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FCC moves to boost wireless speeds, avoid congestion

FCC looks to open more 5GHz spectrum but opposition is sure to surface.

By Layer 8 on Wed, 02/20/13 - 2:43pm.

The Federal Communications Commission said it wants to make up to 195 megahertz of additional spectrum in the 5 GHz band available to unlicensed wireless devices with the idea that such a move would enable  Wi-Fi equipment that can offer faster speeds of one gigabit per second or more, increase overall capacity, and reduce congestion.

"Unlicensed National Information Infrastructure devices today operate in 555 megahertz of spectrum in the 5 GHz band, and are used for short range, high speed wireless connections including Wi-Fi enabled local area networks and fixed outdoor broadband transceivers used by wireless Internet service providers to connect smart phones, tablets and laptops to the broadband network," the FCC stated.

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The FCC proposal needs to go through a public comment period and is by no means a slam dunk as the military, the US Department of Homeland Security and others already parts of that spectrum and have expressed concern about sharing it with commercial applications.

"Wi-Fi congestion is a very real and growing problem. Like licensed spectrum, demand for unlicensed spectrum threatens to outpace supply. The core challenge is the dramatically increased use of wireless devices, which require spectrum," said  FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said at the agency's monthly meeting in Washington.  "This additional spectrum will increase speeds and alleviate Wi-Fi congestion at major hubs, such as airports, convention centers and large conference gatherings. In addition, this would also increase speed and capacity for Wi-Fi in the home where multiple users and devices are often on the network at the same time. Because the 5GHz band is already used for other purposes by both federal and non-federal users, the effort will require significant consultation with stakeholders to enable non-interfering shared use of the spectrum. But consultation can't be an excuse for inaction or delay."

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Interestingly deflecting such battles is the idea behind a new program researchers at Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) will detail this month. DARPA's Shared Spectrum Access for Radar and Communications (SSPARC) program has a goal of boosting radar and communications capabilities for military and commercial users by creating technical ways to enable spectrum sharing.

SSPARC looks to support two beyond state of the art types of spectrum sharing: Military radars sharing spectrum with military communications networks, and military radars sharing spectrum with commercial communications networks, DARPA stated.

"Balancing national security requirements of radars and military networks with the growing bandwidth demands of commercial wireless data networks calls for innovative approaches to managing spectrum access," DARPA stated.

DARPA went on to say that the challenge of spectrum access is especially acute in the frequencies between 2-4 GHz, which are highly desirable for military systems and commercial networks. SSPARC will focus on technologies to share spectrum at these frequencies. Technologies developed in the program could be applicable at other frequencies as well.

In related news, the FCC approved a new regulation letting companies or consumers use approved and licensed signal boosters to amplify signals between wireless devices. Signal boosters, thousands of which are already in use,  not only help consumers improve coverage where signal strength is weak, but they also aid public safety first responders by  extending wireless access in hard-to serve areas such as tunnels, subways, and garages, the FCC stated.

"Most of the procedural and technical rules we adopt for consumer signal boosters are based on a Consolidated Proposal, agreed to by several signal booster manufacturers, the four nationwide wireless service providers, and over 90 small, rural, wireless service providers. They are designed to facilitate the development of safe, economical signal boosters, reduce consumer confusion, and encourage innovation in the booster market," said FCC's Mignon Clyburn.  "We also adopt different, but sensible rules for Industrial Signal Boosters. These devices are typically designed, to serve multiple users simultaneously, and cover larger areas such as stadiums, airports, office buildings, and hospitals. They are high powered and may use a greater number of antennas, amplifiers, and other components. Given the characteristics of industrial boosters, this order reasonably requires greater coordination by the installer with the wireless service provider."

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