War 2.0 for Unlicensed Spectrum

Posted by Sam Churchill on

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, backs a vision shared by Google and Microsoft of setting aside unlicensed spectrum in the broadcast television band, explains Bloomberg in a background piece. But the move to add more unlicensed spectrum is meeting heavy resistance from Republicans.

Democrats are largely supportive of the FCC’s plan to provide both unlicensed and licensed channels in new frequency bands. Republicans argue that the commission is ignoring revenue for the treasury by reserving too much unlicensed spectrum, which can be used by any company for free.

“Unlicensed spectrum has a powerful record of driving innovation, investment and economic growth – hundreds of billions of dollars of value creation for our economy and consumers,” FCC Chair Julius Genachowski told the Energy committee last month.

The FCC will auction television spectrum around 600MHz, in the UHF-TV region. Separating the licensed bands will be guard bands. Those will be available for lower power, unlicensed “white spaces”. Broadcasters, unlike cellular or other operators, don’t pay anything for the use of the public airwaves.

“This is a very valuable taxpayer-owned commodity,” said Greg Walden, chairman of the House communications and technology subcommittee. “I would take a dim view of just making it available at no charge.”

Representative Henry Waxman, of California, the senior Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee, told the House last year, the FCC can set a limit on airwaves acquisitions by any company.

But unlicensed airwaves do not generate auction money for the treasury, argues Fred Upton, the Michigan Republican who chairs the Energy and Commerce Committee.

“The FCC should not be picking winners and losers,” Upton said. The agency can’t exclude qualified bidders, Upton said.

According to Cathy Sloan, vice president of government relations with the Computer & Communications Industry Association, “the largest holders of spectrum have no interest in seeing new competition.” Members of the Washington- based trade group include Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Pandora and Sprint, a wireless telephone competitor to AT&T and Verizon Wireless.

Google, Microsoft, and more than 300 companies and organizations called for more unlicensed spectrum in a Dec. 10 letter to Walden and to Representative Anna Eshoo of California, the top Democrat on the communications subcommittee, who represents Silicon Valley.

“If the commission does not designate more unlicensed spectrum, the fuel for this growth engine will be lost,” the companies said in the letter.

Economist Richard Thanki (pdf) found that the economic value generated even by a subgroup of unlicensed broadband applications is between $16-$37 billion per year.

White space radios, utilizing unused television frequencies, are now available in prototype form. The FCC in the United States, Ofcom in the UK, and the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications in Japan have all initiated “white space” proceedings, based on IEEE standards. France’s government has also granted a license to conduct field tests.

The IEEE published its 802.22 standard for rural broadband about 18 months ago, and a group comprising the NICT, ISB Corp and Hitachi Kokusai Electric have built prototype hardware.

The 802.11af standard may provide faster speeds by aggregating channels. Access points that integrate the 802.11af (for white space backhaul), and traditional WiFi (for local access), have also been built in prototype form.

Here’s a comparison between 802.11af and 802.22 standards (pdf).

Separately, the FCC plans to set aside 100 MHz of spectrum in the 3.5 GHz band (3550-3650 MHz) for small cells. By using the same database technologies of unlicensed whites spaces, the FCC believes it will spur innovation throughout the economy, while protecting incumbent users in the band.

The F.C.C.’s five commissioners, all of whom testified before the subcommittee last month, are split 3-2 along party lines over the issue of unlicensed spectrum, reports the NY Times. Commissioner Robert M. McDowell, a Republican, said he believed it is “premature” for the commission to reserve newly available airwaves for unlicensed use. FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai expressed reservations (pdf) about the lack of revenue in the current FCC plan, which he believed would threaten FirstNet funding.

The FCC is promoting unlicensed spectrum in lower, unused TV frequencies (“white spaces”), as well as adding 195 MHz in the unlicensed 5 GHz WiFi band and opening up 3.5 GHz for “license free” small cells.

FCC Chairman Julius 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.

According to a report by In-Stat Research entitled “Wi-Fi Hotspots: the Mobile Operator’s 3G Offload Alternative,” worldwide hotspot venues are projected to increase to over 1.2 million venues in 2015 from under 421,000 in 2010. Usage will follow similar growth, increasing from four billion connects in 2010 to 120 billion connects by 2015. Carriers are planning to take over the “free” WiFi band with using hotspot 2.0 technology which provides seamless roaming to hotspots (for carrier subscribers).

Related Dailywireless articles include; FCC Adding 200 MHz to WiFi Band , Congressional Battle over Unlicensed Spectrum, FCC Paves Way for 3.5GHz Band Nationwide, Spectrum War: Unlicensed, Shared and Auctioned, White Spaces: Nationwide by Mid January, 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,

Posted by Sam Churchill on Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013 at 11:36 am .

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