FCC Launches Effort to Free Spectrum

WASHINGTON — The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved on Thursday morning the first step in the process of commercializing the upper millimeter-wave spectrum, a move designed to open the airwaves to multi-gigabit-per-second Internet speeds. The proceeding, which could take up to a year to complete, is designed to examine the commercial development and growth of spectrum in the 71-76 GHz, 81-86 GHz and 92-95 GHz bands.

Specifically, the FCC is seeking comments on its proposed new rules to allow use of these spectrum bands for a broad range of new fixed wireless services including high-speed wireless local networks, broadband access systems for the Internet and point-to-point communications.

The FCC decision comes just days after the agency was the subject of critical attacks by both the House and the Senate for not freeing up enough spectrum for cutting edge applications and nine months after Loea Communications Corp., a subsidiary of Trex Enterprises Corp. of Calif., filed a petition with the FCC requesting the establishment of service rules for the licensed use of the 71-76 GHz and 81-86 GHz bands. The space has been previously used by the military and ham radio operators.

Loea is a telecommunications carrier and intends to offer bundled communication services utilizing its gigabit wireless network to link customers’ facilities or communication infrastructure within its network or directly to the fiber backbone, bypassing local loop access provided by incumbent telecommunication carriers.

The technology is point-to-point fixed wireless that can communicate up to 10 miles and at a data rate of 1.25 Gbps (approximately 800 T1 lines). Loea is also working on its next generation of product with a projected data rate of 12.5 Gbps.

“Today we really begin the process of commercializing around 13GHz, or 13,000 MHz, of spectrum,” said FCC Commissioner Michael J. Copps. “We may be dealing with apples and oranges in comparing this spectrum with other bands, but that’s as much spectrum as currently occupied by all AM and FM broadcasting, all the television channels, all of the CMRS spectrum, all the way up to the DBS bands.”

The rules that the FCC is seeking comments upon involve licensing fixed wireless use in the 71-76 GHz and 81-86 GHz bands, sharing the 92-95 GHz band between commercial and government parties and providing for unlicensed use in some or all of the bands.

“The bands, which have wavelengths of three to five millimeters, have never before been used commercially, and it was previously unclear how these bands could be used,” said FCC Commissioner Kevin J. Martin. “Now, commercial interests are experimenting with different uses for these bands.”

When asked what the military had been using these bands for, FCC staff refused to comment, saying the work was classified by the military. But, Trex, the parent company of Loea Communications, has been researching and developing laser communications for the military for the last 15 years. Trex has also developed a passive millimeter-wave camera (PMC) which allows thermal imaging (similar to infrared camera images) of personnel behind walls, detection of concealed items (e.g. weapons), and navigation by helicopters and planes in zero-visibility conditions caused by fog and rain.

Trex’s laser communications have achieved ground-to-air and air-to-air communication data rates of 1.25 Gbps over distances of 400 kilometers. The company’s spin-off technologies from the PMC and laser communications include low-cost steerable antennas for point-to-point and point-to-multi-point communications, enabling technology for broadband wireless networks and high-performance performance low-noise amplifiers for communications beyond 60 GHz.

Last year, Trex organized Loea to exploit the technologies developed for the military.

“Loea’s technology is a very significant development for the telecommunications industry,” said Lou Slaughter, CEO of Loea. “It will enable access for customers in remote locations, urban areas and metropolitan areas, and facilitate high speed services such as movies on demand.”

It also can be rapidly deployed as a redundant communications network or deployed to connect command and remote centers for military applications and disaster relief. The primary application for the technology includes the aggregation and backhaul of secondary networks such as lower frequency wireless to small communities, LMDS, MMDS, cable facilities serving campuses and MDU’s, and cell towers.

Having completed initial demonstrations of the technology, Loea plans to launch its technology in Hawaii by deploying a gigabit wireless network on the island of Kauai to be available for disaster relief. Loea also plans to deploy a network to serve a remote resort to demonstrate the opportunities for guests given high speed access (6 Mbps) to each hotel room. Thereafter, Loea plans to build out its first gigabit wireless network at a location on the U.S. mainland covering an area in excess of 1000 square miles linked to the fiber backbone through a single point of presence (POP).

FCC Commissioner Kathleen Q. Abernathy was generally enthusiastic in her support for the FCC decision, but warned at least some of the spectrum must be shared with the military.

“Commercial operations also must share these new bands with federal government spectrum users,” she said. “However, we have an obligation to ensure that our new licensees are not ultimately surprised to learn that the nature of the federal government uses in a band preclude commercial development.”

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