FCC Asks About Coexistence Feasibility Involving New Wireless Tech, Existing Wi-Fi

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By Brandon Ross

May 5 — The FCC is asking stakeholders how new unlicensed wireless technologies will coexist with Wi-Fi in the 3.5 GHz and 5 GHz spectrum bands.

The Federal Communications Commission requested comment in a May 5 public notice (ET Docket No. 15-105). In it, the agency put forth 10 core questions for comment on LTE-U (long term evolution-unlicensed) and Licensed Assisted Access (LAA) and the standards being developed for operating and implementing the technologies.

Initial comments must be made by June 11, with reply comments due June 26.

LTE-U and LAA aren't being considered in a vacuum; just last month the FCC unanimously approved new spectrum sharing rules in the 3.5 gigahertz (GHz) band on April 17. Those rules dealt with setting up a three-tier user access system for the so-called “Citizens Broadband Radio Service,” which will allow spectrum sharing on the 150-MHz-capacity “innovation band,” as the FCC calls it.

The Citizens Broadband Radio Service will run from 3550 megahertz (MHz) to 3700 MHz. Incumbent Department of Defense users and grandfathered satellite services will be on the first tier, which offers the highest level of interference protection, with priority access license (PAL) users that can obtain three-year licenses at auction on the second tier and receive a further degree of interference protection than the general authorized access (GAA) users operating on the third tier.

The tier plan is expected to be a boon to small-cell commercial technology, which can enable broadband connections to wireless devices over short distances.

The FCC is charged with ensuring that all users in spectrum bands don't interfere too much with other technologies.

“LTE-U could operate in conjunction with licensed commercial wireless services using a technique called Licensed Assisted Access (LAA) whereby a channel in an operator’s licensed spectrum is used as the primary channel for devices operating on an unlicensed basis,” the FCC notice said.

Technology-Neutral Approach

“The Commission has historically adopted rules that are technologically neutral and remains committed to this policy,” the FCC said in its May 5 public notice. “With this principle in mind, we are opening this docket to provide an opportunity for interested parties to enable a fully participatory and transparent discussion about LTE-U and LAA technologies and how they will coexist with other technologies, including Wi-Fi.”

CTIA-The Wireless Association agreed with the technology-neutral approach.

“The FCC’s affirmation of its commitment to technological neutrality is welcome news,” Tom Power, CTIA's senior vice president and general counsel, said in a May 5 e-mailed statement on the FCC notice. “That approach has encouraged the development of numerous technologies, like Wi-Fi and LTE-U, that exploit the potential of unlicensed spectrum while playing nicely with other access technologies. We encourage the FCC to stick with this winning formula.”

O'Rielly: FCC Involvement ‘Risky.'

The FCC shouldn't be involved in the standards-making process, FCC Commissioner Michael O'Rielly said in a May 5 statement on the release of the notice.

“Today’s public notice walks a fine line between reasonable oversight and inappropriate interference with the standards setting process,” O'Rielly said in his statement. “In particular, any step that could insert the Commission into the standards work for LTE-U comes with great risk. I will be vigilant in ensuring that the Commission’s involvement does not result in taking sides with various stakeholders, hindering technological innovation, or having any say about what technologies should or should not be deployed.”

FCC's Questions

In the public notice, the FCC questioned how industry bodies will come together to help develop standards for LTE-U and LAA to coordinate with licensed technologies.

“The 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), which develops standards for commercial wireless technologies, is developing the LTE-U and LAA standards. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Working Group 802.11 (IEEE 802.11) develops standards for wireless local area networks such as Wi-Fi and other unlicensed technologies,” the agency explained in the notice. “Although many parties participate in both standards bodies, the organizations have a limited historical working relationship given their different backgrounds and scopes.”

Specifically, the FCC asks what the status of coordination is between 3GPP and IEEE 802.11 on LTE-U and LAA with Wi-Fi. The agency also asked when the standards for LTE-U and LAA will be completed.

It also inquired as to the possibility that LTE-U could operate independently of LAA.

“Are existing devices capable of software upgrades to implement LTE-U and LAA?” the FCC notice asked.

Other questions include the amount of bandwidth the new technologies are expected to take up and what protocols the technology will use to prevent harmful interference with existing technologies.

“What plans do carriers and manufacturers have for pre-standard deployment of LTE-U and LAA equipment including possible upgrades to 3GPP-based LTE-U or LAA?” the FCC asked.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brandon Ross in Washington at bross@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at hrothman@bna.com

The full FCC public notice is available here: http://op.bna.com/der.nsf/r?Open=jkid-9w8pkn