Progress on Availability of Both Unlicensed and Licensed Spectrum

BY CCIA Staff
March 31, 2014

As Americans’ mobile use of the Internet and smart electronic devices escalates, the FCC must get creative and sophisticated about packing more users into the limited virtual real estate of our finite electromagnetic radio spectrum.   The agency could always use more engineers, particularly in Commissioner’s offices, but the engineers currently at the FCC are doing a nice job in collaboration with the private sector making spectrum use more rational and efficient, as advances in technology allow.   The days of overly generous spacing between users of spectrum and dumb transmit and receiver devices that spill over into neighboring frequencies are over. 

Today the FCC voted to revise it rules to transform 100 megahertz of 5GHz  UNII band unlicensed spectrum into a more useful resource for consumers and businesses while reducing the potential for harmful interference to incumbent users.

As Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, ranking Member of the House Subcommittee on Communications & Technology noted in a recent article, “unlicensed spectrum is available for use by anyone…a platform that is open and shared, meaning entrepreneurs with the latest gadgets can utilize it to innovate without permission.”   Ms. Eshoo described a new football stadium being built in California with a wifi network that is actually robust enough to accommodate everyone there for a big game.

Also today, the Commission voted to adopt new allocation, licensing, service and technical rules to make AWS-3 spectrum available for flexible uses, including mobile broadband.   65 Mhz of that band will be auctioned later this year.  Mandated interoperability is a key feature of this initiative as it will reduce uncertainty for smaller carriers.

As FCC Chairman Wheeler noted in a speech last week at Brookings, wireless is a huge part of the 4th great network revolution, and competition is at the center the FCC’s mobile agenda.   Indeed mobile wireless competitors need access to a reasonable share of the best spectrum or they will simply not BE competitive in terms of offering consumers good choices.

The elephant in the room today at the FCC is the reality that the federal government still controls about half the spectrum that would be ideally to suited to commercial mobile broadband use.   So NTIA is continuing to inventory the status of federal uses with an eye toward negotiating spectrum clearing or sharing arrangements for additional valuable frequency blocks.

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