FCC Explores Adding 3G Spectrum Below 3 GHz

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Thursday will hold an open
meeting in an attempt to sort out the prickly issue of using frequency bands
below 3 GHz to support the introduction of Advanced Wireless services,
including 3G services, in the U.S.

3G systems are intended to provide access, by means of one or more radio
links, to a wide range of telecommunication services supported by the fixed
telecommunication networks and to other services that are specific to mobile
users. A range of mobile terminal types will be used, linking to terrestrial
and/or satellite-based networks, and the terminals may be designed for
mobile or fixed use.

Key features of 3G systems are a high degree of commonality of design
worldwide, compatibility of services, use of small pocket terminals with
worldwide roaming capability, Internet and other multimedia applications,
and a wide range of services and terminals.

And there is no small amount of money concerned. The FCC has said that
capital investment in the wireless mobile industry has more than quadrupled
since 1994, for a cumulative total of more than $70 billion through 1999.
Additionally, the number of subscribers for wireless services has more than
doubled since 1996 to more than 86 million subscribers through 1999 and
revenues over the same period doubled to almost $21 billion while rates
fell. The wireless carriers have taken a hit during the current economic
slowdown, but the consensus is that the industry will continue to scale up

But as demand for services grows, more spectrum is needed to fulfill that
demand, which means the FCC must make some difficult decisions.

The issue is complicated by a number of factors, including:

  • A mandate by Congress that 200 MHz of spectrum be reallocated for
    advanced mobile and fixed communication services in the next thee to five

  • A resolution by the 2000 World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-2000)
    that an additional 160 MHz of spectrum will be needed by 2010 to meet the
    projected requirements for those areas where the traffic on these services
    is highest

  • The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) plan for fostering the
    development of advanced wireless systems, commonly known as the
    International Mobile Telecommunications 2000 (IMT-2000) initiative, which
    defines key characteristics of IMT-2000 radio systems, including standards
    intended to minimize the number of different radio interfaces, maximize
    their commonality and provide a transition path to 3G systems.

The ITU and WRC-2000 have identified a number of frequency bands that could
be used to implement 3G systems while satisfying its standards. The
recommendations include 806-890 MHz, 1710-1885 MHz, and 2500-2690 MHz for
possible terrestrial use. The two groups identified bands in the 1885-2170
MHz range for high-altitude platform IMT-2000 use and also identified the
1525-1559, 1610-1660.5, 2483.5-2500, 2500-2520, and 2670-2690 MHz bands for
mobile satellite IMT-2000 use.

Some of those frequencies are already used for commercial mobile
communications — namely 825-845/870-890 MHz bands for cellular radio
service, 806-821/851-866 MHz and 896-901/935-940 MHz bands for Specialized
Mobile Radio (SMR) services, and 1850-1910/1930-1990 MHz bands for Personal
Communication Service (PCS) — and the FCC has proposed allowing those
frequencies to be used for 3G as well.

However, other suggested bands — especially the 2500-2690 MHz band — are
already in use by differing services, and according to a study prepared in March
by FCC staff in the Office of Engineering and Technology, Mass Media Bureau,
Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, and International Bureau, sharing the
band between 3G and incumbent services could cause extensive interference.

The 2500-2690 MHz band is currently used by the Instructional Fixed
Television Service (ITFS), Multipoint Distribution Service (MDS) and
Multichannel Multipoint Distribution Service (MMDS). The MDS industry in
particular has invested several billion dollars to develop broadband fixed
wireless data systems in the band, including high-speed access to the
Internet. According to the study, the MDS systems offer a “significant
opportunity for further competition with cable and digital subscriber line
(DSL) services in the provision of broadband services in urban and rural

Additionally, the spectrum is used to provide video services for education
and training in schools, health care centers and a variety of other
institutions, as well as provisioning wireless cable. Although some argue the spectrum is underutilized, the study said it is heavily licensed throughout the country. And, the study also
found that ITFS and MDS use of the band varies from one geographic area to
the other, presenting “serious challenges to developing band sharing or
segmentation options that could be used across the country without severely
disrupting ITFS and MDS use.”

Indeed, one study cited by the FCC’s report suggested that segmentation of
the band or relocation of ITFS/MDS could cost those operations as much as
$19 billion over a 10-year period. Relocation would also require other
services to relocate with costs estimated to range from $10.2 billion to
$30.4 billion.

The other bands may prove to be more workable. The 1710-1755 MHz band, which
falls within the recommended 1710-1885 MHz band, was identified for transfer
from the federal government to mixed use in 1995. An interim report
completed by the FCC on Nov. 15, 2000, suggested that band could be paired
with the 2110-2150/2160-2165 MHz bands, identified for reallocation by the
commission under its Emerging Technologies proceeding.

The FCC’s open meeting will be held Thursday at 9:30 a.m. in Room TW-C305,
at 445 12th Street, S.W., Washington, D.C. The FCC said the meeting can be
viewed over George Mason University’s Capitol Connection, which will also
carry the meeting live via the Internet. The audio portion of the meeting
will be broadcast live on the Internet via the FCC’s Internet audio broadcast page.
Additionally, the meeting can be heard via telephone, for a fee, from
National Narrowcast Network at 202-966-2211.

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