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October 20, 2014

FCC Considering Opening Up Use Of High-Frequency Wireless Spectrum

Chuck Bednar for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced on Friday that it would begin examining the possible use of new, extremely high frequency 24 GHz spectrum for future use by mobile broadband networks.

The study, which was launched on the recommendation of the FCC’s Technological Advisory Council, is part of the agency’s ongoing attempt to help meet the increasing demand for spectrum and is designed to help the FCC better understand the technological developments that could lead to the unlocking of millimeter wave spectrum.

“The FCC said that the 24GHz space has not previously been considered for wireless broadband use, due in large part to technical limitations which have thus far made operating mobile data networks at such high frequencies impossible,” explained Shaun Nichols of The Register. However, he noted, with “a new class of technologies on the horizon,” the millimeter wave spectrum “could be possible with the next generation… of mobile broadband systems.”

According to Ars Technica’s Jon Brodkin, the approval of this high frequency spectrum would be “a major change” in FCC policy, as cellular networks currently use frequencies between 600MHz to 3GHz, and mobile carriers preferring “beachfront spectrum” under 1GHz because it can be used to transmit data over long distances.

Instead of replacing current lower-spectrum systems, Brodkin said that networks using frequencies of 24GHz or above could supplement them to providing higher data rates over shorter distances. For example, a new Wi-Fi standard that uses 60GHz would be able to deliver speeds of up to 7Gbps, but only in situations where the transmitter and the receiver were in the same room, he added.

The Ars Technica reporter also pointed out that millimeter wave spectrum frequencies, which cover anything over 30GHz, are blocked by walls, meaning that it would make it difficult for indoor coverage using this spectrum. The FCC is currently soliciting expert input on the matter, especially in the areas of technical issues or licensing questions, as it moves to enact new policies that will minimize potential interference amongst different mobile services.

“An effective spectrum strategy requires an all-of-the-above approach,” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said in a statement. “This means making more spectrum available for not only licensed but unlicensed uses; for both exclusive use and sharing. It also means exploring entirely new spectrum opportunities… to help meet the growing demand for wireless broadband.”

“It's been long assumed that frequencies even higher up on the spectrum chart could not support mobile applications due to physical and technical limitations. But smart thinkers, innovators, and technologists are devising solutions to this previous perceived limitation,” he added. “By using innovative technologies… future devices might be able to leverage much higher frequency bands, those above 24GHz, for mobile applications. This technology could theoretically dramatically increase wireless broadband speeds and throughput – up to 10 gigabits per second.”

As Nichols noted, managing and allocating wireless spectrum has been one of Wheeler’s foremost challenges in his stint at the head of the FCC. With an increased demand from mobile service providers for additional broadband spectrum, the agency has been weighing various options for allowing carriers to expand coverage, improve data transfer speeds and give customers more reliable service, including the forthcoming wireless spectrum auction.

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FOR THE KINDLE: The History of Mobile Phones: redOrbit Press

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