Carriers, critics and cable slowly edging toward consensus on LTE-U

The first draft of the Wi-Fi Alliance’s specification for LTE-U coexistence testing was issued last week, but people close to the process say that there’s still plenty of work ahead.

LTE-U technology, which uses the same unlicensed frequency as Wi-Fi to provide additional bandwidth to mobile carriers, is already in limited testing by Verizon. Carriers are enthused about LTE-U’s potential to ease the load on their networks, but critics – among them Google, Comcast, and Microsoft – warn that the technology could drown out Wi-Fi networks where they overlap.

+ MORE: LTE-U: A quick explainer + U.S. carriers stay tight-lipped on LTE-U deployments

Both sides claim to have research showing that LTE-U does or does not harm Wi-Fi, but the Wi-Fi Alliance framework, jointly reached, would provide neutral ground for testing, and a first step toward a common understanding of whether the technology is harmful to Wi-Fi or not.

Rob Alderfer, a vice president for technology policy at cable industry trade group CableLabs, said that last week’s meeting of the minds, which brought LTE-U’s boosters and skeptics together to hammer out mutually acceptable testing protocols, represents an important update on a process that has been going on for months.

Rob Alderfer, a vice president for technology policy at CableLabs

“I think we’re actually on a pretty good trajectory at this point,” he told Network World. “It’s not done yet, but I expect it will be done in the not-too-distant future.”

Qualcomm Vice President of Engineering Mingxi Fan concurred. In a statement provided to Network World, he praised the collaborative work done by the Wi-Fi Alliance and the LTE-U Forum.

“Qualcomm wants to ensure that LTE-U and Wi-Fi coexist very well,” he said.

Nevertheless, there’s still a lot to be done. In particular, tests at low power levels and in-device coexistence – meaning for devices with both LTE-U and Wi-Fi connectivity – have yet to be formalized.

Alderfer, however, said that he’s hopeful solutions can be found.

“There are differing views on all these issues,” he said. “Engineers always have different perspectives when you put them all in a room, but that’s how the sausage is made in the Wi-Fi Alliance and other standards bodies.”

He estimates that the test protocols could be finalized in as little as “a few weeks.”

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