More unlicensed spectrum coming soon, says FCC chairman

9 January 2013 by Steve Blum
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Tired of slow WiFi at the airport.

Julius Genachowski is a popular guy at CES today. The FCC chairman announced that the commission is moving ahead with freeing up spectrum that's currently assigned to government agencies for WiFi and other unlicensed uses.

“This is unlicensed spectrum. This is in 5 GHz. It's time to move to do it,” he said. “We have a lot of work to do with federal agencies that have this spectrum. We're moving forward with it and we're going to work out the problems as we go. We are convinced that the spectrum can be shared.”

His comments came during a wide ranging one-on-one discussion with Consumer Electronics Association president Gary Shapiro. He said he expects the FCC to begin working out an implementation plan in the next month. The bandwidth under consideration is 195 MHz identified last year by Congress as a candidate for sharing or re-purposing.

Genachowski also said that one of his goals is to clear a contiguous, nationwide block of unlicensed spectrum in the TV white space frequencies. That's something he intends to achieve through the incentive auctions that the FCC plans to hold next year.

It's a double auction process – television broadcasters will bid to sell their channel current allocations back to the FCC, which will then be auctioned off to cellular carriers for mobile broadband use. But some of it will be set aside for unlicensed uses.

“This is the best idea that anyone has come up with to free up spectrum in the major markets for mobile broadband,” Genachowski said. “Focusing on competition is essential.”

He pointed to expansion of fixed wireless broadband service, particularly in rural areas, as another way to encourage more competition. He was more ambivalent about satellite broadband, calling recent developments and demonstrations “interesting” but also questioning what it means “in real world conditions.”

But he's gung-ho for freeing up more unlicensed terrestrial spectrum for broadband. “We're going to run into a WiFi wall like we're going to run into a mobile wall,” Genachowski said.