FCC Moving to Free Up Nearly 200 MHz Of Unlicensed Spectrum, Chairman Says

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By Paul Barbagallo  

The Federal Communications Commission will move next month to make available some 195 megahertz of spectrum for unlicensed Wi-Fi use, Chairman Julius Genachowski has announced.

The spectrum that will be targeted by the FCC is in the 5 gigahertz band and is used by both federal and non-federal entities, which means much of it would have to be shared.

The vote, slated for the FCC's Feb. 20 meeting, would put the agency in compliance with a statutory deadline for proposing rules to allow unlicensed devices to operate in 5 GHz-band spectrum on a shared basis, providing any interference issues can be resolved.

Congress, in the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 (Pub. L. No. 112-96), required the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the FCC to study whether additional 5 GHz band spectrum could be made available for unlicensed devices on a shared basis in the 5350-5470 MHz and 5850-5925 MHz bands.

The FCC is required to open a proceeding by Feb. 22 to allow unlicensed devices to use the 5350-5470 MHz band only if it determines that “licensed users will be protected by technical solutions, including use of existing, modified, or new spectrum sharing technologies and solutions, such as dynamic frequency selection” and “the primary mission of Federal spectrum users in the 5350-5470 MHz band will not be compromised by the introduction of unlicensed devices.”

The NTIA is currently analyzing possible mitigation requirements to allow sharing in the band.

If the effort proves successful, the FCC said the additional spectrum for unlicensed use in the 5 GHz band would “accelerate the growth and expansion of new Wi-Fi technology offering consumers faster speeds and less network congestion at Wi-Fi hot spots.”

To date, roughly 20,000 different devices have been certified by the FCC for use in the Wi-Fi band, three times that in any other frequency band. Mobile network operators also increasingly rely on unlicensed spectrum to offload traffic from their data networks. AT&T Inc. alone operates 27,000 “hot spots” in the United States.