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Just two years ago the chairman of the FCC, Julius Genachowski, said the U.S. wireless industry desperately needed spectrum, and planned to acquire some 500 MHz from a variety of sources.

The National Broadband Plan, announced in March, 2010, proposed a new system of “voluntary incentive auctions,” under which broadcasters and other private license holders could offer some or all of their current allocations to the FCC to package into new auctions. The proceeds from the incentive auctions would be split between the license holder and the government.

The FCC must conduct the auction with authorization from Congress. But incentive auctions on the un-used broadcast tv spectrum is long on revenue (from big carriers) and short on unlicensed spectrum (which can be used by everyone).

The FCC is designing auctions so that the TV industry can release some of its spectrum next year. The agency expects to raise $7 billion, which it hopes to use to help fund broadband installation for safety networks and to continue funding $300 million worth of R&D, reports MIT’s Technology Review.

According to the Wireless Innovation Alliance, one quarter of the world’s households and tens of millions of businesses have deployed Wi-Fi networks to deliver broadband Internet access. Wi-fi increases the economic value of fixed broadband connections by $99 billion a year.

According to FCC Chief Julius Genachowski:

Wi-Fi hot spots across the United States increase the value of licensed broadband service by an estimated $25 billion a year. Wireless providers rely on Wi-Fi to “off- load” nearly 40 percent of traffic from their networks, resulting in a reduction of the cost of wireless broadband service by at least another $25 billion each year.

Unlicensed spectrum stimulates innovation, investment, and job creation in many ways, including by providing start- ups with quick access to a testbed for spectrum that is used by millions, bringing new technologies to consumers in a rapid fashion. Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, cordless phones, garage door openers, wireless car keys, and baby monitors—industries generating billions of dollars of revenue—would not exist without unlicensed spectrum.

Genachowski said the FCC’s unlicensed spectrum use generates about $30 billion worth of economic value every year (Genachowski remarks).

The IEEE has developed two standards for communications in the TV white spaces, IEEE 802.22 (for longer range rural users) and IEEE 802.11af (for faster ganged channels). To date, the FCC has authorized two TV white space database systems for operation, one in Wilmington, NC and the other serving Nottoway County, Virginia.

An alternative to selling off frequencies to the highest bidder — or giving them away — may be sharing spectrum. This approach is being explored by the NTIA (pdf) for utilizing the 2.7 – 3.5 GHz bands, used (infrequently) by the federal government.

According to the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology, some 1000 MHz of federal spectrum, especially in bands above 2.7 GHz, may be shared using White Space interrogation technology.

The Whitehouse PCAST spectrum report (pdf) promotes expanded spectrum-sharing technologies, originally developed for unused “white space” tv frequencies.

The 3550-3650 MHz band is mostly used by Navy radar. Using the techniques pioneered by White Space receivers, devices will be able to share the frequencies with the government if they incorporate geographic location information and interrogate data bases before they transmit.

Microsoft has installed three spectrum observatories on rooftops in Seattle, Redmond, and in Washington, DC. to find out exactly how much underutilized spectrum there is and where.

The Microsoft Spectrum Observatory was created to monitor wireless spectrum usage. The data is made freely available to the public. Data is recorded through RF Eye monitoring stations and is stored and processed for visualization through the Windows Azure cloud.

The device continually takes power spectral density measurements between 30 and 6,000 MHz and is programmed to record measurements for a number of frequency bands about every 3 seconds. These power spectral density measurements are stored locally, then aggregated to determine the average, minimum, and maximum values for 1-minute time intervals.

It’s the first step in what the company hopes will be a far broader data-gathering effort. “This issue is discussed all over the world—we have spectrum or we don’t have spectrum, but there is a need for good scientific data,” says Victor Bahl, manager of mobility and networking research at Microsoft Research.

“We don’t have a spectrum crunch so much as we have a spectrum policy crunch,” says David Tennenhouse, Microsoft’s vice president of technology policy and a former MIT professor and Intel executive. “The so-called ‘spectrum crunch’ really reflects artificial spectrum scarcity,” he says.

Peter Rysavy, however, says LTE spectrum sharing is extremely complicated. His July report, “Spectrum Sharing – The Promise and the Reality” (pdf), explains some of the issues.

Genachowski says the United States is winning the Bandwidth race:

“The apps economy was a $10 billion market at the end of last year, and app revenues are projected to grow to $46 billion by 2016. In just the last few years the apps economy has created nearly 500,000 U.S. jobs. And from 2009 to 2011, annual investment in wireless networks increased approximately 25% to more than $25 billion, including billions to build out 4G LTE.

Cheaper, faster, better urban broadband might be enabled with inexpensive microcells on streetlights. Licensed, unlicensed, and shared. Spectrum crisis solved.

Related Dailywireless articles include; FCC: TV Auction in 2014, Incentive Auctions: Going Nuclear, AT&T Fears FCC’s Incentive Auction Plans, FCC Moves on TV Frequency Auction, Google and Microsoft Want UK White Space?, Microsoft Announced Narrow Channel Whitespace, FCC Authorizes White Space Service in Wilmington, FCC Gets Unlicensed White Spaces in Payroll Tax Bill, White Space Show Down, Genachowski Lobbies for Unlicensed White Spaces, Universal Service Reform Passed, Microsoft Announced Narrow Channel Whitespace, FCC Authorizes White Space Service in Wilmington, White Space Legislation Goes Dark, White Space War, FCC Limits Dish on LTE Terrestrial Spectrum, Dish: On the Move, FCC Dishes Dirt, Talks Up 3.5 GHz, FCC Approves 2.3 GHz for AT&T, AT&T Likely to Get 2.3 GHz, Sprint’s Dish Compromise, Nexus 4 Deals for Voice/Data, MetroPCS Merges with T-Mobile USA,

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