Unlicensed LTE, or LTE-U, is an emerging technology designed to allow carriers to boost coverage in small, specific areas by broadcasting into the unlicensed frequencies. By unlicensed, this is referring to parts of the spectrum used by 802.11 Wi-Fi and Bluetooth frequencies, typically at the 2.4 GHz and 5.0 GHz points. LTE-U can be used to increase coverage in especially busy areas, such as a major sporting event, or perhaps deep inside buildings. One of the main criticisms of LTE-U is from Wi-Fi equipment manufacturers and operators, citing that the technology could effectively block access to their networks. For those readers who live or work in an area with several Wi-Fi networks within range and where getting a reliable connection can be troublesome, this sounds ironic! However, mindful of the opposition to LTE-U and with a nod towards many carriers aligning their business model to control a customer's connection as much as possible, a new, improved and refined standard has been implemented called LAA, which stands for License Assisted Access. LAA technology relies on the carrier pairing up unlicensed spectrum with licensed and includes a number of technologies designed to reduce or eliminate interference between unlicensed LTE, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth radios such as "listen before talk." For the time being, LAA is not ready but LTE-U is and is being tested to prove that it can cooperate with existing networks.
Many networking equipment manufacturers have announced that existing equipment designed around LTE-U will be software upgradeable to the newer LAA standard, which has presumably allayed fears from carriers not wanting to support LTE-U as this could be a dead end, short lived technology. One month ago, Qualcomm, one of the leading manufacturers behind both LTE-U and LAA, asked the FCC for permission to test LTE-U networking in North America inconjunction with T-Mobile USA, following a similar test in conjunction with Verizon Wireless. We've received word today that the FCC has granted Qualcomm a Special Temporary Authorization order allowing it to test LTE-U in four locations across America. These are T-Mobile USA's test facilities at Bellevue, Washington, Simi Valley in California, Richardson in Texas and North Las Vegas, Nevada. Qualcomm is likely to be operating the LTE-U network at these locations in order to prove that the technology will happily coexist and cooperate with other networking standards.
As part of the temporary arrangement, which expires on the 21 October, Qualcomm must coordinate and comply with the Western Area Frequency Coordinator at Ventura, California, before operating at the 5.8 GHz frequency. Qualcomm also needs to obtain the consent of local AWS licensees before using the 1.7 GHz, 1.9 GHz. 2.0 GHz or 2.1 to 2.2 GHz frequencies for testing. Dean Brenner, Qualcomm's Senior Vice President of Government Affairs explained: "Qualcomm continues to prove fair coexistence between LTE-U and Wi-Fi through our own testing, through third-parties and through our work with other stakeholders within the LTE and Wi-Fi industries … Qualcomm is very pleased that the FCC granted our request and will continue to work with the FCC and other stakeholders to ensure LTE-U will fairly coexist with Wi-Fi."