The Federal Communications Commission today approved two cellular base stations—one each from Ericsson and Nokia—to use LTE-U, marking the first official government thumbs-up for the controversial technology.
FCC chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement that the unlicensed spectrum—historically, the territory of Wi-Fi—can now be used to help ease the load on carrier mobile networks. “It means they get to enjoy the best of both worlds: a more robust, seamless experience when their devices are using cellular networks and the continued enjoyment of Wi-Fi, one of the most creative uses of spectrum in history.”
T-Mobile has already announced that it will be deploying LTE-U technology, having participated in testing last year, and other networks are likely to follow suit.
Aside from equipment vendors like Ericsson and Nokia, the only companies likely to greet the news of LTE-U’s approval with enthusiasm are the carriers themselves and Qualcomm, which essentially invented the technology. Other major tech sector players, including Google, Comcast, and Microsoft, have expressed serious concerns that LTE-U doesn’t play as nicely with Wi-Fi as advertised, though collaborative testing has ratcheted tensions down of late.
Pai is seen to be close with some of the industries the FCC is supposed to regulate—more so than outgoing chairman Tom Wheeler, who had urged the various parties in the LTE-U debate to work together, rather than risk government regulatory intervention. That possibility appears to have vanished, given the FCC’s approval today, but proof of LTE-U’s compatibility will come—or not—with large-scale deployment.