Making good on the Chairman’s promise, the FCC is looking for input into Unlicensed LTE and LAA.

As we recently reported, when the Commission created the new Citizens Broadband Radio Service which will use the 3.5 GHz band, Chairman Wheeler promised to open a separate docket in which folks could “file their perspectives” on LTE-Unlicensed (LTE-U) and Licensed Assisted Access (LAA) technology. And sure enough, the Office of Engineering and Technology and the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau have promptly issued a Public Notice (PN) seeking comment on “current trends” in that technology.

LTE-U/LAA presents one of the most controversial aspects of the future unlicensed use of the 3.5 GHz and 5 GHz bands. That’s because LTE-U/LAA is designed to use some of that same spectrum, spectrum which is viewed by Wi-Fi proponents as vital to handling ever increasing Wi-Fi traffic.   

The PN seeks information on LTE-U/LAA “technologies and the techniques they will implement to share spectrum with existing unlicensed operations and technologies such as Wi-Fi that are widely used by the public.” 

The PN suggests ten topics for comment, including:

  • the types of LTE-U (and related LAA) technologies being developed;
  • their specific technical characteristics, and the state of development of each;
  • plans for their deployment and use; and
  • methods and plans for future upgrades. 

What has stirred some controversy within the Commission, however, are the PN’s questions directed to what’s happening within the industry standards setting committees that are working on standards relevant to LTE-U. (The two standards setting committees identified in the PN are the Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) and the Working Group 802.11 of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE Working Group 802.11).) Obviously the FCC has an interest in those standards, as they will likely determine the extent to which LTE-U/LAA can co-exist with Wi-Fi. But normally, the establishment of industry standards is left largely to the private sector. While the FCC makes a practice of having its own experts attend standards-setting meetings to monitor the discussions, provide informal advice and keep tabs on things, the FCC generally leaves standards setting to the industry participants.

Still, the PN asks questions that probe into the standards setting processes. For example, “What is the status of coordination between 3GPP and the IEEE 802.11 on LTE-U and LAA, and what is the process for coming to agreement on appropriate sharing characteristics to ensure coexistence with the IEEE 802.11 family of standards?” And “What tests or analyses have been performed to understand the impact of LTE-U and LAA on the existing commercial wireless and unlicensed ecosystems?” 

Such questions prompted Commissioner O’Rielly to pull out the yellow caution flag. Noting that the PN “walks a fine line between reasonable oversight and inappropriate interference with the standards setting process”, he has vowed to be “vigilant” to prevent the Commission from taking sides in the standards-setting debate.

Those interested may file comments on or before June 11, 2015, and reply comments on or before June 26. Comments and replies may be filed through the FCC’s ECFS online filing system; refer to Proceeding No. 15-105.