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FCC chairman vows continued spectrum expansion

John Cox | March 8, 2013
The FCC remains focused on rapidly expanding spectrum for licensed and unlicensed use, and encouraging both research and products that will let it be used more efficiently, according to the commission's boss.

He expects that a "significant part" of this spectrum will be reserved for unlicensed use.

At the same time, the FCC is moving forward to make 5,600 MHz of contiguous "white spaces" spectrum, also from TV bands, available for new uses. "A number of broadcasters have formed a group and they're interested in a reverse auction and in participating in the FCC rulemaking" for it, Genachowski said.

This week, for example, the commission approved a Google project to collect information in a public database on white space spectrum (the gaps between TV bands) that can be used without intruding on protected transmissions like terrestrial TV and radio.

The latest opportunity to expand unlicensed spectrum was launched a few weeks ago, he reminded his audience, with the FCC announcement that it will expand the 5 GHz band by about 35%. Separately, he said, "we need to create a new unlicensed platform that has different characteristics: higher power, higher range. It's more complex. But at MIT and other places there's wonderful research going on to sustain such a platform."

The 5 GHz expansion will be "on the market in the next year or two." The FCC will need to work with other agencies to allow spectrum sharing. "Our estimate is that about 60% of the usable spectrum for the kinds of uses we know and love is spectrum [today] controlled by the government," he said. "But 60% is too much. Where we can clear and re-allocate and repack that spectrum into more efficient uses, we have to do that."

Genachowski disagreed with an assertion that the value of unlicensed spectrum has "dramatically outstripped" that of licensed spectrum.

"They both provided a tremendous amount of value," he said. "The ways they're now working together are creating more value than either alone."

The country needs policies that "incentivize" major capital investments in wireless broadband infrastructure. "It's one thing to have wireless routers in our homes and offices, where they rely on existing wired infrastructure," he said. "But to have wireless everywhere requires investment. We'll see $35 billion of infrastructure investments this year, on top of $30 billion last year. And licensed spectrum made this possible."


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