FCC Approves Qualcomm LTE-U Test

Test Will be Limited to Two Verizon Sites
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The Federal Communications Commission has approved Qualcomm's testing of LTE Unlicensed -- LTE-U -- service, which is wireless operators' effort to create their own broadband hot spots in competition to cable operators. But the agency signaled that is no guarantee LTE-U devices will be authorized.

The approval came Friday with the granting of an experimental temporary authorization. An FCC official characterized it as approving limited testing and far from a final approval of the controversial plan. But the move was immediately hailed by LTE-U backers.

"Today, the FCC’S Office of Engineering and Technology is taking an important step by granting a special temporary authority (STA) to Qualcomm to conduct very small scale performance evaluation tests of LTE-U equipment at two Verizon sites in Oklahoma City, OK and Raleigh, NC," Julius Knapp, the FCC Chief, Office of Engineering and Technology, blogged Friday. "OET routinely grants STAs and experimental licenses for parties to evaluate the performance of products and conduct testing, subject to the condition that no harmful interference is caused. STAs and experimental licenses do not have any significance relative to whether the Commission may ultimately authorize a device or service."

“We’re pleased the FCC supports the testing of new LTE services and products that benefit consumers," said CTIA, which represents wireless operators. "Fostering innovation in unlicensed bands is key to meeting consumer demand and maintaining our position as global leader in mobile broadband.”

The testing was also getting plaudits from a bipartisan chorus of legislators.

“This is what we have been working toward all along, and it’s the right call for consumers and innovation," House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.), ranking member Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), Communications Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and subcommittee ranking member Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) said in a joint statement. "An environment that fosters the development of next generation technologies is what makes America the greatest place in the world to do business, create jobs, and develop state-of-the-art communications tools for consumers. The unlicensed bands were founded on permissionless innovation and sharing. The authority the FCC granted today will permit the testing needed to make sure technologies increase spectrum efficiency, continue the cooperative nature of the unlicensed bands, and benefit consumers. We have worked with all stakeholders to advance this process forward. We are proud of the potential gains these collective efforts can bring.”

LTE backers, like CTIA members Verizon and Qualcomm, have been at odds with the forces of cable WiFi over opening up spectrum currently used by cable providers for their primary Wi-Fi play to telcos looking to create their own broadband hot spots via LTE-U (U for "unlicensed").

[For a primer from "Translation Please" columnist Leslie Ellis on cable's issues with LTE-U, see "A Summer Guide to LTE-U Dustup."]

Cable chief technology officers, joined by execs from Google and Microsoft, have told FCC chairman Tom Wheeler that before LTE-U technologies are employed in unlicensed spectrum bands, also used by cable Wi-Fi hot spots, there must be rigorous standards to insure the technology does not impair Wi-Fi.

"Given the significant concerns raised by many stakeholders regarding harm LTE-U will cause to broadband connections over Wi-Fi, we hope the FCC will closely monitor the Qualcomm and Verizon trial," said Bill Maguire, executive director of Wifi Forward's Save our Wi-Fi campaign (Wi-Fi Forward members include Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Charter). "We are encouraged that the FCC still expects that Qualcomm and other LTE-U supporters work closely with the Wi-Fi community on coexistence testing in the future."