News: Wireless Networks Gain Spectrum

Discussion in 'Wireless Internet' started by John Eckart, Nov 14, 2003.

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    Wireless Networks Gain Spectrum
    FCC Hopes to Boost Internet in Underserved Areas

    By Christopher Stern
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Friday, November 14, 2003; Page E01

    The Federal Communications Commission set aside a new slice of airwaves yesterday for wireless Internet users, a move the agency said was designed to encourage the spread of high-speed data access in rural and other underserved areas.

    The action is the latest by the FCC to free up high-frequency spectrum for devices that allow people to access the Internet over wireless connections, often referred to as WiFi networks. The nascent technology could have a particularly great impact in rural areas where telephone and cable lines have yet to be upgraded to carry high-speed Internet services.

    WiFi networks are already sprouting up in coffee shops and hotel lobbies across the country. Now policymakers and technology entrepreneurs hope they can be expanded to provide high-speed data connections in sparsely populated communities and entire neighborhoods, without the expense of stringing cables from telephone poles or laying them underground.

    The spectrum allocated yesterday is open to any company to use and will not require the purchase of a license at an airwave auction. But companies using the airwaves will have to share the frequencies. To limit the congestion and interference that might result from sharing, the FCC put limits on the amount of power any device can use to transmit a signal.

    Some public interest groups criticized the FCC's decision yesterday, saying the particular slice of airwaves targeted by the agency is not well suited for delivering a robust, high-speed data stream to a wide area. They argued that the 255 new frequencies can't carry a data stream capable of penetrating walls or even passing through leafy trees.

    "The problem is that the combination of the high frequency and the low power limits mean the stuff won't go far enough," said Harold Feld, associate director of the Media Access Project, a Washington-based public interest law firm.

    The spectrum allocated by the FCC is in the five gigahertz band of the radio spectrum, which has traditionally been used by military and satellite companies. Because the airwave allocations are relatively high frequencies, they require more power to transmit a signal. Most wireless devices used by consumers, including cell phones and televisions, are located in the three GHz band of the radio frequency spectrum and require much less power to send signals over a long distance.

    But FCC officials said several start-up companies have already demonstrated that the new frequencies can deliver data over relatively long distances. "I have no idea where they get their information, but the [the signals] can go five miles," said Edmond Thomas, FCC chief of engineering and technology.

    At the heart of the consumer group's concern is a larger debate over the level of competition in the high-speed data business. Consumer groups say there is not enough competition and that cable and telephone companies should be forced to share their lines with rivals. FCC Chairman Michael K. Powell has said consumers would be better off if competitors developed their own facilities and technologies to compete with established players.

    "[M]aking more spectrum available for this important application will foster facilities based competition and significantly advance the public interest," Powell said in a prepared statement released after yesterday's vote.

    Feld countered that if Powell is going to point to WiFi companies as examples of competition in the market for high-speed Internet access, the FCC should make sure their airwave allotment allows them to compete head to head with cable and telephone companies. "You have to give these guys some spectrum that is useful," Feld said.

    Gregory L. Rohde, president of e-Copernicus, a Washington-based consulting firm that specializes in financing for rural wireless companies, said the FCC's actions can only help a struggling industry. "I'm optimistic that technology moves quite fast and that we will find ways to make this spectrum usable."

    Coleman D. Bazelon, a vice president with Analysis Group Inc., an economic consulting firm, said one alternative route would be for the FCC to license the 255 new frequencies released yesterday. "If you make it unlicensed, you have to limit power levels to control congestion," said Bazelon.

    Bazelon suggested that companies could develop more robust networks if they had greater control over the airwaves. "It would be more useful if the power levels were managed by a licensee," he said.

    © 2003 The Washington Post Company
    John Eckart, Nov 14, 2003
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