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On Moving the Upper Frontier of Commercial Spectrum Use


In the August 2012 issue of IEEE Wireless Communications is the above article by your blogger. The article starts

International spectrum allocations of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) now go to an upper limit of 275 GHz. The upper limit of actual production commercial equipment appears to be in the 80 GHz range in the millimeterwaves or “mmW” region (30-300 GHz). While these upper frequencies have been often associated with fixed and satellite uses, the emergence of IEEE 802.11ad/WiGig mobile standards at 60 GHz and interest in broadband mobile applications above 100 GHz shows that many different uses may now be possible.

The initiation last year of the new IEEE Transactions on Terahertz Science and Technology shows that basic technology is moving on somewhat independent of lagging spectrum regulation. In addition, a technical highlight of the 2008 Beijing Olympics - ignored by the general press - was the use of 120 GHz point-to-point terrestrial links for high definition video distribution from venues to a central site and showed the potential for commercial spectrum use in presently virgin upper spectrum.

120 GHz Japanese system used at Beijing Olympics
The upper limit for FCC radio service rules in at 95 GHz as it has been for almost a decade. While there are FCC allocations up to 275 GHz, the lack of service rules means that only experimental licenses are possible without a waiver or a rulemaking. Given FCC’s track record for handling new technology issues, the need for a waiver or a rulemaking is probably discouraging the capital formation necessary for new commercial products about 95 GHz. The Japanese 120 GHz system used 4 years ago at the Beijing Olympics shows that the basic technology is here.

Isn’t it time FCC start removing at >95 GHz such barriers to innovation and the necessary capital formation for it?

There are some valid issues of sharing these bands with existing passive allocations for radio astronomy and remote sensing as well as active federal government systems, but these make it more important that FCC give guidance to industry on how to commercialize these bands while protecting the other allocations. The nature of propagation at these bands as well as the ease at which narrow beam antennas can be used means that the concepts of spectrum regulation used at lower bands are not necessarily applicable and sharing is much more feasible.

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