4G Auctions

Posted by Sam Churchill on

The FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau will start actioning off VHF television channels on August 27th. Auction #44 will include 740 licenses in the Lower 700 MHz band.

The small portion of the lower VHF band (channels 52-59), known as the C and D blocks, will go on sale Aug. 27. In the “C” block, one 12-megahertz block consisting of a pair of 6 megahertz segments will be offered in each of 734 MSA/RSAs. Additionally, one 6-megahertz block (the “D” block) of contiguous, unpaired spectrum will be offered in each of six regions known as the 700 MHz band Economic Area Groupings (EAG).

The C Block
The “C” block uses VHF frequencies (710-716 & 740-746 MHz). You get a pair of 6MHz bands. The paired 6 Mhz frequency can be used for 3G like cellular services or “4G”. How much to bid on a 700 MHz channel? Cost for Low VHF band ain’t cheap. A pair of Portland “C” block frequencies (serving a potential 1.5 million customers) will cost you $212K cash upfront and a minimum bid of $424K. Astoria, with 160,000 potential customers, will cost $24K upfront with a minimum bid of $24K.

It may seem like a lot of money but consider that a 5,000 watt AM radio station can run $1-$2 million in this market. Most are just Clear Channel Jukeboxes with little or no local content and provide hardly any public service.

The D Block
Perhaps the most intriguing is the “D” block which is the unpaired 6 MHz chunk from 716-722.

While 6 Mhz is not much bandwidth (2.4 GHz 802.11b has 85 MHz), the range is superior and the cost may be relatively low. AT&T’s Angel (now Netro), reached 2 million households with more than 90,000 subscriber lines using a 5-Mhz pair. It can provide integrated voice, data and video to mobile terminals. New fixed and mobile wireless commercial services can be used for private or public, internet infrastructure. If the CPE is cheap and installation is easy, DSL and cable would have viable competition. The bottom line is eliminating the truck roll.

For some reason, the FCC is only auctioning six (6) “D” block channels on television channel 54 (716-722 MHz) in the whole country. The Pacific Coast region’s “D” Block licenses, will cover 41 million people. Apparently this means the purchaser will be free to use that frequency anywhere in the region. The FCC wants $3 million cash upfront and a minimum opening bid of $6.2 million.

4G Systems
Winners of the “D” Block will likely use “4G” equipment like that demonstrated by Flarion, Arraycomm and Beam Reach. ArrayComm’s system can provide 20 Mbps in 5 MHz of spectrum, while Flarion’s system only provides about 12 Mbps. ArrayComm’s system has higher spectral efficiency and throughput, but Flarion has traded off some throughput for high mobility. ArrayComm’s system uses a packetized TDD (time division multiple access/time division duplex), while Flarion has a proprietary version of OFDM, called Flash-OFDM and Frequency Division (FD). Other “4G” approaches to data include Broadstorm.

ArrayComm’s i-BURST system has 40 times the capacity of conventional mobile systems. That efficiency is made possible by their “smart antenna” spatial processing. The i-BURST technology is more cost-effective than CDMA-based technologies for packet data transmission. “To download a graphically intensive Web page, it would take 35 seconds and cost $0.60 on a 2.5G cellular system. It takes less than 2 seconds and costs $0.03 on the i-BURST system,” said their CEO.

Here’s how Beam Reach (being tested by Verizon), compares their Adaptive MultiBeam to the competition:

Adaptive MultiBeam OFDM
Broadband CDMA
Switched Beam Antenna
System Capacity
Spectral Efficiency
>10 bits/s/Hz/cell
2-4 bits/s/Hz/cell
2-4 bits/s/Hz/cell
Cell Size
Indoor Customer Install

Promoters of “4G” say their systems will get “3G” speeds (384Kbps-1Mbps) for one tenth the cost. Communications coops could bid on such frequencies. The FCC is delaying the Jan. 14 auction of upper UHF channels (Ch 60-69), yet again, so this August’s auction is vital for “4G” services. Other auctions resulted in cellular and PCS services. The wireless data market in the US is only a $200 million market. In Japan, it’s almost an $8 billion market.

3G Cellular Solutions
The CDMA2000 1xEV-DV (data and voice)standard was recently approved by the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) and ITU as an official 3G standard. It’s an efficient evolution path for CDMA2000 1x carriers (like Sprint and Verizon) because they can keep their 1.25 MHz channels. W-CDMA requires (new) 5 MHz channels. The 1xEV-DV standard offers typical throughput rates of 1 Mbps in a 1.25 MHz frequency channel and can dynamically allocate bandwidth. There are only so many channels. The ROI pitch for carriers: 1xEV-DV can squeeze more “voice” customers in the same channel.

AT&T supports UMTS, the ‘Universal Mobile Telecommunications System’, one of the major new 3G mobile communications systems being developed within the framework defined by the ITU and known as IMT-2000. Their W-CDMA standard, requires a 5 MHz channel. That means AT&T, Cingular and Voicestream, in the GSM camp, are going to need more channels. Where are they going to get them? The 700 MHz, MMDS and a new (3G) 2.1 MHz band are the best bet. But cellular carriers, especially Cingular and AT&T Wireless may have bet on the wrong horse. They could save their ass if they bought MMDS frequencies from WorldCom and rolled out a uniform 4G system. But they’re bureaucratic and inflexible, spoiled on endless credit. They’re going down.

The MMDS Band
The MMDS band has 200 MHz of bandwidth around 2.5 GHz. It’s important to remember, in the rush for 700 MHz, that Sprint paid $448.8 million for American Telecasting MMDS licenses covering a potential 10 million households in Denver, Portland, Ore., Seattle and Las Vegas Sprint also got four (6 MHz) ITFS channels in Portland, and other communities. They are testing out the Navini CDMA system. It may be less efficient but outdoor antennas are not required. It can feed an indoor 802.11 box with “wireless DSL”. Verizon is an investor and trialing 4G Beam Reach. The “4G” COFDM systems also mesh better with the approved COFDM 802.16 standard for “last mile” wireless DSL.

Importantly, the MMDS band can now also be used for telephony. Sprint is ideally situated. Consider that data-only MMDS systems bring companies such as Sprint an average revenue per user of only $30 per month, which often isn’t enough to cover costs. In comparison, the average U.S. cell phone bill (excluding tax) is over $50, even though cell phones use less bandwidth. Sprint and Verizon could go “4G” on MMDS. They could even roam if the two companies agreed on a single technology – ideally an 802.16a standard.

The Unlicensed Band
Want cheap “wireless DSL”? Skip the auction, try the unlicensed 5.8GHz band and use the 802.16 standard for the last mile. The standard is designed specifically to solve the unique problem of the wireless metropolitan area network (MAN). It will offer tremendous advantages over wireless local area network (LAN) or mobile telephone technology. The first 802.16a chipset on a PC Card is nearly ready.

Put them in a Boingo box, FatPort box, Pronto box, or Intel Media Center and supply 802.11b locally with “wireless DSL” connecting to a community tower 5 miles away via the 802.16 protocol. It’s designed for this sort of thing. Products that comply with 802.16a should be less than a year away. It wouldn’t need an external antenna if the signal strength is strong.

There’s only one problem; who’s going to develop this “4G” infrastructure? The M.E.N (Motorola, Erickson and Nokia) have locked many cell carriers into long-term equipment deals tying them into 2.5G/3G evolution. Something’s got to break this cycle of technological poverty.

Marin’s Community Wi-Fi Network may be a good model.

Posted by Sam Churchill on Monday, August 5th, 2002 at 1:37 am .

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