FCC Makes More Unlicensed Spectrum Available

By Roy Mark

November 14, 2003

Agency hopes to bolster growth in wireless broadband models that serve rural and underserved areas.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) opened up more spectrum for unlicensed use Thursday, adding an additional 225 megahertz in the 5 gigahertz range for wireless networking services. The agency also initiated a new proposal for measuring spectrum interference.

According to the FCC, the additional available spectrum will allow continued growth in wireless broadband services, including those offered by wireless Internet service providers (WISPs) who use unlicensed devices to provide a broadband alternative for rural and underserved areas.

"Wireless broadband is increasingly a reality in the marketplace. As demonstrated by our recent WISP forum, making more spectrum available for this important application will foster facilities-based broadband competition and significantly advance the public interest," FCC Chairman Michael K. Powell said. "Moreover, additional unlicensed spectrum was a key recommendation of the Spectrum Policy Task Force."

In reporting to the FCC Thursday, the Spectrum Policy Task Force said the Commission has already made "significant progress" in modernizing the policies guiding how the spectrum resources under the FCC's jurisdiction are allocated and utilized.

The task force's principle recommendations to the FCC include migrating from the current command-and-control model of spectrum regulation to market-oriented exclusive rights and unlicensed device/commons models; implementing ways to increase access to spectrum in all dimensions for users of both unlicensed devices and licensed spectrum; and implementing a new model for interference protection.

To accommodate the task force's recommendation on interference, the FCC adopted a Notice of Inquiry (NOI) and Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPR) seeking comment on a possible new way to quantify and manage interference among different services. Termed "interference temperature," the model takes into account the actual cumulative radiofrequency (RF) energy from transmissions of spectrum-based devices and would set a maximum cap on the aggregate of these transmissions.

In contrast, the current approach for managing interference focuses on specifying and limiting the transmit powers of individual spectrum-based devices as the chief way to prevent interference. The NOI seeks comment on a number of issues related to the need for, development, and implementation of an interference temperature model for managing interference.

To test the potential usefulness and applicability of this approach, the NPR seeks comment on various technical rules that would establish procedures and use the interference temperature model on a limited basis in the following two bands: 6525-6700 MHz and portions of the 12.75-13.25 GHz bands.

Specifically, these procedures would allow unlicensed devices to operate in these bands, which are used primarily for satellite uplinks and fixed point-to-point microwave services. The NPR also seeks comment on whether the possible introduction of unlicensed operation into these bands would impact these existing services.

The FCC said the interference temperature approach may facilitate more intensive use of the radio spectrum, creating the opportunities for new services and improving the predictability of any interference to existing services.

The task force, which was established by Powell in June 2002, also announced that it will soon launch a new research tool on its Internet site that will allow the public to track the progress of all FCC spectrum-related rulemaking proceedings and initiatives in one place.

Originally published on .

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