LTE-U is coming to take your Wi-Fi away, consumer advocates warn

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A carrier technology that uses Wi-Fi frequencies to provide LTE connectivity could let the big wireless providers mess with your home connection and push you on to their networks, according to comments filed today with the FCC by several watchdog groups.

The technology is called either LTE – Unlicensed or Licensed Assisted Access (LTE-U or LAA), and it essentially works by using 4G/LTE radios to send and receive data via the same 5GHz frequencies as Wi-Fi. This lets carriers offload traffic from their congested licensed networks to consumer Wi-Fi, easing the load.

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But there’s a catch, according to a coalition of public interest groups, including the Open Technology Institute, Public Knowledge, Free Press, and Common Cause. In their official comments to the FCC today, the group argued that unregulated use of LTE-U technology – which operates on the same frequencies as existing Wi-Fi – would allow America’s large wireless providers to degrade the functionality of existing home wireless networks, provisioned by landline cable or fiber services.

“Carriers deploying LTE-U will have the apparent option to adjust their access points to introduce just enough latency to frustrate consumer use of real-time applications, such as video calling,” the group’s filing said. “Moreover, mobile carriers deploying LTE-U and LAA operators will entirely avoid the ill-effects of any resulting poor coexistence on unlicensed bands, since they can shift their users and traffic at will to their exclusive, licensed spectrum.”

The group urged the FCC to seek more input from stakeholders beyond the carriers themselves, and to push for safeguards against anti-competitive behavior.

Sprint had no comment on the watchdog groups’ filing, while Verizon referred us to its own filing on the matter, which says such concerns are “misplaced” and argues strongly against any additional regulation for LTE-U technology. T-Mobile said that it is "working with standards bodies on protocols that allow LTE-U to coexist with Wi-Fi." AT&T did not respond to a request for comment.


Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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