The FCC Grants More Wireless Spectrum

FCC_New_LogoIn several actions on Monday the FCC granted for wireless spectrum for use as WiFi and cellular data.

In the WiFi arena the FCC freed up three new bands of spectrum for use as WiFi. The specific bands that are now available to the public include spectrum between 5470 – 5725 MHz and another band between 5725 – 5850 MHz. These two bits of spectrum were already surrounded by other WiFi spectrum and were referred to in the past as WiFi potholes. This now creates a continuous band between 5150 – 5250 MHz.

The two new bands are together 75 MHz of new WiFi spectrum and begin the process the Commission started in 2010 in the National Broadband Plan Order, when they said that they would find 500 new MHz of public spectrum.

Of course, there are not devices on the market capable of utilizing these two pieces of spectrum immediately, but one would expect that devices shipped fairly soon will have the capacity. Because these two pieces of spectrum were islands within a larger band of WiFi spectrum it will be easier to include them than it was to exclude them. These new pieces of spectrum will make it that much easier to use our insatiable use of WiFi for cellular offload and other mobile computing needs like watching video.

The FCC also announced that there will be an auction for new bandwidth that will be available to cellular carriers for 4G wireless. The three bands exist between 1695 – 1710 MHz, 1755 – 1780 MHz and 2155 – 2180 MHz. The FCC labeled this new spectrum as Advanced Wireless Services 3 (AWS-3)

There is a catch, though with these spectrum in that any cellular company that uses it has to share it with existing government wireless systems. Nationwide there are over 3,100 registered uses in this spectrum that range from the Department of Homeland Security for border surveillance to the US Army for tactical communication. The FCC is not planning to move most of these uses out of the spectrum but will instead expect any carrier that buys the spectrum to somehow coexist with the existing uses.

The major wireless carriers aren’t nuts about the idea but have agreed to run tests to see how they might share the frequency with the government. Obviously they would not share networks, but in areas of contention each would have authorized use of the spectrum somehow. Obviously the wireless carriers would love the spectrum cleared for their exclusive use, and there will be many markets where the spectrum is clear or mostly clear.

The FCC announced that it is going to auction off this spectrum in a mixture of large and small blocks, and in large and small geographic areas. They hope this will entice smaller regional carriers to go after spectrum for use in rural markets. They plan on auction rules that give an edge in these small markets to the small carriers plus T-Mobile. The proceeds from this auction are aimed at helping to pay for FirstNet, the nationwide emergency response network. Let’s just hope that by requiring bandwidth sharing that the big carriers show up and bid. They don’t always do so as evidence by the last auction where the only bidder was Dish Networks at the required minimum bid.

Certainly these announcements are good news for anybody with a cell phone, and having additional WiFi spectrum is going to make us that much more ready for the Internet of Things. As a country we have an insatiable demand for wireless spectrum and this is one more step towards making enough spectrum available to keep us humming along.

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