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Wireless Broadband Said To Use Wrong Spectrum

WASHINGTON -- Wireless broadband is currently allocated to the wrong spectrum and the result is hampering the growth of the technology, according to former Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Reed Hundt.

Hundt, who presided over a major overhaul of U.S. telecommunications policy in 1996, said wireless broadband should be put in the same spectrum swath used by analog UHF stations, which is being vacated by broadcasters converting to digital television signals.

"Wireless broadband is being designed where the radio frequencies are very, very high and, as a result, the radio waves can not penetrate buildings," Hundt told the Senate Commerce Committee Wednesday, as lawmakers look at a possible overhaul of telecom legislation.

"Waves at lower frequencies are longer in length. Longer wave lengths hold their energy over longer distances. They can travel miles from a tower and find their way inside living rooms."

Hundt said the longer wave lengths are just as ideal for wireless broadband as they are for television broadcasting, particularly since they can also carry large amounts of information.

"Correspondingly, wireless broadband can deliver very high bit rates at lower cost and greater equality if it also uses the lower frequencies of broadcast television," he said. "It has excellent propagation characteristics that will allow the build out of an inexpensive and ubiquitous wireless broadband network."

Congress has shown an increasing interest in reforming the 1996 Telecommunications Act as the United States struggles to rollout broadband across the country. The U.S. ranks 11th worldwide in broadband deployment behind South Korea, Hong Kong, Canada, Taiwan, Denmark, Belgium, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Japan and Sweden.

Hundt told the senators, "We can lower the costs of wireless broadband in one fell swoop by 50 percent within months, if this committee will say to the whole wireless broadband industry we need to be designing new spectrum for today's analog UHF channels."

In 1997, Congress directed the FCC to allocate 24 MHz of the 700 MHz band for public safety communications and to allocate another 36 MHz of the band for commercial use to be assigned through spectrum auctions.

"In order to facilitate wireless broadband in this spectrum, Congress could amend this 1997 law to allocate 30 MHz of this commercial spectrum for unlicensed services that would not be subject to an auction," Hundt said, adding that the spectrum transformation would result in "billions of dollars of extra growth and hundreds of thousands, if not ultimately millions, of new jobs, provided it was done quickly."

Hundt described advanced wireless technology as a "chipset about as big as my thumbnail that will send out a radio signal to a box about the size of a cheeseburger and sits on a windowsill."

From there, a signal is sent to antenna located in a "breadbox" attached to lamp poles or street lights. The boxes then send signals across the air and ultimately, miles way, connect to a fiber optic Internet link.

"If you have the right radio frequencies you don't need as many boxes and you can design it better," Hundt said.

Hundt urged both Congress and the FCC to "push the recalcitrant and incentivize the willing participants" in any telecom reform.

"The current chapter in this ongoing story of facilitating the creative innovation of capitalism will be written if Congress and the FCC can find ways to let businesses use the best spectrum physics, not for UHF television, but rather for wireless broadband."