RealTime IT News

FCC Mulls More License-Free Spectrum

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is getting ready to publish a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) next month to seek comment on the commercialization of upper millimeter-wave spectrum, a move that opens the airwaves to multi-gigabit-per-second Internet speeds.

Spectrum for U.S. businesses in the 71-76 GHz, 81-86 GHz and 92-95 GHz bands is under consideration, though FCC officials seem undecided whether to license the spectrum or keep it open, like the 900 MHz, 2.4 GHz and 5.8 GHz bands used by 802.11b and fixed wireless providers today.

Steve Stroh, editor of the "Focus On Broadband Wireless Internet Access" newsletter, said a case could be made both for and against keeping the spectrum license-exempt.

"The upside is that it would be much simpler to make use of that spectrum, (there would be) no coordination needed, no payment of fees to use the spectrum, and no long wait time for authorization of a link," he said. "With more usage generally comes cheaper equipment.

"But there are potential problems," Stroh added. "Going license-exempt means there's no expectation of interference protection and that may be a big issue -- and subsequently no expectation of enforcement by the FCC if there is interference."

Given the nature of the upper millimeter-wave bandwidth, however, the case for license-exempt status gets a boost, according to James Wolfson, vice president at the National Spectrum Managers Association.

"The unique thing about (upper millimeter-wave bandwidth) is that it's so high-frequency the bands are very narrow, making discrimination off the antennas very narrow, which -- in turn -- means the interference possibilities or dangers are little to none," he said.

The technology does have drawbacks. Because the bandwidth's frequency is so narrow, it is almost strictly a point-to-point technology, which means you won't be seeing any ultra-high-speed "hotspots" any time soon.

Another limitation is its attenuation problem, resulting in lost signals during bad weather like fog and heavy rain. In that respect, the technology is very similar to free-space optics, an existing technology transferring large amounts of data at high-speeds using a low-powered infrared laser. Wolfson said there is some talk about marrying the two technologies together in the future, using each as a backup to the other when one loses its signal.

Robert Primosch, a lawyer with the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance, said the FCC's inclination is to keep the spectrum free for all, and avoid licensing issues altogether.

"My sense is that the FCC would prefer to go with the unlicensed model - I don't think they like the idea of using point-to-point licensing for this, and auctioning this spectrum may not bring in much money and thus may not be worth the trouble," he said.

One company that does want the FCC to impose licensing is LOEA Communications, the company responsible the expected NPRM. The carrier filed a petition late last year, asking the agency to adopt service rules for the 71-76 GHz and 81-86 GHz spectrums.

LOEA proposes a licensing process to ensure that everyone abides by the FCC rules established in Part 101. Part 101 sets rules for the use of microwave transmitters used by carriers and private individuals.