Moral indignation to the fore in 5.00 GHz LTE use

Illustration of hands holding hi tech devices

There IS definitely a moral argument to be had around 5.0 GHz license free spectrum, but we’re not sure that Evolve, the coalition launched to “enhance people’s lives” has quite got to the heart of the matter. What it seems to have delivered in its formation notices this week instead is a pile of self-serving claptrap, to make the mobile industry a lot richer.

When it says that Evolve will educate consumers and policymakers on the benefits of unlicensed spectrum, it makes it clear that what it’s actually doing is enriching its shareholders, by making a free system stop working.

We wish that people would stop talking about innovation and what this will do for consumers when they mean it will make them rich. It’s really hypocritical and makes them appear foolish. It’s not for the benefit of “millions of Americans” it’s so that where those Americans once had a free WiFi service, they can now have a paid LTE service, which is less efficient. This is the opposite of a benefit, it’s another bill.

The moral argument is clear. The WiFi Alliance which is just ONE user of this spectrum, should not set the rules by which “fair use” of the spectrum is policed. So if the FCC has told the world that only some lackadaisical approach to “sharing the spectrum politely” is fine, then the FCC should not “change” those rules. However if some “smart Alec” finds a way to make LTE get more than its fair share of the spectrum, by some shortfall in the clarity of those rules, then they MUST be clarified.

If you take all the self-serving promotional claptrap out of the announcement of Evolve, what you get are the bare bones that a mix of mobile and technology companies and some associations which they dominate, have formed Evolve. This is effectively a lobby group which will try to persuade, using speaking engagements, dialog with policymakers, and consumer education. It is pro both LTE-U and LTE-LAA.

It describes these as new technologies which will substantially increase data speeds and improve coverage for millions of Americans. It omits to say that LTE is less spectrally efficient than current forms of WiFi, despite constant comments suggesting the opposite – and that those Americans are already getting free access to WiFi in many cases, and will now have those WiFi sites blocked and be forced back onto the LTE network, which they will have to pay for.

What is really annoying is that all of the operator companies involved in Evolve have already paid $billions for spectrum they didn’t really need – instead they could have used WiFi offload.

The founding members are the Competitive Carriers Association, the CTIA, Alcatel-Lucent, AT&T, Qualcomm, T-Mobile, and Verizon. Evolve says regulators should reject calls to preemptively interfere with new technologies like LTE-U and LAA which enhance utilization of unlicensed spectrum. But they offer no proof that it is enhanced utilization, and only do public comparisons with WiFi that is multiple generations old.

This is big business obliquely threatening the FCC with pseudo-science. We remind these companies, this is not a PR battle, it is a factual technical issue of just how LTE looks at the spectrum before hijacking it from WiFi. They should spend a little more money refining the technology instead of “bullying” what they have past the regulator. And anyway, I’ve not noticed the FCC being available to bullying very often, so this will simply not work.

Surely the real threat is counter-productive and reads “if you let us hijack this spectrum we won’t have to fill the US government coffers with paid spectrum in the ensuing auctions.”

Here’s a statement it throws in, that “LTE-U and LAA were designed from the ground-up to operate cooperatively with WiFi and other signals.” That’s hilarious. If I went to a bunch of PhDs and asked, “Make me a protocol that will pretend to share the airways, but give our system a predictable and superior performance,” this is what they would have come up with.

And Evolve claims, “When tested together, WiFi performed the same or even better with LTE-U than WiFi does alone.” Utter balderdash.

Evolve places the economic value of unlicensed spectrum at $228 billion a year in the United States alone. Direct sales of technologies, services, and applications dependent on unlicensed spectrum – including baby monitors, wireless headsets and keyboards, walkie-talkies, and a host of medical imaging and communication systems, to name a few – results in a Gross Domestic Product of $6.7 billion per year. And of course that’s stated in that way purely to minimize the contribution of WiFi, and remember, they are all devices seen in 2.4 GHz, not so much in 5.0 GHz.

Evolve eschews 7 principles: innovation in unlicensed spectrum; which the FCC says is for everyone – using any technology; what it calls “Permission-less innovation” means that new technologies should be encouraged not blocked; WiFi has its place, and cooperation is a two way street (so WiFi has to change to work with LTE?). It goes on, unlicensed spectrum is a resounding success, and not just for WiFi and finally that the best way to address spectrum congestion is through more unlicensed spectrum.

The press conference broke off into ludicrous statements like “Americans need better broadband, and they need it now,” and “We know that by working together, the US will remain a global technology leader for decades to come.” Pure hubris.

Here’s the rub. LTE-U and LAA have diverged, and if the US goes down a path of LTE-U acceptance, without insisting on listen before talk technology, it will create a branch in LTE technology that no-one else in the world can benefit from, and it will lead to the US having the worst WiFi in the world. Surely the FCC will see this clear as day and take action.

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Mr. Fellah, is a Senior Analyst and founder of Maravedis with 20-year experience in the wireless industry. He authored various landmark reports on Wi-Fi, LTE, 4G and technology trends in various industries including retail, restaurant and hospitality. He is regularly asked to speak at leading wireless and marketing events and to contribute to various influential portals and magazines such as RCR Wireless, 4G 360, Rethink Wireless, The Mobile Network, Telecom Reseller to name a few. He is a Certified Wireless Network Administrator (CWNA) and Certified Wireless Technology Specialist (CWTS).