FCC's Rosenworcel looks to 5 GHz band, 600 MHz guard bands for unlicensed wireless

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said the FCC should seize a near-term opportunity to use more of the 5 GHz band for unlicensed wireless use, and also explore ways to make use of guard bands that will be produced in the 600 MHz spectrum auction for unlicensed purposes.

In a speech at the National Press Club in Washington for the WiFiForward coalition, Rosenworcel, one of three Democrats on the five-member FCC, extolled the virtues of unlicensed wireless. She said that recent economic studies that add up the broader impact of unlicensed spectrum on the economy estimate its annual value at more than $140 billion. "By any measure, that number is really, really big," she said.

The WiFiForward coalition launched last month is calling for policymakers to open up more unlicensed spectrum for Wi-Fi and other uses, contending that Wi-Fi in general is at risk due to a deluge of wireless data traffic that is causing increasing spectrum congestion. Members of the new coalition include the Arris Group, Best Buy, Comcast, the Consumer Electronics Association, Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), Time Warner Cable, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association and others.

Rosenworcel said that Wi-Fi spectrum in the 2.4 GHz band is getting more crowded. "So I think the FCC should do something about it," she said. "Let's start by leaving behind the tired notion that we face a choice between licensed and unlicensed airwaves. Because good spectrum policy requires both. Moreover, I think this kind of division is a simplistic relic from the past."

In terms of concrete actions, Rosenworcel said she thinks the FCC has "a terrific near-term opportunity in the 5 GHz band." After prodding from Congress and in conjunction with the National Telecommunication and Information Administration, the FCC has explored wider use of Wi-Fi in the 5.35-5.47 GHz and 5.85-5.925 GHz bands. However, the FCC has also looked at expanding Wi-Fi in the lower portion of the 5 GHz band, namely 5.15-5.25 GHz, using the 802.11ac standard. 

Rosenworcel noted that in July 2013 the Department of Defense said the Pentagon does not need access to the 5.15-5.25 GHz band for telemetry, and acknowledged it could be made available for Wi-Fi use.

"We should seize this opportunity right now," she said. "We can take the flexible Wi-Fi rules that have already been the script for an unlicensed success story in the 5.725-5.825 GHz band and expand them to the 5.15-5.25 GHz band.  If we do, we could effectively double unlicensed bandwidth in the 5 GHz band overnight. That will mean more unlicensed service--and less congestion on licensed wireless networks." She called it a "win-win."

Interestingly, the commissioner also said the FCC should explore the possibilities of using unlicensed spectrum in the 3.5 GHz band and "should find lawful ways to use guard bands in the 600 MHz spectrum now used by broadcasters." As Broadcasting & Cable notesbroadcasters are not against unlicensed spectrum use, as long as it does not interfere with their signals.

The 6-MHz guard bands are expected to be created as part of the FCC's incentive auctions of 600 MHz broadcast TV spectrum set to begin next year. Companies such as Google and Microsoft have been clamoring for what Rosenworcel endorsed exploring.

According to an FCC filing, Google executives discussed the need for the FCC to open four 6-MHz channels in the post-auction 600 MHz band "for use by unlicensed technologies to support the investment needed to develop such devices." They urged the FCC to allow unlicensed devices to operate in: "(1) any guard band separating broadcast and LTE licensees; (2) any duplex gap separating LTE uplink and downlink operations; (3) the reserved wireless microphone channels on a shared basis with wireless microphone users; and (4) Channel 37 on a shared basis with WMTS and radio astronomy users."

For more:
- see this speech
- see this Broadcasting & Cable article

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