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November 04, 2015

Wi-Fi Alliance Highlights Efforts to Promote Fair Spectrum Sharing

Back in the days of the Cold War between the Western world and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R), the term “Peaceful Coexistence” was popular. The theory speculated that Soviet-influenced "Socialist states" could peacefully coexist with the capitalist bloc (non-socialist states). The term has come back to common usage thanks to the contention surrounding the “fair,” hopefully beneficial, shared use of radio spectrum by LTE-U devices with Wi-Fi.

If you have not been following this, you need to be informed.  It has major impact on the future of wireless networking and the quality of services we can all expect, particularly as telecom, cable, and OTT companies all race to offer seamless communications regardless of medium.

In an effort to “broker”, “arbitrate,” “mediate” etc., the challenge of whether emerging LTE-U will cause harm to the billions of users of Wi-Fi in unlicensed spectrum, the Wi-Fi Alliance is stepping in to see if peaceful coexistence can be achieved.  Activity is highlighted today with the hosting of a “Coexistence Test Workshop today (November 4) aimed at fostering industry Wi-Fi and LTE dialog.  The good news is the right people are at the table, including: Amazon, Broadcom, Dell, Ericsson, Gibson Brands, Google, Intel, NTT, Toyota, Verizon, and many others.

While obviously not totally impartial here, in support of its initiative to at least get test results on the impact LTE-U could have on Wi-Fi, the Wi-Fi Alliance also issued recent research on the centrality Wi-Fi plays in all of our lives. 

Wi-Fi usage must be considered

The research, done between October 5and 7 of this year, was conducted on behalf of the Wi-Fi Alliance by the prestigious research firm Harris Pol.  It surveyed 2,032 US adults ages 18+.  The findings were certainly illuminating.  It comes with the context that there are already 5.4 billion Wi-Fi devices in use around the world and, the devices will soon outnumber the people living on the planet.

Takeaway Facts

  • 54 percent of Americans would not want to give up Wi-Fi for a month.
    • Millennials ages 18-34 (70 percent) are more likely to indicate this than any other age group
  • 73 percent say it’s very/somewhat important to always have access to Wi-Fi in their daily life.
    • Millennials ages 18-34 (86 percent) are more likely to indicate this than any other age group
  • 68 percent say they would be very/somewhat annoyed if they didn’t have access to uninterrupted Wi-Fi in their daily life
  • 72 percent of working Americans say their work productivity would be impacted if they did not have access to Wi-Fi
  • 81 percent of smartphone/ tablet owners do something to reduce their mobile data use 
    • 59 percent turn on Wi-Fi whenever possible 
    • 27 percent search for unlocked Wi-Fi networks whenever possible
  • If the Wi-Fi connection was bad at each of the following locations…
    Image via Shutterstock
    • 38 percent of Americans would change hotels
    • 31 percent of Americans would change homes
    • 27 percent of Americans would change stores
    • 20 percent of Americans would change airlines
    • 19 percent of Americans would change restaurants

LTE-U Takeaway

  • 23 percent of Americans have heard of the term LTE-U 
  • 9 percent of Americans have never heard of the term LAA 
  • After being informed about LTE-U…
    • 76 percent would be concerned about a technology that could jeopardize their access to free Wi-Fi availability
  • 53 percent of Americans say they are very/somewhat interested in the LTE-U issue as it unfolds

It should also be noted that not only have our personal devices become the preferred interaction platforms for how we live and work, but avoiding large mobile data network data and roaming charges is something everyone thinks about. Indeed, it is no accident that Wi-Fi is the default connection those devices seek. It is also no accident that cable operators have been aggressively deploying Wi-Fi hotspots as an extension of their service, leaving fixed and mobile network operators playing catchup when trying to create what I have called the “Hotel California Effect” (as The Eagles say, “You can check out any time you want, but you can never leave”). 

Another part of its efforts to give peace a chance comes in the form of the Wi-Fi Alliance release of an initial set of LTE Coexistence Simulation and Testing Guidelines, which will ultimately provide a harmonized approach to characterizing how well LTE-U devices coexist with Wi-Fi.

When completed, the Wi-Fi Alliance Coexistence Guidelines will: “Provide a common foundation on which to determine fair sharing behaviors of all LTE-U devices, regardless of brand. The Guidelines consider myriad use cases where Wi-Fi is used today, including video streaming, VoIP, and dense and dynamic Wi-Fi environments. The Guidelines focus on key performance indicators that matter for coexistence, expected real-world topologies of mixed Wi-Fi and LTE-U environments, and realistic network loading scenarios. It is expected that these initial Guidelines will continue to evolve as a result of dialogue and input from industry, including LTE-U vendors.”

Edgar Figueroa, president and CEO of Wi-Fi Alliance, said, “Wi-Fi has been a model of good unlicensed spectrum stewardship, and we expect similar etiquette from all technologies sharing that spectrum. Cooperation among a broad cross-section of industry provides the best opportunity to deliver a viable solution for coexistence.”

There is more work to be done

It should also be noted that the development of Coexistence Guidelines is just one part of efforts to put the Wi-Fi and LTE-U coexistence issues in the industries’ rear view mirrors, and to accomplish this without regulatory intervention.

The Wi-Fi Alliance will be sharing a range of early simulation scenarios it has conducted. The objective is to inform the testing of devices while providing a consistent method for measuring coexistence across the ecosystem.

Interested in being more than a bystander?  The Wi-Fi Alliance is encouraging participation in their activities and additional Wi-Fi and LTE-U resources will be made available on their website at: http://www.wi-fi.org/discover-wi-fi/unlicensed-spectrum.  

As noted, peaceful coexistence is important.  Like time, one of the most valuable resources we cannot create more of is radio spectrum. It is very valuable, and depending on where one stands in the battle to keep everyone on their device, application and network, depends on where one sits.  Having spectrum to control is the pot at the end of the rainbow, and no part of the communications industry can afford to be asleep at the wheel. 

We can only hope the industry gets this right.  The Wi-Fi Alliance should be commended for getting the conversation going. 

Edited by Kyle Piscioniere

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