The Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) said today the reallocating 45 MHz of government spectrum earmarked for 3G would cost $936 million. The FCC hopes to auction off the new bands for 3G phones this summer, harmonizing a dedicated “3G” band with other countries. The NTIA claims this new band will provide new telecommunications competition in the U.S.
But will it?
The 1710-1755 Mhz and 2110-2155 Mhz band was identified in NTIA’s July, 2002 Viability Assessment. They said that spectrum, currently used by a dozen government agencies, could be moved without disrupting communications systems critical to national security. It would make room for some 90 MHz of commercial spectrum. Last year, the FCC notified the NTIA that it would auction the first half of that spectrum–45 MHz in the lower half of the 1.7 GHz band–as soon as 2006.
The Advanced Wireless Services (AWS) Auction (service rules pdf) is likely to happen this summer. The good news is that the new 1.7/2.1 GHz band falls under Part 27 FCC Rules, the same rules and terms as the 2.5 GHz BRS band that Sprint and Clearwire are expected to utilize for Mobile WiMax. Sprint and Samsung will begin field trials of Mobile WiMax next year in the U.S.
While the spectrum has been labeled as 3G spectrum, it won’t necessarily go to cellular carriers. The FCC has mandated that any broadband wireless service could be built on the spectrum, leaving the door open for future WiMAX deployments. The second half of the 90 MHz identified by the FCC is in the lower 2.1 GHz bands, but the FCC has set no timeline yet for its auction.
But the 1710-1755 band and the 2110-2155 band is not about WiMAX competition. The AWS band is duplex. It’s a 3G cellular play. Who benefits from auctioning duplex 5 MHz channels? Mostly SBC.
Sprint and Verizon use 1.25 Mhz wide EVDO channels. They don’t much need a new UMTS band using a different, less efficient and incompatible 3G technology. Their current EV-DO technology works fine on their current bands. Verizon and Sprint are pretty well fixed. Still, opening up the new 1710/2100 frequencies for 3G phones does make sense. Cellular usage is growing and 3G phones in other countries already use at least some of those frequencies. Global roaming could be harmonized. That would be good for SBC.
It won’t help Mobile WiMax. WiMax is optimized for simplex (TDD) voice and data.
A TDD base station allows the use of a single frequency for both uplink and downlink in the communication channel. Mobile WiMax uses SCOFDMA with techniques like beamforming and MIMO which work best in simplex. WiMax would be marginalized using duplex.
||1710-1720 and 2110-2120 MHz
||Economic Area (EA)
||1720-1730 and 2120-2130 MHz
||Regional Economic Area Group (REAG)
||1730-1735 and 2130-2135 MHz
||1735-1740 and 2135-2140 MHz
||Cellular Market Area (CMA)
||1740-1755 and 2140-2155 MHz
Sprint could get 700 Mhz in a swap; public service users get Nextel/iDen in exchange for new 700 Mhz bands for Sprint-Nextel. Nextel’s commercial iDen users might be phased out while 700 Mhz broadband voice and data is phased in. Competitor Verizon could buy 700 Mhz frequencies from Aloha Partners if they wanted to play that game. Both might use Flarion/MediaFLO rather than Mobile WiMax.
While 700 Mhz may travel 3 times further than 2.5 GHz Mobile WiMax, there’s not much capacity available — only 6 Mhz per channel. A typical 2.5GHz (BRS) Mobile WiMax license is 15 Mhz wide. But a pair of 6 Mhz Flarion channels combined with Qualcomm’s entertainment-oriented MediaFLO could provide voice and data — inside and out.
It’s also conceivable that DirecTV and Echostar could use 1710/2100 frequencies for backhaul and “quad play” (voice, video, data and wireless). MIMO access points like Ruckus deliver wireless HDTV around the house. A WiFi/3G phone provides mobility. It’s rumored that SBC may buy Echostar.
Two channel (duplex) channels are needed for SBC (and possibily) T-Mobile USA. Only Cingular utilizes GSM-based UMTS with 5 MHz W-CDMA channels in the United States. Their UMTS 3G requires a forklift upgrade. Or a new band.Global spectrum availability varies from region to region and appears to be just as screwed up elsewhere. WiMax tends to be focused on 2.5 GHz bands in the U.S., Brazil, Mexico and Canada while the rest of the world uses the 2.3 GHz and 3.5 GHz bands (for mobile and fixed). Still, Australia, Asia, South America and Europe seem to encourage real wireless broadband competition.
In the United States, the FCC and the NTIA have shunted WiMax “competition” to the 2.5GHz band. That’s largely controlled by one company — Sprint.
Sprint will not undercut their own cellular service with Mobile WiMax. That’s a given. So how can 2.5 GHz Mobile WiMax hope to provide real competition in the United States? It can’t.
In the 3.5 GHz band, the U.S. military and contractors like Raytheon broke global harmonization in the 3.3-3.8 GHz band for broadband wireless. As WiMax begins to roll out, broadband wireless providers may increasingly complain that the NTIA has caved in to military demands and beltway politics.
Has the NTIA and FCC sold out?
“We do have have a coherent broadband policy…and it’s working”, said NTIA administrator Michael Gallagher earlier this year.
In a panel discussion at the Progress & Freedom Foundation’s Aspen Summit, Gallagher defended the Bush administration’s efforts to promote the growth of broadband in the United States. The broadband policy was under assault from a number of speakers at the gathering, reports EE Times.
One of the most direct criticisms came from Nortel CEO Bill Owens, who told the audience that he didn’t see much in the telecom vision-thing from the current administration.
“I do believe we need a higher [telecom] vision for America,” said Owens, who held up the high-speed broadband deployments in countries like Korea and India as examples of forward-thinking vision in action. “Where is our equivalent vision, as a nation?” asked Owens, a U.S. citizen who leads Nortel, which is headquarted in Canada (Brampton, Ontario).
Michael Gallagher (bio) is the Bush appointee heading the NTIA. He took issue with the charges that U.S. telecom-policy was lacking.
“I totally disagree with him [Owens],” Gallagher said, in an interview following his own panel discussion, which centered on wireless spectrum policy reform. “The President set a goal of affordable, universally available broadband by 2007, and we’re sticking to it”.
The NTIA’s Office of Policy Analysis and Development supports NTIA’s role as principal adviser to the President, Vice President, and Secretary of Commerce on telecommunications and information policies. Maps can be found on the FCC’s website and the NTIA Frequency Allocation Chart.
One of the examples Gallagher cited as proof was the opening of 90 Mhz of spectrum at 1.7/2.1 GHz (see DW: President Wants 90MHz). The spectrum will be broken up in smaller geographic portions in order for smaller carriers to bid on them.
Whether large telecom (cellular) companies will actually put up the front money and control those frequencies remains to be seen.Not mentioned by Gallagher was the buyout and elimination of 2.3 GHz broadband wireless by XM radio
, the domination of licensed 2.5 GHz by Sprint
, the power limitation of 5.4GHz
, the elimination of telco DSL competition
, the rural restrictions of 3.5GHz
, silence on attempts to ban virtually all municipal networks
, a screwed up DTV system and the general lack of affordable broadband and competition in the United States.
What kind of policy is that?
The FCC’s Cellular plan for 3G in the U.S. seems more like a Cingular plan, while the FCC’s broadband wireless plan seems more like a Sprint plan. Or is that just me?
Media companies in the United States may soon take their marching orders from cellular providers who will control their destiny.
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