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Carriers want to take your Wi-Fi for their own use

Bill Snyder | Aug. 28, 2015
An unlikely alliance of consumer advocates, cable providers, and tech companies push back on carriers' congestion-handling technology.

Time Warner Cable is touting its Wi-Fi hotspots, and Cablevision is now in the wireless phone business with a Wi-Fi-only calling service dubbed Freewheel. Google, of course, has become an Internet service provide with its Google Fi high-speed fiber offerings.

Despite the saber-rattling, there's no need to panic

Notwithstanding the rhetoric and the different conclusions they've reached, I’d be surprised if the LTE-U issue doesn’t get resolved.

Although he’s wary, Public Knowledge's Lewis says, “We don’t oppose LTE-U; we just want it to work.” The T-Mobile exec I spoke to at some length was very careful not to sound hostile or overly combative toward the concerns of the consumer advocacy groups.

Furthermore, T-Mobile argues that its version of LTE-U will include technology called Listen Before Talk (LBT) that acts like a traffic cop. LBT makes the network aware of traffic, and it is designed to keep Wi-Fi and LTE-U signals separate to avoid interference. User traffic would be handed from Wi-Fi to LTE-U in a (hopefully) seamless procedure.

T-Mobile also maintains that although Wi-Fi is common in many cities' public areas, it is hardly ubiquitous, particularly in rural and suburban areas. T-Mobile envisions a user traveling in areas where there is no Wi-Fi and connecting to the Internet using LTE-U. If there’s no Wi-Fi, there’s no interference, the company argues.

Getting the free use of spectrum outside its core areas would be a big win for T-Mobile, which has been stung by claims that its coverage is still too limited to compete with offerings from Verizon and AT&T.

However this dispute turns out, we will see more and more confrontations and a reshuffling of the industry deck as the walls between once-separate technologies and business models crumble. Ultimately, all these companies are in the business of transmitting data, and it matters less and less where that data originates, over what spectrum it rides, or what information it contains.

 

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