FCC Considers Auctioning Off TV Frequencies

The Federal Communications Commission, citing a need for more spectrum, is mulling an auction on broadcast television frequencies for more broadband, reports Reuters.

One proposal (pdf) would be to keep VHF channels (2-13) for over-the-air broadcasting and make the UHF channels (14-35, 37-51) available for reallocation. According to the Brattle Group study, such a proposal would free up 216 MHz or 73% of the frequencies. The 10 million people who rely on over the air broadcasting may also get subsidized “lifeline” cable if their viewing is disrupted.

According to an analysis by consultants at The Brattle Group (pdf report), the market value of the spectrum held by broadcasters is an estimated $62 billion.

Up to $62 billion of spectrum could be made available for the cost of $9 billion to $12 billion. Such a significant mismatch between value and cost indicates radio spectrum is currently inefficiently allocated. Also, the gains-from-trade of as much as $50 billion only represents the direct dollar impact of reallocating the broadcast spectrum. Consumer benefits from the wireless sector would likely be between $500 billion and $1.2 trillion. These additional benefits represent both cost savings and increased usage to consumers for existing services and new services that can only be developed and offered in a more spectrum abundant marketplace.

But it is not known when and how the FCC would formally make the move to force broadcasters to auction a portion of their airwaves. The agency has released few details.

“We believe there is a material likelihood that at least some broadcast spectrum will ultimately be repurposed, though this will be a long process,” Stifel Nicolaus analyst Rebecca Arbogast said.

“We don’t know all the specifics of the FCC proposal, but at this point, it’s not a very appealing proposition to most broadcasters,” said Dennis Wharton, spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters.

The 700 Mhz auction generated more than $19 billion for the Treasury last year. AT&T and Verizon Wireless, represented almost 75% of that revenue.

The CTIA has asked the FCC to make up to 800 MHz of additional licensed spectrum available for them. Blair Levin, the FCC official in charge of the broadband plan, wrote in his blog that there was about 50 MHz of spectrum in the pipeline, “and it’s not very good spectrum for mobile broadband.”

Meanwhile $2.4B in AWS spectrum was bought by cable operators Comcast, Time-Warner Cable, and others, but the frequencies have not been used. SpectrumCo, an AWS bidding consortium with Cox, Comcast and Time Warner Cable, picked up 137 licenses in 2006’s Advanced Wireless Services auction (at 1.7/2.1 GHz). SpectrumCo won a total of 137 AWS licenses for $2.37 billion. Comcast’s share was $1.29 billion, followed by Time Warner Cable’s $632.2 million, and Cox’s $248.3 million. (See SpectrumCo Gets Licenses)

Bidders Net total of high bids
1. T-Mobile $4.2 billion
2. Verizon Wireless $2.8 billion
3. SpectrumCo $2.4 billion
4. MetroPCS $1.4 billion
5. Cingular $1.3 billion
6. Cricket $710 million
7. Denali Spectrum $365 million
8. Barat Wireless $127 million
9. AWS Wireless $116 million
10. Atlantic Wireless $81 million

Sprint got out of cable’s spectrum investment group, SpectrumCo, leaving $2.4 billion in AWS licenses in New York, Boston, Washington, Detroit, Atlanta and other major cities for cable operators. But cable operators haven’t touched their AWS frequencies (at 1.7/2.1 GHz). Instead, Comcast and T/Warner invested over $1.6 Billion in their Clearwire joint venture and now use Clear’s 2.6 GHz spectrum for mobile broadband.

Cable operators are sitting on their $2.4B in unused AWS spectrum, hoping to drive up prices through scarcity. Their strategy appears to be working.

“We are just entering the age of mobile data,” said Blair Levin, the FCC’s top broadband coordinator, who added that regulators are exploring all options as they mine for spectrum. “We are looking at everything and talking to everybody.”

White Spaces” could have as much an impact on the economy as Wi-Fi has had in the last decade — if it’s kept free. The CTIA now has more money and influence than the NAB — and money talks.

The FCC adopted rules for unlicensed use of tv white spaces on November 4, 2008 (pdf). Giving away unused television spectrum for unlicensed wireless broadband wouldn’t generate any money for the Treasury, although it could provide broadband to poor and rural citizens. White spaces might also help the newspaper and magazine industry, if ubiquitous “free” spectrum is available for e-books and magazines.

The FCC’s broadband plan, mandated by Congress, is due next February and the consideration of freeing spectrum for commercial use isn’t final. Broadband.gov overviews initiatives intended to accelerate broadband deployment across the United States.

Related Dailywireless articles include; Cellcos: One Thing – Bandwidth, White Spaces Trialed in North Carolina,Comcast Goes Mobile with WiMAX, Time-Warner Adding Mobile WiMAX Service, ATSC Mobile DTV Standard Approved, Genachowski: Faster Tower Approval, Open Platforms, Smartphones: Data Tsunami Coming, AT&T Makes Jump to HSDPA Speed, AT&T: HSPA+ Not LTE for Now, LTE Marketing Ramps Up, LTE-Advanced Submitted to ITU, Verizon LTE: 30 US Markets by 2010, Verizon Updates 700MHz LTE Specs, WHERE on T-Mobile’s Web2go, AT&T Adding 25,000 Hotspots Overseas, Future Bleak for WiMAX?, Movies on Demand for Motorola and iPhone, ABI: Cellular Data Too Expensive, The Death Of Paid WiFi, The App Store: Year One Revolution, The iPhone: A 2nd Economy?, Verizon: Free WiFi with DSL/FiOS, Mobile Supercomputing, Sweden Tests LTE, Sweden Tests LTE, Verizon LTE: 30 US Markets by 2010, Verizon Calls on LTE, AWS: It’s Done, 700MHz: It’s Done!,

EU to Germany: Open 2.6GHz to Fixed Wireless – Or Else

The European Commission this week filed a legal procedure against Germany for failing to allocate the 2500-2690 MHz radio frequency band for a wide range of radio services, including fixed wireless services.

Under EU radio spectrum harmonisation rules (pdf), all EU countries have to ensure that all kinds of telecoms services can utilise this band. Typically, some 140 Mhz is available for FDD-based 3G/LTE services, while 50 MHz is available for TDD-based broadband wireless such as WiMAX.

The EU rules stipulate that the sub-band (2.570 – 2.620 MHz) can be used by TDD or other usage modes. At present, Germany only allocates this frequency band to mobile services.

“Unfortunately, despite intensive contacts between the Commission services and the German authorities, they have still not yet taken all steps to ensure that the 2500-2690 MHz band is allocated to fixed wireless services and technologies. This represents not only a violation of EU law, but it also could delay the roll-out of wireless broadband services throughout Germany and Europe,” said EU Telecoms Commissioner Viviane Reding.

The Commission this week sent a letter of formal notice to Germany, the first step in an infringement procedure. The German government has two months to respond. If the Commission receives no reply, or if the observations of the German government are not satisfactory, the Commission can issue a reasoned opinion (the second stage in an infringement procedure). If after that Germany still fails to fulfil its obligations under EU law, the Commission can refer the case to the European Court of Justice.

A detailed overview of the telecoms infringement proceedings is available here.

Motorola will supply WiMax gear for the Irish Imagine Communication Group. Imagine is the No. 2 business telecoms company in Ireland and provides services to 17,000 businesses. Meanwhile, Clearwire International is expanding into Spain. Clearwire will sell 3.5 GHz WiMAX in selected cities, under the same CLEAR brand. Intel acquired 50MHz of TDD spectrum in Sweden this summer and will likely look for local partners to build and operate a mobile WiMAX network in Nokia’s backyard.

EU countries, including Austria, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and the United Kingdom are preparing auctions in the 2500-2690 MHz band, but cellular-based LTE will likely be the dominate technology used there. CEPT generally divides the 200MHz of spectrum available in the 2.6Ghz band into a 140 MHz block dedicated to FDD systems and a 50 MHz TDD block.

In the United States, Clear has one thing that cellular operators don’t have (besides a working “4G” system); 120 Mhz of greenfield spectrum. Cellular operators already bought up nearly all the 700MHz space available in the United States.

In other EU Commission news, the 790-862 MHz band is being eyed for new 3G/4G services, as spectrum is freed up during the digital television conversion.

“I call on EU countries to speed up the move to digital TV and to make it happen by 1 January 2012. I also urge national authorities to use the digital dividend in a pro-competitive way to open up the market for new operators and new services, maximising the impact on the economy”, said Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for Information Society and Media.

The EU thinks it could give the economy a boost of €20 to €50 billion. The most recent 2008 FCC auction for 700 MHz frequencies generated nearly $20 billion in revenue for the U.S. Treasury, mostly from Verizon and AT&T.

Smart Meters on The Stimulus Channel

SmartGridNews.com, billed as “the Web’s most comprehensive source of stimulus news”, is said to be a one-stop resource for industry professionals and consumers for tracking stimulus money, analysis, news and tools.

The Stimulus Channel features stimulus toolkits for all 50 states, with links to state energy offices, regulatory bodies and utilities, plus local media coverage of energy issues and initiatives and summaries of state energy projects, RFPs and awards.

It’s designed by Telvent, a global IT solutions and business information services provider and serves the energy, transportation, agricultural and environmental sectors of the economy.

“We know how important this stimulus information is for the industry,” said Larry Stack, president, Telvent Energy. “At Telvent, our focus is to help our customers maximize their Smart Grid investments. Aligning with the sector’s leading content provider was a natural fit for us.”

This week President Barack Obama announced $3.4 billion in government grants to help build a “smart” electric grid that will save consumers money on their utility bills, reduce blackouts and carry power supplies generated by solar and wind energy.

It marks the largest award made in a single day from the $787 billion stimulus package, and will create tens of thousands of jobs while upgrading the U.S. electric grid, according to administration officials.

The grants (above), which range from $400,000 to $200 million, will go to 100 companies, utilities, manufacturers, cities and other partners in 49 states — every state except Alaska.

Electric cars can act as storage on wheels for the “virtual oil field” that is wind energy in places like Texas and the Columbia River Gorge. They can charge at night using excess juice from wind turbines.

The Nissan Leaf, Miev, Think, and others are scheduled to arrive next year with charging infrastructure installations expected to begin in summer of 2010.

Denmark is setting a global example in creating clean power, storing it, and using it, says the PBS public affairs show, Now (above). President Obama announced $2.4 Billion in grants to accelerate development in batteries and Electric Vehicles earlier this year.

In August, PGE’s home town of Portland was named one of five test markets for the largest rollout of electric vehicles and an associated charging station network in United States history. PGE was selected by Electric Transportation Engineering (eTec), a unit of ECOtality which received almost $100 million in federal funds to test and analyze electric vehicle usage and charging infrastructure.

“If we assume that 10 percent of the vehicles were plug-ins by 2020, we’re predicting 50 average MW and we can get 90 percent of that off peak”, said Joe Barra, director of customer energy resources, Portland General Electric (PGE).

Wind power and electric cars compliment each other, while the Smart Grid enables discounted off-peak usage.

Pike Research predicts installation of Smart Meters to ramp up at a 19 percent annual rate through 2015. Major utilities worldwide, enticed by savings and prodded by governments, are embarking on a wholesale replacement of over 45% of the North American and European installed base by 2015.

Portland General selected a smart metering system developed by Sensus Metering Systems, which uses a wireless fixed network operating on 901 – 902 MHz at 8 KBps (pdf).

FlexNet architecture (pdf) combines a two Watt radio power with FCC-licensed spectrum and open systems IP addressability. PGE will construct, own and operate the system.

Communications equipment is being installed on approximately 42 mostly existing radio towers throughout the service area in Portland to enable two-way communication with the meters.

Sensus and Home Automation (above) are partnering on Home Area Network devices for demand response, energy display, and comfort control. Thousands of devices have already been distributed to five utilities across the country.

PG&E’s plan is to retrofit 54% of the existing electric meters and 96.1% of its existing gas meters.

The federal Department of Energy announced Oct. 9 a total of $10 million among 16 U.S. cities receiving grant funding through the Solar America Cities Special Projects. Portland will use the two-year grant to provide the technical and staff support to expand its Neighborhood Solar Initiative, neighborhood-focused programs designed to lower the barriers to solar installations for residents.

Related Dailywireless articles on Smart Meters include; Obama Announces $3.4B in Electric “Smart Grid” Grants, Cisco Launches Smart Grid Consortium, Alvarion Partners in Smart Grid Test, WiMAX SmartGrid Coming to 700K Australians, Zigbee Radio with 2 Mile Range, Google Power Meter , ABI: Stimulus Means Big Bucks for Wireless, The Smart Grid: Licensed or Unlicensed Spectrum, Cellular-enabled SCADA, Smart Grid: Dumb or What?, Smart Grid: It’s Alive!, Google: Smart Power R US, 900 Mhz Telemetry, Traffic Cameras and ITS and the Corpus Christi Cloud.

Sprint: Good Times, Bad Times

At the Sprint Developers Conference, this week, Google’s Brad Horowitz announced that Sprint was enabling Google voice to work on their 3G network, reports Alan Weissberger on the WiMax 360 blog.

Sprint is rolling out Android phones including the HTC Hero and Samsung Moment, and is prepared to let Skype and other VoIP schemes also work on their mobile network- even though that might result in less cellular minutes used and correspondingly less revenue.

Sprint also announced that it will not charge customers for certain types of call forwarding. In particular, conditional call forwarding for busy calls or calls not answered using the customer`s wireless phone will be free, beginning mid-November.

In two back to back sessions on 3G/4G, it was revealed that Clearwire is not supporting the QOS capability that’s inherent in the IEEE 802.16e MAC. Currently, all traffic on their CLEAR network is best effort. QOS is important for latency sensitive apps like VoIP and real time video conferencing. It will also be important for mobile video. But a mobile VoIP service (with QOS) is not expected till the end of 2010 or 2011.

When a panel of SPRINT executives were asked by this author, “Why no announcement of the availability of a tri mode phone (3G, mobile WiMAX, WiFi),” the reply was that there will be no such announcement any time soon. However, in a later session, the SPRINT commissioned tri-mode phone was slated to be commercially available sometime in 2010.

SPRINT was NOT willing to take all the risk in making MIDs available on their 3G (or Clearwire’s 4G WiMAX) networks. Instead, the MID vendor and SPRINT would have to share the risk and uncertain ROI on such devices. That’s why the Samsung Mondi costs $450. If Clear’s Mondi dumped Windows Mobile for Android, added a good VoIP application and tethering, I – for one – would be tempted.

Meanwhile, Sprint Nextel continues to lose money and subscribers while AT&T and Verizon Wireless added more than 3 million subscribers in the third quarter.

Sprint, the No. 3 U.S. mobile service, lost 801,000 postpaid subscribers in the third quarter, a significant number although below the 870,000 losses analysts had feared. Losses have slowed from 991,000 in the second quarter and 1.25 million in the first quarter.

The quarter ended with Sprint having 48.3 million wireless customers on its various networks. That puts Sprint in a fairly distant third position behind Verizon Wireless at 89 million and AT&T at 81.6 million based on their 2009 third-quarter results.

Rural Broadband Alliance: Show Us the Money

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration, along with the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service, is still sorting through nearly $28 billion worth of applications for broadband stimulus grants–nearly seven times the $4 billion available for the program in this first round.

NTIA head Larry Strickling said it wouldn’t be awarding the first broadband stimulus funds until December. That’s a month later than expected, Strickling admitted Tuesday, citing the complexity of reviewing the 2,200 applications.

In testimony before a Senate oversight committee on Tuesday, Strickling said the number of grant applications was larger than anticipated and will require more time for review. He also said that the agency would not conclude the first round of funding at the end of this year as they previously planned, and would instead delay that until February.

In this first round of funding, NTIA will award up to $1.6 billion in grants. Of this amount, up to $1.2 billion will fund broadband infrastructure, both last mile and middle mile projects. We will also award grants totaling $50 million for public computer center projects and $150 million for projects that promote broadband demand and affordability.

NTIA received first round applications from a diverse range of parties including State, tribal, and local governments; nonprofits; industry; anchor institutions, such as libraries, universities, community colleges, and hospitals; public safety organizations; and other entities in rural, suburban, and urban areas. Working together, NTIA and RUS posted online – at www.broadbandusa.gov – a searchable database containing descriptions of all applications received, as well as maps of the geographic areas of coverage proposed by applicants in the first funding round.

NTIA was pleased to see strong participation from the small business community, especially from socially and economically disadvantaged businesses (SDBs). Of the 1,785 applications to the BTOP and joint BTOP and BIP programs, 13.9% were from SDBs or from applicants collaborating with SDBs. In this round, SDBs requested approximately $1.86 billion in federal grants and loans, with a total match commitment of $640 million. NTIA is committed to ensuring that SDBs have every opportunity to participate in this historic initiative.

Strickling said that a panel of three independent experts were evaluating each application against criteria established by the program, including the proposed project’s purpose, benefits, viability, budget and sustainability. Those scoring the highest have been moved into a due diligence review, where staff and NTIA contractor Booz Allen are further reviewing the applications.

Anna Gomez, NTIA’s deputy administrator and deputy assistant secretary for communications and information, said in a keynote address at the PCIA Wireless Infrastructure show last month that the agency hopes to have all of the grants announced by the end of the year.

The decision by the NTIA to delay the payout of the first broadband stimulus grants until December came as bad news for rural WiMAX providers counting on the funds.

According to Luisa Handem, managing director of the Rural Mobile Broadband Alliance (RuMBA USA), the delay is affecting several RuMBA-affiliated companies and will both delay and jeopardize some wireless broadband programs initiated by the group’s members.

“Money needs to be on the ground and in the hands of those deploying broadband as soon as possible,” Handem said. “This is not welcome news.”

AirWave: Cloud-based Network Management

Aruba Networks today announced AirWave OnDemand, that uses the “cloud” model rather than running local hardware and software to manage an enterprise-class network.

The subscription-based service, housed at a secure Aruba data center, uses dedicated, virtual instances of Aruba’s multi-vendor AirWave Wireless Management Suite (AWMS) to remotely manage and monitor enterprise wireless LANs.

Subscribers can monitor and change wireless LAN settings, generate compliance reports, locate users and Wi-Fi devices, and diagnose problems from any Internet connection. AirWave OnDemand offers users the same enterprise-class management, monitoring, and reporting capabilities as AWMS but on a subscription basis. It features multi-vendor network management.

AirWave OnDemand eliminates installing and operating management software. It also provides new business opportunities to service providers and resellers by allowing them to build managed wireless LAN services on top of AoD.

“Aruba’s announcement of AirWave OnDemand catches a big IT wave and rides it in an exciting new direction,” said Craig Mathias, a principal with the mobile and wireless advisory firm Farpoint Group. “Cloud services, virtualization, and the Web redefine best practices when it comes to so many areas of IT, and now to wireless LAN management.”

The service supports compatible Fat APs and controller-based wireless LANs. Subscriptions are available on a monthly or annual basis, and a reseller program is available for those wishing to remarket AoD-based services.