T-Mobile, Qualcomm get FCC approval to test LTE-U

A controversial new wireless technology is closer to widespread use, after Qualcomm and T-Mobile got an official green light from the FCC to test LTE-U in four U.S. locations late last week.

Qualcomm has had limited testing underway with Verizon since January, but the new authorization from the FCC means that the T-Mobile implementations will be of greater scope. T-Mobile will trial LTE-U (see explainer on LTE-U here) infrastructure in Richardson, Texas; Bellevue, Wash.; Simi Valley, Calif.; and the city of Las Vegas. Verizon’s testing is taking place in Raleigh and Oklahoma City.

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LTE unlicensed, to give the technology its full title, does pretty much what it sounds like – it sends LTE signals over the unlicensed frequencies used by Wi-Fi access points, enabling wireless carriers to offload signals from their heavily worked and expensive licensed frequencies. But while LTE-U’s proponents insist that it’s designed to coexist well with existing networks, critics say that it can seriously interfere with Wi-Fi signals, hurting their throughput and connectivity.

The carriers and Qualcomm say that lab testing proves their point, while the cable industry and other major tech players like Google say that their own lab testing supports theirs. Field testing, then, seems to be a necessary step toward settling the issue. Moreover, the Wi-Fi Alliance, which has been an LTE-U skeptic since its inception, is working with the technology’s backers on standardized testing protocols.

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