiFi at home. The networks and phone manufacturers take most of this hard work out of choosing a smartphone, as chips from Qualcomm, Samsung and MediaTek often support the majority of bands around the world. It’s WiFi that Verizon and Qualcomm are looking to next in order to boost their LTE solutions, and the FCC has just given them the go-ahead to test LTE-U, also known as LTE-Unlicensed, in the 5 Ghz WiFi range.

Called LTE-Unlicensed because the use of LTE inside the same 5 Ghz section allocated for WiFi hasn’t formally been approved, but the FCC has given Qualcomm and Verizon approval to start testing in the 5 Ghz range. The idea is to use the speedy 5 Ghz spectrum to transmit Verizon’s 4G LTE network in order to provide better coverage and further boost the already-existing network. The Wi-Fi Alliance seems onboard with this and is happy that Qualcomm continues to test solutions for 4G LTE and WiFi to co-exist, but others don’t seem so keen. The whole idea of 5 Ghz in WiFi networks was to operate outside of the crowded 2.4 Ghz band (often called single and dual-band WiFi, respectively) and there are fears that introducing LTE signals into the 5 Ghz band would go against its original purpose.

Regardless, this sort of testing is being done behind closed-doors, so there should be few reports of WiFi going haywire during these tests. With the spectrum game becoming extremely competitive, networks are finding themselves with less and less of it to expand their networks, and as different carriers have different licenses in different areas it can become messy to create a uniform network. Testing with LTE-Unlicensed could give networks like Verizon ideas to further the 4G networks we have now without relying on the lengthy spectrum auction process. Right now however, these are just tests, so it’ll be a while yet before we have to worry about our precious dual-band WiFi.