Granted for me it would be Chanukah not Christmas, but I think a real kick ass wireless network with oodles of competition and nifty new gadgets would make such a good present for America for Christmas 2009. And, as the reports from the field on the piece of wireless spectrum the FCC opened up last June show us, the FCC can bring it to us by opening the broadcast “white spaces”.
Sascha Meinrath, a serious partner in crime in spectrum reform, has some data from the field on deployment of equipment in the 3.65 GHz band the FCC finally opened for real in June 2007. Now, a mere 6 month later, Sascha reports on wireless ISPs (WISPs) using this band in the field to deliver broadband. As Sascha writes:
WISPs have been leading the charge and people are reporting 15km non-line-of-sight (NLOS) connectivity with 3650-3700 MHz (operating at 10W) — which is a huge boost over 802.11. Meanwhile, capacity seems to be hovering around 15 MB per 7.5 MHz (or 20MB per 10MHz) — so 100MB connections over 15km without line of sight are quite feasible using this band. All in all, that’s pretty impressive for first-generation equipment. The equipment vendor Aperto is claiming that their new equipment will get 20MB per 7MHz (so you can see the development curve is already fairly steep).
To give you a feel for the real-world implications, folks testing things out reported, “6mb/s indoor at 2 miles NLOS. The base station was a 1 sector install using diversity at approximately 50ft up on tower using 120 degree sectors” — try to get that with an 802.11 access point.
Allow me to draw a few policy implications from this. The lead time from settling the rules to actual deployment of services took six months. By contrast, we have not yet seen any significant deployment in the AWS spectrum auctioned 18 months ago. Yes, some of that was due to the delay of some government licensees in migration. But much also has to do with the nature of licensed v. unlicensed networks. Licensed networks require huge investment of time, resources, standardization of equipment, etc., etc. By contrast, unlicensed networking equipment can be built, certified and deployed effectively relatively quickly.
Policy makers should take note of this in the debate over the broadcast white spaces, aka the vacant channels on the broadcast dial. Broadcasters and some large carriers (like Sprint and T-Mobile) want to see the white spaces licensed rather than opened to unlicensed use. The current broadcast spectrum auction will not begin to bear broadband fruit until 2010 or 2011 at the earliest. And if the FCC were to decide to license the white spaces, we could expect similar lengthy delays while the FCC devised auction rules, held an auction, then waited for the winners to (hopefully) deploy something useful.
Given the continued laggard pace of our national broadband, shouldn’t the FCC learn from its success in the 3.65 GHz band? Licensed and unlicensed networks complement each other, each offering different capabilities. We have taken the first steps toward building the licensed wireless networks in the broadcast spectrum. Why not unleash unlicensed in the white spaces? If the FCC approved rules now, it would practically guarantee that devices could be certified and deployed as soon as we completed the digital transition. Indeed, given the backing of the broadcast white spaces by so many different developers, as compared to the relatively modest backing for 3.65 GHz, the probability of seeing a plethora of wireless networking devices and consumer products available to Americans by Christmas season 2009 rises to almost a certainty. By contrast, we will be lucky if the winners of the 700 MHz licenses will have broken ground on their first towers by then.
Doesn’t America deserve a kick ass wireless network for Christmas 2009? I think so. And if the FCC applies the lesson of its 3.65 GHz success to the broadcast white spaces, we can have one.
Stay tuned . . . .