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FCC moves to open more unlicensed spectrum

Thu, 02/21/2013 - 12:46pm
Andrew Berg, Wireless Week

The FCC Wednesday issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to make more unlicensed spectrum available for robust public Wi-Fi networks.

The Commission today proposed to make up to 195 MHz of additional spectrum in the 5 GHz band available to unlicensed wireless devices. It also proposed to create a more flexible regulatory environment and to streamline existing rules and equipment authorization procedures for devices throughout this band.

The Commission's decision will allow the delivery of new super-fast WiGig Wi-Fi in hopes of alleviating Wi-Fi congestion at major hubs such as airports, conferences, stadiums and in the home.

The cable industry, through the NCTA, applauded the move, in vague terms.

 “Today’s FCC action appropriately focuses on changes needed to help Wi-Fi grow and serve consumers’ insatiable appetite for Internet services,” the NCTA said in a statement.

“…Existing Wi-Fi spectrum is growing increasingly congested and more must be found to meet skyrocketing consumer demand and enable increased speeds of next-generation Wi-Fi.  More extensive use of the 5 GHz band, along with additional unlicensed spectrum in other bands, will permit cable companies and other innovators to continue to provide Americans with new benefits, businesses with new opportunities, and those in need with life-saving connections,” the NCTA continued.

Several MSOs have been providing public Wi-Fi connectivity, with the densest concentration of installations in highly populated areas in the Northeast. Cable operators have also begun taking advantage of opportunities in cellular backhaul, often using Wi-Fi, and expect those opportunities will increase, especially with more Wi-Fi spectrum available to use.

Unlicensed devices today operate in 555 MHz of spectrum in the 5 GHz band and are used for short-range, high-speed wireless connections, including Wi-Fi-enabled local area networks and fixed outdoor broadband transceivers used by wireless Internet service providers to connect smartphones, tablets and laptops to the broadband network.

The proposed modifications would provide access to additional contiguous spectrum with consistent technical requirements, allowing unlicensed devices to use wider bandwidth channels, leading to faster speeds.

A spokesperson for AT&T said that while the move by the FCC is important, the clearing and auctioning of spectrum below 3 GHz for exclusive, licensed use must remain a priority for the FCC.

“AT&T has long recognized the value of unlicensed spectrum technologies, such as Wi-Fi, and we have built the nation’s largest Wi-Fi network," the spokesperson said.

The Wireless Innovation Alliance (WIA) also said the move is a step in the right direction. But the WIA also emphasized the need for "both unlicensed and licensed spectrum at different frequency ranges across the spectrum bands to support and maximize all applications and innovations."

Mary Brown, director of Cisco government affairs, said that the importance of conduction is "a rigorous and technical examination of whether Wi-Fi technologies can successfully use spectrum that is not in use today without causing harmful interference to existing, or future, radio systems that operate in the same frequency block."

"Cisco is grateful for the opportunity to engage in a process that elevates the technical examination to the forefront, ahead of any final determinations on the use of the spectrum," Brown said. "If the technical issues can be satisfactorily resolved, it could lay the foundation for innovative new applications and technology by making available up to 200 MHz of spectrum for Wi-Fi networks and devices, as well as improving existing access to 5 GHz."

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