FCC clears testing of new cellphone technology

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has cleared a company to do more testing of a new technology that allows cellphones to use their cellular data on unlicensed airwaves, it said on Friday.

The LTE-U technology allows phones and other wireless devices with traditional cellular radios to rapidly toggle between their standard cellular data connection and the unlicensed frequencies where Wi-Fi also operates.

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The agency has granted Qualcomm, a top advocate for the technology, the right to test it at two different sites temporarily. The testing will take place through Verizon’s infrastructure in Oklahoma City and Raleigh, N.C.

It’s a development in a heated battle over the technology.

Proponents say it will be good for mobile users and will not interfere with Wi-Fi operating on unlicensed frequencies. But opponents, including Google and some in the cable industry, have expressed concerns that the technology will interfere with operations on the unlicensed band.

“We’re pleased the FCC supports the testing of new LTE services and products that benefit consumers,” said Tom Sawanobori, senior vice president at wireless group CTIA. “Fostering innovation in unlicensed bands is key to meeting consumer demand and maintaining our position as global leader in mobile broadband.”

The Wi-Fi Alliance told Recode that it remained concerned about the ramifications of LTE-U even if it wasn’t raising issues with this specific test.

The tests also drew praise in a statement from leaders on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

“The authority the FCC granted today will permit the testing needed to make sure technologies increase spectrum efficiency, continue the cooperative nature of the unlicensed bands, and benefit consumers,” said Rep. Fred Upton (R-Ohio), its chair, ranking member Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on its telecom subcommittee. “We are proud of the potential gains these collective efforts can bring.”