Mobile-technology companies meeting at a major industry conference in Barcelona next week face a big issue: how to cope with exploding demand for wireless capacity. Qualcomm Inc. and others are backing one response—but not everyone is convinced.
The San Diego-based company on Thursday is announcing details of its effort to exploit a variant of the fourth-generation LTE technology now found in many smartphones, including chips Qualcomm plans to demonstrate at Mobile World Congress next week.
LTE-U, as companies call it, differs from standard LTE in two key ways: It operates at much shorter ranges, and it uses a free-for-all, unlicensed range of radio frequencies instead of the licensed spectrum sold in government auctions. Multiple companies designed elements of the technology, which an industry group is still considering whether to establish as a standard.
Matt Grob, a Qualcomm executive vice president and its chief technology officer, said LTE-U can send three to four times as much data through a given band of frequencies as Wi-Fi.
“It’s all about the most effective utilization of the spectrum,” said Aicha Evans, vice president and general manager of Intel Corp.’s communications and devices group. “We are absolutely supportive of LTE-U.”
But other companies and market researchers question the need for a Wi-Fi alternative. Their concerns include whether LTE-U will remain a faster option as Wi-Fi advances and whether it would interfere with that technology, the mainstay route to the Internet for many users in homes, cafes other locations. LTE-U is expected initially to share the 5 gigahertz frequency range used by some versions of Wi-Fi.
Wi-Fi was designed to operate in crowded environments with minimal interference; devices listen for one another and don’t transmit at the same time.
“The thing that we’ve been saying publicly is that Wi-Fi is very polite,” said Nelson Sollenberger, vice president and chief technologist at Broadcom Corp., a major supplier of chips based on Wi-Fi and other technologies. “LTE-U needs to be as good a neighbor to Wi-Fi as Wi-Fi is to itself.”
Mr. Grob says there should be no problem. Qualcomm, which sells Wi-Fi as well as cellular modem chips, has conducted tests that show LTE-U can work without negative impact on nearby Wi-Fi users. “It can coexist with elegance,” he said.