Wi-Fi: Channel 14 on the Way?

A proposal to the FCC from a satellite communications carrier could breathe new life into the 2.4 GHz. band – but will it?

Low-earth-orbiting (LEO) carrier Globastar has proposed a change in regulatory policy to the FCC that could potentially open up Wi-Fi Channel 14, located above the current 2.4 GHz. ISM band in the US. This spectrum, to my knowledge, is only available in Japan at present, and could represent a fourth non-overlapping channel for 2.4 GHz. This is potentially a big deal.

What's not clear at present is whether Globalstar intends to have this new spectrum made generally available under the same ISM rules as the rest of the 2.4 GHz. band, or is seeking a more restrictive and proprietary application. You see, Globalstar really wants to use this spectrum, which they already have for satellite communications, for a terrestrial service based on LTE. I'm not sure that this spectrum could really support satellite, LTE, and Wi-Fi all at once in a given location. No, I'm kidding, it couldn't, unless under the control of a central scheduler of some form - and of course, then, that's not Wi-Fi. In fact, Globalstar refers to their proposal as Terrestrial Low Power Service, or TLPS, and not as Wi-Fi, although they do allude to more Wi-Fi capacity in their own press release.

What Globalstar really wants to do, of course, is make maximum use of its spectrum, mostly through an LTE service, but also via 20,000 TLPS access points that it intends to deploy. I'd argue that any variance from Wi-Fi would be a mistake here, as new clients would be required, and we're still talking only one channel that would be in competition with both LTE and satellite services, not to mention lots of other Wi-Fi services. My guess is that they have no intention of making this channel generally available on an unlicensed basis for Wi-Fi, but we'll see.

Still, this is a development worth watching, with the next event being some reaction from the FCC. I don't see any reason why the FCC wouldn't grant this petition, but you can be sure the cellular carriers won't be fans unless Globalstar intends to partner with them.

Craig's First Rule of Wireless is, and always has been, that if you have spectrum, you can make money. More uses for that spectrum means more money (and Globalstar needs this - check out their stock price; you could buy the whole company, including their spectrum, for a mere $180M). So, while Globalstar's plan isn't clear, you can bet there's a lot more dough in what they're proposing than in bouncing signals off satellites.

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