OTI Criticizes New Anti-WiFi Coalition from Mobile Carriers

Consumer Advocates Fear LTE-U threatens competition and consumer benefits from WiFi

WASHINGTON, DC — The wireless industry and Qualcomm today announced a coalition (“EVOLVE”) and campaign to promote the use of a new licensed carrier technology -- LTE-U -- on unlicensed spectrum bands currently populated by hundreds of millions of Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and other devices.

OTI and other public interest groups filed FCC comments in June warning “that mobile carriers will have both the ability and strong incentives to use LTE-U and LAA to engage in anti-competitive behavior harmful to consumers, while for the first time being able to charge consumers for the use of unlicensed spectrum.” WiFi alone currently generates upwards of $200 billion a year in consumer benefits, most of it at little or no marginal cost to individual consumers.

If approved by the FCC, LTE-U would allow mobile carriers to move downlink data traffic onto unlicensed spectrum as an adjunct to their licensed spectrum. Since LTE-U’s control channels would operate from the mobile carrier’s licensed spectrum, WiFi operators are concerned that carriers have no incentive to share the public spectrum fairly with WiFi and could decide to use it to undermine WiFi-first business models that compete with carriers.

The following quote can be attributed to Michael Calabrese, Director of the Wireless Future Project at the Open Technology Institute:

“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 Wi-Fi by potential competitors. Consumers now use Wi-Fi to transmit the majority of mobile device data traffic. This has avoided the predicted spectrum crunch and makes mobile broadband more affordable. 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 Wi-Fi first offerings by wireline providers and MVNOs such as Republic Wireless.”