FCC To 'Drop in' More Wireless Broadband

By Roy Mark

April 15, 2004

Agency approves proposed rules to allow unlicensed wireless devices to operate at higher power.

WASHINGTON -- Aiming to deploy more broadband services in rural areas, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has voted to allow unlicensed wireless devices to operate at higher power in the 3650 Megahertz (MHz) band.

The FCC's decision has the potential to extend a swath of Wi-Fi devices that work between the existing 2.4 Gigahertz (GHz) and 5.8 GHz bands, and could help spread wireless broadband deployment across rural regions.

The spectrum is located in the 3650-3700 MHz band and can be used for both fixed and mobile commercial wireless services. The move has been the works for over three years, when the FCC said the allocation of spectrum would help spur new high-speed data and services, in addition to traditional voice telephony.

The FCC is also seeking comment on further options that would allow for additional licensed operations in the 3650 band or for segmenting the band between licensed and unlicensed uses.

The 3650 MHz spectrum swatch is currently used by fixed satellite service (FSS) earth stations, primarily television intercontinental broadcasters. Because the FSS earth stations are mostly located on the east and west coasts of the United States, the FCC thinks the spectrum would be a natural fit for wireless broadband service expansion, especially in rural areas.

"A large percentage of the country's geographic area has unoccupied spectrum available in this band for other uses," Gary Thayer of the FCC's Office of Engineering and Technology told the commissioners. "All or part of the band appears to be ideally suited to address the demands for additional spectrum for new and advanced services that can be provided by unlicensed devices."

Thayer said wireless Internet service providers could use the spectrum and higher power limits to provide both back haul service to the Internet gateway providers and distribution of broadband service to their customers.

Thayer added, "the ability of covering large areas could be especially critical for fostering the economic viable of systems in sparsely populated areas."

The Satellite Industry Association has been dead set against the FCC's plan, arguing in a filing with the FCC in April of 2003 that disruption of the communications links that use the same spectrum "could have devastating results on the provisions of satellite communication services in the United States."

The SIA's filing also argued that "operation of unlicensed devices in the 3650-3700 MHz band at any commercially attractive power level poses an unacceptable risk of harmful interference to the longstanding operations of incumbent FSS operators absent significant limitations that would render their use impractical."

Under the FCC's proposed rules, fixed, unlicensed devices would be subject to cognitive (or smart) requirements and other safeguards designed to prevent interference with FSS earth stations now occupying the band. Operators would be subject to professional installation requirements and would be prohibited from being located within a protection zone for each FSS earth station.

Non-fixed, unlicensed devices would be required to have "listen-before-talk" technology that would detect the presence of any FSS earth station in the vicinity. The cognitive technology would then make an appropriate adjustment to the transmitting power.

"On average, an unlicensed device is not going to be able, on its own, to basically provide a radio connection over many, many miles," FCC Office of Engineering and Technology Chief Ed Thomas, told reporters.

"So somewhere in the connection there will either be a much higher, authorized licensed microwave link or a wire that might be fiber or the like. But what this [proposed rule] would do is allow much broader coverage. With one base station, you will be able to cover a much larger area than under previous rules."

The 3650 MHz band falls between the existing 2.4 Gigahertz (GHz) and 5.8 GHz bands now in use by Wi-Fi devices.

"Because it is in the middle, manufacturers have told us it is entirely possible to build a single device that can operate on all three bands," Thomas said.

In other decisions Thursday, the FCC approved an order that allows for improved radio frequency identification (RFID) systems for use in commercial shipping containers. The FCC anticipates the order will lead to lower shipping costs and improved security at ports by allowing the container contents to be more rapidly inventoried.

"Specifically, we change Commission rules to allow for the introduction of smart shipping containers that can detect intrusions and streamline the inventory process," FCC Chairman Michael Powell said.

Powell also acknowledged the privacy concerns surrounding the use of RFID technology.

"We are aware of these concerns and stress that today's ruling is narrowly tailored," Powell said. "The technical and operational rules allow higher-powered/longer-duration RFID tag use on limited frequencies and only in commercial and industrial environments."

The RFID order also makes provisions to protect federal government radar sites from RFID interference by requiring equipment authorization and registration for 433 MHz RFID devices.



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