AT&T has taken issue with the Competitive Carrier Association over the CCA’s non-ending press release pleas for LTE wireless device interoperability in the 700 MHz band.

In a blog post, AT&T Vice President of Federal Regulatory Joan Marsh argued that CCA was “glibly misleading” in a recent news release calling for LTE devices to work across multiple networks.

Formerly known as the Rural Cellular Association, the CCA now includes Sprint, T-Mobile and Clearwire among its members — hence the name change. In the recent release, CCA argued that “The interoperability of mobile devices from network to network is critical to fulfill the promise of next-generation 4G/LTE wireless devices.”

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But Marsh argues that full interoperability across all 4G/LTE devices is not practical because of the number of spectrum bands involved.

“LTE is currently being deployed both domestically and globally on a multiplicity of different spectrum bands and the deployments are and will remain fragmented across bands,” wrote Marsh. “Every carrier, regardless of size, will have to rely on multi-band chipset solutions to provide full LTE coverage and [CCA’s] members are no exception.”

Earlier this year the FCC proposed requiring devices operating in the 700 MHz Band 17 (where AT&T holds most of the spectrum) to work with devices operating in Band 12, where many smaller wireless carriers have spectrum. The FCC may have singled out AT&T rather than other national carriers because its spectrum band is adjacent to that of the smaller carriers.

But the commission has not taken further action to impose that requirement – perhaps because it has been convinced by AT&T’s argument that such a move would create interference challenges.

Even if the commission were to impose that requirement, it still would not mean that devices working with AT&T’s network and the smaller carriers’ networks would work with other carriers because Band 12 and Band 17 are just two of numerous bands where LTE can be deployed.

Verizon, for example, owns most, if not all, of Band 13 – and it’s common for LTE devices to be offered in separate versions for Verizon’s network and AT&T’s network. That means that even if devices designed to operate in AT&T’s band were opened up to also include the smaller carrier band, those devices wouldn’t necessarily work in bands belonging to Verizon or others. Marsh noted, for example, that Sprint operates in Band 25, which includes the PCS G block while T-Mobile and MetroPCS operate in Band 4 which includes the AWS-1 band.

Interoperability is only part of the issue

“The over 300 million commercial mobile users in the United States already can communicate with one another. . . and to suggest otherwise is ridiculous,” wrote Marsh. But while it is true that wireless devices are interoperable in the sense of being able to work with one another, it’s also true that they often don’t work on one another’s networks.

The real reason CCA is making such a big deal about interoperability is that members want to be able to obtain wireless devices at reasonable prices that will work on one another’s networks. And they argue that they are having difficulty achieving that because their volumes are substantially less than those of AT&T and Verizon. But if one or both of the Big Two wireless carriers were required to build devices that operate in the smaller carrier bands, CCA members would be able to ride the larger carriers’ coattails and get better pricing.

The issue is such a big one that the smaller carriers have requested an extension to the build-out deadline for their 700 MHz spectrum holdings. Some manufacturers, they say, have refused to build devices to operate in their spectrum band. Others want too much money – and will always build devices for the larger carriers first, they say.

Marsh argues that smaller carriers should pursue devices that support LTE band 12, 25 and 4, which would provide CCA members with seamless coverage across the LTE deployments of Sprint, T-Mobile and the smaller carriers.

“A Band 12/17 combination is but one option for [Band 12] licensees and it would be unprecedented, inappropriate and ineffective for the FCC to mandate that option while ignoring all the other LTE band class combinations that could provide A block licensees with broad LTE support,” wrote Marsh.

It would be interesting to hear from some people familiar with wireless technology on this. Who do you think is right on this one?

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9 thoughts on “AT&T Slams CCA Pleas for LTE Device Interoperability

  1. Sounds like ETC funds need to be extended to devices so rural operators can better subsidized higher price handsets for the industrial, manufacturing and farming business employed consumers and business can have access to business tools such as urban industries can.

  2. AT&T doesn't want this mandate because that would mean competition. The rural carriers have always had a disadvantage when it comes to handsets. The I-Phone is a perfect example of AT&T preventing competition.

  3. ATT is correct and the problem is they know it. Handset providers have no desire to build devices for the smaller companies and they know it. By limiting interoperability, they limit competition because they know there is no margin at all if smaller companies have to pay even higher prices for handsets. It's all about getting ATT & Verizon back to the monopoly days except this time they are wireless as well as wireline monopolies.

  4. This is a no-brainer, phone makers should make devices that support ALL bands and offer complete interoperability, and the FCC should mandate full-capability roaming for ALL carriers. Forcing people who live in rural areas to make do with a phone with limited capability from ACME while only people in the biggest cities get the iPhone is stupid and should be illegal.

  5. I believe AT&T has left out some that no one yet has brought up. How can a LTE Band 12/17 device that has CDMA in it work for voice it the carrier is doing CS Voice on CDMA 1x, it will not work? They would have to roam LTE and VoLTE would need to be in place for that type of rural carrier in their network and supported on the device. Also, their will be no hand off at the edge of an AT&T LTE network for this type of phone also.

    I do believe that someday the rural carriers will be able to roam on an AT&T network with the correct chip sets that support the AT&T LTE network spectrum, but they need to move everyone off CDMA and support VoLTE to do this kind of roaming. MIMO, antennas and other LTE services will also be an issue until all networks are moved to LTE. I don't believe you can have MIMO yet across 700MHz bands (according to OEM's that I have spoken with). The network back ward compatibility on the device is a real issue. It seems like all parties involved have not talked about how this would actually work in a CDMA/LTE vs. UMTS/LTE world.

  6. The fact is, there is no interference issue, just like there's no interference issue with Verizon's A block and ch51 broadcasts. It's a farce that they both perpetuate to keep the OEM's focused on them and keeping the little guys from being able to get their hands on devices.

  7. The real blame doesn’t lie with AT&T, CCA/RCA, or smaller carriers. No, it’s squarely on the FCC, who should have put more thought into our national 4G strategy and mandated interoperability from the start. But now, we’ll have a 4G divide as it relates to devices, with large pockets of citizens unable to fully participate in the 4G economy. Thanks a lot Julius.

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