FCC chair lays out plans for more U.S. spectrum

NEW ORLEANS — Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski outlined several agency initiatives to open up more spectrum for mobile services, as well as improve spectrum efficiency, in a keynote address at the CTIA Wireless conference.

The moves described Tuesday, some new and some already announced, are part of scheme launched in 2009 under the National Broadband Plan to make 500MHz more spectrum available for mobile over 10 years.

“We have to recover new spectrum, and we have to pursue all the other tools and policies at our disposal,” Genachowski said. Other techniques for better using spectrum could include small cells, smart antennas and “refarming” of frequencies used for older services into mobile broadband, he said.

(Industry Canada closely watches FCC intiatives to ensure Canadian policies aren’t out of sync. As a regulator FCC oversees wireless spectrum, but it also has powers similar to Industry Canada over spectrum allocation. A Canadian strategy for allocating more spectrum for cellular use may be part of the upcoming federal digital economy strategy, promised by Industry Minister Christian Paradis for later this year.) 

Before launching into what the FCC is doing to ease the spectrum shortage, Genachowski took a few jabs at AT&T over its aborted acquisition of T-Mobile USA, which was announced on the eve of last year’s CTIA show. AT&T abandoned that plan late last year after the FCC and Department of Justice blocked it.

AT&T had argued it needed to buy T-Mobile to get enough spectrum to build out its national LTE network, and because the mobile business demands larger carriers with economies of scale to give subscribers what they want.

“The argument that competition is bad for consumers is at odds with basic free-market principles,” Genachowski said Tuesday. In the past, competition has led carriers to introduce both new features, such as family plans and off-peak minutes, and technologies for greater spectrum efficiency, he said.

“Our review of one transaction that crossed the line simply proves that there is a line,” he said.

The agency already has plans to auction a total of 65MHz of spectrum in the next three years, Genachowski said. There are several other steps in play as well, he said:

— At the FCC’s next open meeting this month, Genachowski will present a proposal to look at removing rules that prevent the use of LTE in the 800MHz band, he said. In that band, channels can only be 25KHz wide under current rules, which isn’t wide enough to operate the high-speed technology.

— New rules for shifting 40MHz of spectrum in the so-called “S” band from satellite to land-based mobile service should be completed by the end of this year, he said. Dish Network is seeking permission to use spectrum in that band to offer an LTE-Advanced network.

— The FCC has already taken steps to free about 25MHz in the WCS (Wireless Communications Services) band by removing outdated technical rules, he added. The agency is taking a close look at additional proposals by carriers to make that spectrum available sooner, and it plans to take action in the coming months, Genachowski said.

— The agency is moving ahead with testing of network-sharing in the 1.7GHz band, along with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). That plan could lead to more spectrum being auctioned off in the next three years, having “a dramatically positive effect” on the availability of frequencies for LTE, he said.

— Another spectrum-sharing plan, by the NTIA, would let commercial operators use some additional frequencies in the 3.5GHz band. That spectrum would be perfect for use by small cells, which can make cellular networks more efficient by bringing base stations closer to subscribers, Genachowski said. Frequencies in the 3.5GHz band don’t travel as far as those in lower bands. The FCC will start a proceeding later this year to allow small cells in that band, and this could free up 100MHz or even more over time, he said.

— The FCC also is working with the NTIA to explore opening up 120MHz of additional spectrum for unlicensed use in the 5GHz band, where Wi-Fi currently operates. That could help to improve the capacity of Wi-Fi networks, he said.

(With an add from ComputerWorld Canada)

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