Wheeler: Global Spectrum Rules Need Harmonization

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By Brandon Ross

Oct. 14 — Harmonizing global spectrum standards is key for countries to maximize their mobile broadband potential, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler said.

Wheeler revealed that his talking points for the Nov. 2-27 World Radiocommunication Conference in Geneva will focus on getting more spectrum frequencies allocated for mobile broadband use, according to his prepared remarks released Oct. 14.

“At the upcoming World Radiocommunication Conference, we will support adding additional international allocations for mobile broadband, while allowing individual administrations the flexibility to design spectrum policies that meet their domestic requirements,” Wheeler said in his prepared remarks for the Oct. 7 International Institute of Communications Annual Conference.

Spectrum is the finite resource of radio waves that allows transmission of wireless signals over the Internet and facilitates communications between wireless devices.

Because spectrum frequencies are finite, and no one frequency can handle two simultaneous operators, global and national rules have been put in place that allow different types of radio waves to operate on specific ranges of spectrum blocks—collections of spectrum. From broadcast TV signals and mobile broadband signals to satellite GPS communications signals and Bluetooth signals, certain spectrum blocks are more suited to facilitating particular types of radio signal waves.

Facilitating Roaming

“Global harmonization is critical to getting the greatest benefit out of the available spectrum,” Wheeler's remarks said. “Harmonization fosters global roaming and helps manufacturers to take advantage of the economies of scale available in a global marketplace, resulting in lower prices and a wider range of broadband services and devices,” Wheeler's remarks said. “Harmonization also helps prevent interference and facilitates coordination with neighboring countries.”

Data roaming occurs when a wireless device, most typically a cell phone, travels anywhere outside its wireless carrier's network range and the wireless signals from another carrier are picked up and used by a device to continue operation. This can happen domestically and abroad and is usually accompanied by an extra fee from wireless carriers to consumers' who use the data or call functionalities of their devices while the device is roaming. In many cases, the original carrier must pay the other carrier for letting the original carrier's customer to use their out-of-network spectrum signals.

Oct. 22 FCC Vote

Wheeler pointed toward the FCC's plans to vote Oct. 22 on a proposal for new, flexible rules for facilitating mobile broadband use on upper and lower spectrum bands.

“This month, the Commission will initiate a proceeding to spur the next generation of mobile technology,” he said. “The fifth generation of mobile networks—or 5G—could leverage both low-band and high-band spectrum to redefine wireless broadband, not only with greater speeds, but also the ability to handle the multiple inputs of an IOT [Internet of Things] world with minimal latency.”

Latency, or lag, can be caused for many reasons, but one primary cause is signal interference. Latency causes the buffering delay when watching online videos and can slow downloads of update files or applications to digital devices to a crawl, or simply make surfing the web a slow exercise in patience and frustration as pages seemingly refuse to load. Thus, technology companies and the telecommunications industry are constantly working to reduce latency issues as lag makes some applications for online devices impractical or unreliable.

The more connected devices there are, and the more data-intensive the activities the devices are trying to perform (such as streaming video), the more latency threatens to become an issue. Wheeler pointed to a rapidly growing pool of devices, and thus a potential bigger latency problem if governments and industry can't find ways to maximize efficient spectrum use.

“According to Cisco, there are currently 15 billion devices connected to the Internet,” the chairman's remarks said. “By 2020, they project that number to grow to 50 billion. Here’s a really crazy number. Cisco estimates that the Internet of Things will generate $8 Trillion—with a T—in economic value over the next decade.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Brandon Ross in Washington at bross@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at hrothman@bna.com

Wheeler's full remarks are available here: http://src.bna.com/zW.