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LTE-U R gd 2 go: FCC gives unlicensed spectrum its coat, pushes it out the door

First devices cleared for sale as chip biz, carriers rejoice

By Shaun Nichols, 22 Feb 2017

The FCC has approved the first crop of LTE-U base stations for sale in the US, a move aimed at opening unlicensed spectrum space to boost broadband speeds.

The US comms watchdog said that Ericsson and Nokia have been cleared to begin offering base stations that use a portion of the 5GHz band to move LTE wireless broadband data.

The idea is that the LTE-U devices will allow telcos to share a portion of the band as an unlicensed spectrum space, where multiple carriers can move data. The shared space will supplement existing LTE spectrum to improve wireless broadband speeds for folks.

"LTE-U allows wireless providers to deliver mobile data traffic using unlicensed spectrum while sharing the road, so to speak, with Wi‑Fi," FCC chair Ajit Pai said in a statement [PDF] on the decision.

The approval follows months of review and legal wrangling between the FCC, wireless hardware vendors, telcos, and various groups who opposed the plan. While wireless groups had pitched LTE-U as a solution for carriers looking to improve speeds, opponents have worried that the LTE-U traffic could cause interference with Wi‑Fi networks that ran on nearby frequencies.

Not surprisingly, modem chipset designers who stand to cash in on the approval have nothing but nice things to say about Pai's decision.

"We are extremely pleased with today's FCC actions, which represent a major step forward for American consumers, demonstrate strong US leadership in mobile broadband, and recognize years of research and development and inventions by Qualcomm and its partners," Qualcomm said in a statement to El Reg.

"Today's FCC actions substantiate Qualcomm's deep technical collaboration with stakeholders from every facet of the wireless industry, including the cellular and Wi‑Fi communities, in developing LTE Unlicensed to ensure that unlicensed spectrum remains open for permission-less innovation to enable faster, better mobile broadband and that new technologies will demonstrably co-exist successfully with incumbents."

Meanwhile, carriers are wasting no time in getting their LTE-U hardware up and running. T‑Mobile US says it will immediately begin to install LTE-U base stations, with the aim of having the service live by the spring. ®

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