Can LTE-U disrupt local government Wi-Fi?

Can LTE-U disrupt local government Wi-Fi?

The deployment of Long Term Evolution-Unlicensed technologies by cellular carriers promises vastly more bandwidth for mobile users.  But LTE-U also could interfere with local governments’ Wi-Fi –based services.

According to a recent report by CTC Technology and Energy, “LTE-U Interference in Unlicensed Spectrum: The Impact on Local Communities and Recommended Solutions,” LTE-U can disrupt government operations in  educational facilities and public safety and adversely impact economic development and Smart City projects.

Cellular carriers already use LTE technology to transmit voice and data, but LTE is deployed only in licensed spectrum. Carriers are now seeking the use of certain unlicensed portions of spectrum for 4G LTE radio communications technology as a potential solution for the “scarcity” of licensed space. LTE-U is being developed to operate in the unlicensed 5 GHz spectrum, with devices controlled only by the carriers.  

Because LTE-U does not use the ‘listen-before-talk’ protocol that allows different unlicensed spectrum technologies to coexist, it could allow LTE-U devices to talk over Wi-Fi connected devices, disrupting Wi-Fi speed, connectivity and reliability, according to the report.

The LTE-U might also cause an increase in connectivity costs for local government. It could reduce devices’ flexibility to migrate to Wi-Fi from cellular data service, creating a surge in data charges that will impact not just government operations but limit the expansion of  Smart Cities and IoT-based technological solutions. To limit these effects, governments might spend on more Wi-FI access points, buy commercial services, pay cellular carriers to use a licensed spectrum of LTE-U or pay for direct connections like cable or fiber.

Any real solution will require LTE-U and Wi-Fi to coexist. The report recommended that LTE-U be further tested in real-world use cases, refined and then standardized with input from local governments. Also, the report suggested, industry should consider adopting a ’listen-before-talk’ mechanism to access spectrum in all environments.

Local governments should also be cautious when wireless carriers approach them wanting to place LTE-U infrastructure on public spaces, like light and utility poles, or alongside buildings or indoor antenna systems, said Andrew Afflerbach, CTC’s CEO and director of engineering,

Such publicly owned mounting points "are not there for third-party attachment,” Afflerbach explained in a webcast on Feb. 29 with Next Century Cities and WiFiForward. “This is a separate commercial venture that the city has the right to engage with or not.”

And as the Federal Communications Commission moves through its decision-making on allowing LTE-U, the report recommended policymakers make sure that industry introduces LTE-U as it has other unlicensed technology in the past --  by bringing standards and design testing through an open process to ensure no existing users are displaced.

About the Author

Amanda Ziadeh is a former reporter/producer for GCN.


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