CTIA: Cable industry engaged in 'spectrum-squatting' in heated LTE-U battle

The wireless industry and the cable industry are in the midst of a major battle over LTE-U technology and the future of Wi-Fi, and the rhetoric on each side is rapidly escalating. In the latest skirmish between the two, the wireless industry's trade group, CTIA, accused the cable industry's trade group of "unlicensed spectrum-squatting" and "preserving their own perceived incumbent status at the expense of consumers and innovation in the unlicensed ecosystem."

CTIA's comments, in a filing to the FCC, are in response to a proposal from the cable industry's trade group, the NCTA, that any new LTE-U technology first receive a review by the FCC before being commercially implemented. The issue is critical to both sides: Wireless carriers want to deploy LTE-U technology in order to provide faster service to customers without purchasing more expensive licensed spectrum. The cable industry, meanwhile, wants to continue to deploy public Wi-Fi hotspots across the country -- likely as a precursor to broadly available mobile services that would compete with similar services from wireless carriers.

In a filing last month, the NCTA -- which represents major cable players like Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA) and Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC) -- along with Boingo Wireless, Broadcom, Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) and others, urged the FCC to require LTE-U technologies to undergo a review before being commercially deployed. CTIA blasted that proposal, arguing that upends "permissionless innovation that is the hallmark of unlicensed spectrum policy."

CTIA continued: "In effect, NCTA et al. would have the Commission bar new entrant technologies by requiring proponents to obtain formal third-party 'approval' for a new technology that otherwise fully complies with the Commission's unlicensed rules. Injecting a standards-body approval requirement, however, would be an unprecedented and unnecessary departure from the Commission's Part 15 policies."

CTIA pointed out that many non-standardized technologies already operate in unlicensed frequencies; the group specifically pointed to the 4 million radios deployed by Cambium Networks in the 5 GHz unlicensed (U-NII) bands for point-to-point wireless broadband access and backhaul solutions in rural areas. CTIA also said that a review process might not prevent interference between LTE transmissions and existing Wi-Fi users anyway, and it cited research it said shows that LTE-U operations don't negatively affect existing Wi-Fi users.

"The Commission should reject NCTA et al.'s efforts, and confirm its commitment to technological neutrality in the unlicensed bands," CTIA said.

NCTA representatives didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on CTIA's latest filing. But in previous filings and comments, opponents of the wireless industry's push toward LTE-U have argued that it represents an overstep by the industry into unlicensed territory. LTE-U opponents, which include the Wi-Fi Alliance, have also cited their own research that they argue shows that LTE-U operations in unlicensed spectrum will affect existing Wi-Fi users.

The issue is becoming critical to the wireless industry because both Verizon (NYSE: VZ) and T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) have said they plan to commercially deploy technology starting next year that would transmit LTE signals into unlicensed spectrum that is currently used by Wi-Fi users. The issue is further complicated by the different technologies that would transmit LTE signals into Wi-Fi spectrum, including LTE-U, LAA and others.

For more:
- see this CTIA filing

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