FCC Moves to Advance Wireless Microwave Backhaul, Permits Fixed Operations in Bands

The Telecommunications Law Resource Center is the most comprehensive reference and news platform for communications law, covering broadcasting, cable, broadband, telephony and wireless;...

The Federal Communications Commission voted unanimously Aug. 9 to make available more spectrum—up to 650 megahertz—for microwave-based wireless backhaul, which is considered the only practical, high-capacity backhaul solution in most rural areas.

Microwave wireless backhaul facilities are used to transmit data between cell sites, or between cell sites and network backbones. The use of microwave links as a cost-effective alternative to traditional copper circuits and fiber-optic links has increased by 50 percent over the past several years, according to the commission.

The FCC will permit fixed microwave operations in several spectrum bands previously reserved only for specialized microwave services. It will also allow for use of wider channels and smaller antennas, as well as sharing of spectrum for specialized services including cable TV relay and broadcast auxiliary services, with necessary protections built in for such sharing.

FCC Rescinds More Than 50 Outdated Regs

In addition, the agency rescinded more than 50 outdated regulations to make it easier to deploy microwave wireless for backhaul. Notably, the FCC updated rules to permit microwave licensees to use what is known as adaptive modulation, which will allow service providers to take full advantage of the latest technology to maintain the reliability of critical links.

The FCC estimates that the actions taken will result in about 650 megahertz of available spectrum for wireless backhaul in the 6875 MHz-7125 MHz and 12,700 MHz-13,100 MHz microwave bands.

Matt Nodine, chief of staff and legal adviser for the FCC's Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, said the ability to facilitate “shared use” of frequency bands will be most effective in rural areas.

In a statement, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski described the agency's action as highly technical in nature, “the blood and guts of the FCC doing its job.”

“By freeing up spectrum for backhaul in rural areas, we're enabling service providers to extend broadband services more efficiently to rural and underserved communities and to improve broadband speeds where service already exists. We're helping rural economies and rural consumers,” Genachowski said.

By Paul Barbagallo