Open Spectrum

New Telecom Coalition Challenged Over Spectrum Policies

The debate over the open spectrum just got a bit more crowded, as major telecommunications companies have formed a new coalition. But will consumers benefit from their advocacy?

There’s a dispute happening over the airwaves that surround us all. Unlike the airwaves regulated and auctioned by the Federal Communications Commission, the unlicensed spectrum is an open domain with which organizations, from businesses to research institutes, can experiment. However, the future of that spectrum is drawing the interest of countless stakeholders, including a new technology coalition.

Named Evolve, the new group is made up of companies like Verizon, AT&T, and Qualcomm, Inc., as well as the Competitive Carriers Association and CTIA. Evolve explained its goal in its debut news release:

“Through a series of speaking engagements, dialogue with policymakers, and consumer education, Evolve will promote the consumer benefits of unlicensed spectrum and new technologies for unlicensed spectrum like LTE-Unlicensed (LTE-U) and Licensed Assisted Access (LAA).”

The organization has seven principles, including the need for unlicensed spectrum technologies to work cooperatively with WiFi, “a strategy of abundance and sound policy” to address spectrum congestion, and the necessity for all users of the unlicensed framework to “coexist and play well together.”

“Americans need better broadband, and they need it now. That is because the internet is entering a new phase of growth, in which so many more devices are connected and share rich data, making it necessary to increase mobile broadband capacity by 1,000 times,” said Dean Brenner, Qualcomm senior vice president of government affairs, in a statement. “We applaud and join Evolve in its commitment to permission-less wireless innovation and the decades-long public policy that has made unlicensed spectrum so successful.”

But is Evolve actually promoting practices beneficial to consumers? The Open Technology Institute at New America is skeptical.

“It is more than a bit ironic that the mobile carriers are finally recognizing the enormous and undeniable benefits of unlicensed spectrum as part of a campaign for a technology that could hobble the use of WiFi by potential competitors,” Wireless Future Project Director Michael Calabrese said in a statement.

“Our public-interest coalition fears that if carriers use LTE-U to control access to the unlicensed commons, consumers could end up paying more and missing out on the potential competition of WiFi-first offerings by wireline providers and [mobile virtual network operators] such as Republic Wireless,” he added.

But Evolve claims that WiFi isn’t going to be elbowed out of the spectrum and denies that its efforts will lead to higher bills and degraded service for customers.

“The testing proves that the two technologies work well together and that the introduction of LTE-U can actually enhance WiFi performance,” CTIA Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer Tom Sawanobori said in a statement. “Consumers will enjoy faster speeds, lower latency, and better coverage from LTE in the unlicensed band.”


Morgan Little

By Morgan Little

Morgan Little is a contributor to Associations Now. MORE

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