T-Mobile is done waiting.
Fed up with delays in the roll out of the Wi-Fi Alliance’s final LTE-U testing plan, the Un-carrier has asked the FCC to move forward with the approval of LTE-U devices in its absence.
In a recent ex parte filing, T-Mobile said delays surrounding the roll out of LTE-U are “stifling innovation and investment in the communications ecosystem,” and asked the FCC to institute a hard September deadline for the beginning of LTE-U device approvals with or without the Wi-Fi Alliance’s finalized standards.
In early June, the Wi-Fi Alliance said it was planning to release its finalized LTE-U test plan sometime in August. Later that month, however, that deadline was bumped back to an unspecified date in September. In an ex parte filing at the end of July, the Wi-Fi Alliance said the test plan would be issued by the end of September.
T-Mobile, however, doesn’t seem confident the September deadline will be met.
T-Mobile said there “is no reason” to wait beyond September if the Wi-Fi Alliance fails to release the finalized test protocol, noting the draft test plan is already “fundamentally complete” and could be used to test LTE-U devices for approval.
“It has been more than a year since the Wi-Fi Alliance announced that it was creating a cooperative process to evaluate coexistence between LTE-U and Wi-Fi devices, and the Commission has held off approving devices in anticipation of results from the process,” T-Mobile wrote in its filing. “We have seen numerous deadlines come and go without finalization of the procedure. We stated our frustration with the pace of the process undertaken by the Wi-Fi Alliance and the need for the Commission to act to end further delay. We asked Commission staff to move forward with a process that does not allow the delays to extend beyond September 2016. After that time, the Commission should begin to approve devices that incorporate LTE-U technology.”
To back up its assertion that the commission need not wait, T-Mobile brought in experts from Nokia to explain how certain Nokia devices can both meet Part 15 authorization requirements and pass “currently agreed coexistence tests” – including the draft version of the Wi-Fi Alliance test plan.
According to the filing, Nokia’s LTE-U solution is based on Time Division Multiplexing between LTE-U and Wi-Fi devices. Nokia said its solution does not employ a duty cycle approach, which can hog the unlicensed channel for an extended period of time, but manages traffic over licensed spectrum with LTE-U used as a backup option where non-GBR data requires supplemental downlink support.
In its presentation to the FCC, Nokia said it “strongly believes” in fair coexistence between LTE-U and Wi-Fi, and has already started work to complete coexistence tests recommended by the Wi-Fi Alliance.
However, Nokia also asked the FCC to accept a subset of the Wi-Fi Alliance’s test plan as criteria for LTE-U certification and allow for commercial roll out of LTE-U Aps while operators and vendors continue work on the commission’s prescribed certification criteria. Nokia further suggested the FCC accept test reports for Wi-Fi Alliance standards from vendors’ internal labs until third party labs are ready to begin testing based on the Wi-Fi Alliance’s final plan.
On Tuesday, however, WifiForward noted the Wi-Fi Alliance issued test plan parameters this week to determine if LTE-U will degrade Wi-Fi networks in response to prodding from the FCC and LTE-U proponents. With testing decisions in place, the group said the Wi-Fi Alliance will be able to conclude its work quickly and encouraged its industry partners to remain committed to crossing the finish line together.
“These test plan decisions reflect a compromise driven by a diverse group of stakeholders, including both LTE-U and Wi-Fi proponents who sit on the Wi-Fi Alliance board,” the WifiForward said in a statement. “Neither side received its preferred outcome…But now is the time for all parties to accept this compromise and move toward concluding the process as quickly as possible. We therefore agree with T-Mobile and Nokia’s recent comments that they should be able to test LTE-U coexistence as soon as the Wi-Fi Alliance test plan is finalized in the coming weeks. We hope that no party will seek to endlessly relitigate the Wi-Fi Alliance’s compromise plan and cause delay.”
Though T-Mobile filing with Nokia is the most recent comment from the carrier on LTE-U, it is far from the only time the operator has expressed its frustration at the slow approval process for the technology.
During T-Mobile’s first quarter earnings call in April, CTO Neville Ray said the operator would like to deploy LTE-U in 2-16, but was losing faith that the necessary approvals would come through in time.
“I’ll tell you there we’re frustrated and we’re not seeing the progress that we would like to see,” Ray said at the time. “We still have an ambition to push solutions into the marketplace inside 2016. But based on where we are from a regulatory perspective at this point in time, the light is dimming there a little.”
And T-Mobile hasn’t been the only one frustrated by the delays.
Qualcomm, which partnered with the Un-carrier on test of LTE-U technology, in June blasted the Wi-Fi Alliance’s slowness in approving a final testing plan when it announced the new September deadline.
“This whole process has gone on for more than a year, and no new technology for unlicensed spectrum, which is supposed to be available for permission-less innovation, has gone through vetting this long or this extensive,” Qualcomm’s Senior Vice President of Government Affairs Dean Brenner said in a statement at the time. “We believe that it is time to end the validation process, and deem the original test plan final so that the public can experience as soon as possible the improved services that LTE-U will provide.”
The Wi-Fi Alliance, however, defended itself, saying “significant progress” had been made on the plan but it was leading a “multi-industry effort, which has never before been attempted.”
“Delivering coexistence for two different industries is no easy feat. Technical challenges exist and work is time consuming,” the Wi-Fi Alliance said in a June statement. “Wi-Fi Alliance is exploring every possible option to accelerate the work while still ensuring the test objectives are met.”
In addition to pushing back T-Mobile’s LTE-U deployment plans, the delays may also impact another major carrier: Verizon.
Back in January, Qualcomm’s Vice President of Small Cells Neville Meijers told Wireless Week the company was working with Verizon on a planned commercial deployment of LTE-U technology in the second half of 2016.