Technology

FCC approves devices using next wave of wireless technology

The Federal Communications Commission is approving the first devices that use a technology intended to ease data congestion on broadband networks.

The agency's Office of Engineering and Technology on Wednesday allowed the sale of Ericsson and Nokia devices that will use LTE-U.

LTE-U is a type of the fourth-generation (4G) mobile communications standard but moves broadband traffic to unlicensed airwaves on the faster 5GHz spectrum. That spectrum was previously reserved for WiFi and Bluetooth, both of which will now share the 5GHz band with mobile broadband data.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai on Wednesday hailed the decision, saying LTE-U was a "significant advance in wireless innovation and a big win for wireless consumers."

"I remain committed to ensuring a competitive and vibrant unlicensed ecosystem that fosters innovation and promotes the efficient use of spectrum. Today's announcement ... reflects that commitment," the chairman continued.

The technology was pushed by the LTE-U forum which includes Verizon, Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson, Qualcomm, and Samsung.

Verizon, a founding member of the group, praised the FCC's decision.

"Verizon is excited about today's announcement from the FCC that it has granted the first authorizations for LTE-U equipment," a spokesperson said. "This is an example of yet another great innovation using unlicensed spectrum."

Verizon's competitor, T-Mobile also applauded the move, saying in a blogpost that it has begun LTE-U deployment that will be available to consumers as early as this spring.

But some tech giants have been more cautious about the changes.

In 2015, Google sent comments to the FCC about the potential risks of LTE and WiFI sharing the same 5GHz band. They cited a study which concluded that "LTE-U coexists poorly with Wi-Fi in the 5 GHz band."

Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether their position on LTE-U has changed.

Microsoft also voiced similar concerns in 2015.

In their statements, both Pai and the Office of Engineering and Technology said LTE and WiFi would be able to coexist on the same band without issues.

Updated at 3:14 p.m.

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