Mid-October spectrum bonanza
Meeting in open session Oct. 16, the Federal Communications Commission issued rules opening up spectrum for third-generation (3G) mobile phone services as well as putting an official blessing to usage of 70Ghz and higher spectrum for ultra high-speed broadband wireless communications.
The Report And Order for 3G services opened up 90 MHz of spectrum in the 1710-1755 MHz and 2110-2155 MHz spectrum bands. Released by the Department of Defense in 2002, the bands can be used to offer a variety of new and advanced wireless services, including voice, data, and broadband services using high-speed fixed and mobile networks. Spectrum will be licensed by geographic areas under Part 72 rules and will be assigned by competitive bidding. The band plan includes a mixture of license sizes and geographic areas to promote usage by small and rural providers, as well as large carriers.
In his statement, FCC Chairman Michael Powell emphasized the Commission’s effort to increase spectrum resources in rural America and felt the Oct. 16 order contributed to such ongoing efforts.
However, an auction for the new bands is not expected soon, since current government users require Congressional funding to move their operations elsewhere.
In a more progressive vein, the FCC also approved service rules for commercial use of spectrum in 71-76 GHz, 81-86 GHz, and 92-95 GHz bands. All the FCC commissioners hailed the ruling to open up the bands, with Commissioner Michael Copps commenting, “It’s surely good news,” and he’s “eager to see the great things” the new spectrum will bring.
Chairman Powell described the bands as “new and fertile ground” for entrepreneurs.
In September 2001, Loea Communications Corp. filed a petition with the Commission requesting the establishment of service rules for the licensed use of the 71-76 GHz and 81-86 GHz bands after running technology experiments in those bands to demonstrate broadband data usage. These millimeter wave frequencies have been used for radio astronomy, space-based cloud imaging, and various military applications. Experiments also have shown the utility of using millimeter wave to “see” airport runways through fog and smoke. Until Loea’s request, the bands had been allocated to the federal government.
Using FCC Special Temporary Authority for non-federal government users, Loea Communications has been operating a series of demonstration sites in the 71-76 GHz band over the past two years, including a 2.7 mile gigabit data link linking the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology on Coconut Island in Kane’ohe Bay to Oahu and to move raw HDTV footage at the 2003 Super Bowl. The line-of-site hardware is capable of transmitting at rates of up to 1.25 Gbps at distances of up to 8 miles.
The millimeter wave technology has been dubbed “wireless optics” since it has some of the same characteristics as free space optical (laser) technology, including gigabit high-speed throughput and clear line-of-sight requirements between transmission sites. Because of the “pencil-beam”characteristics of signals transmitted in the 71-76 GHz, 81-86, and 82-25 GHz bands, the FCC has adapted a unique non-exclusive licensing approach for these bands. Since systems can be engineered to operate in close proximity to one another without causing interference, the FCC will use a licensing database to register each broadcast path, with interference protection based on date of registration.
The FCC believes this approach will provide an effective means to allow a maximum number of users to share the bands and will be putting into place an automated mechanism to coordinate non-federal government links with federal government users.