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unlicensed policy

2 Unsung FCC Pioneers in Early 5G #HighBandSpectrum Policy

(UPDATE: Robert Pepper is now with Facebook)

There is an implicit viewpoint at FCC that telecom technology is like a "conveyor belt sushi"/kaitensushi /回転寿司 restaurant in Japan: you sit at the counter and various types of sushi come on a conveyor belt in front of you unordered and you just wait until you see one you like and then take it off for eating. So at FCC you just wait for telecom technology to magically come from a conveyor belt and you pick winners and ignore the losers.

Video on "conveyor belt sushi"/kaitensushi /回転寿司 in Japan from NHK

Well, telecom technology does not come by magic! It requires bright people with good ideas and then investment in R&D to work on such ideas. In radio technology, the risk of that investment and thus its commercial likelihood depends on regulatory risk of FCC approving the commercial use and hence profitability of the technology.

Rappaport mmW
Prof. Theodore Rappaport's Millimeter Wave Wireless Communications makes clear that a key early factor in this field was the FCC's sua sponte Docket 94-124 initiative. Ted writes in Chapter 9:

"it took about ten years for low-cost commercial products to evolve from 1998 (sic) when USA became the first country in the world to authorize low-power 60 GHz operation…(S)hort range wireless networks provided the relevant applications to take advantage of unlicensed 60 GHz spectrum, as well as other frequencies in the mmWave band…Due to the inherent nature of mmWave frequencies … many emerging or future mmWave wireless products and standards (such as 5G mmWave cellular, inter vehicular communications, and backhaul/fronthaul communications standards) are likely to share characteristics with the 60 GHz WPAN/WLAN standards.

Thus #HighBandSpectrum 5G did not come unsummoned from a sushi conveyor belt, but derived from earlier visionary FCC action in Docket 94-124 in the Hundt Chairmanship. In my main website I have given more background of how this came about, here let me emphasize the role of the 2 individuals shown above.

When I proposed the concept of a 60 GHz unlicensed band in late1992 to the leadership of FCC's Office of Engineering and Technology, it was immediately rejected. This was probably because of the FCC culture related to "Nobody every got fired for buying IBM", i.e. if you only do things major regulatees propose you can never be criticized. (At the time I was working in EB's predecessor FOB as part of an "internal exile" resulting from the Docket 81-413 proceeding that is now known as the basis of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth but which at the time was very controversial.)

After the OET rejection, I sought guidance from Dr. Robert Pepper - legendary Chief of the FCC's Office of Plans and Policy (now OSP) from 1989 to 2005 - an amazing tenure in a very partisan agency. Bob was interested in the idea when I presented it to him, he asked me many questions and then proposed a meeting with the Chairman's Office to discuss the issue. This was during the Quello Chairmanship and Dr. Brian Fontes, his long term staffer was his Chief of Staff. Bob came with me to the meeting with Brian and the then Chief of OET. We both gave our viewpoints and Brian agreed with me that we should start drafting an NPRM for unlicensed use of 60 GHz - far above the then upper limit of FCC radio service rules at 40 GHz. The NPRM was drafted and approved on 10/20/95 under Chmn. Hundt who succeeded Quello. The R&O was adopted on 12/15/95 and by that time both Dr. Pepper and Dr. Fontes had left FCC after many years of loyal service.

Bob is now Vice President, Global Technology Policy at Cisco. Brian is now Chief Executive Officer of the National Emergency Number Association.

I hope that the 5G community can now remember that these two gentlemen played a key role in the early development of 5G #HighBandSpectrum policy in starting the "conveyor belt" moving at a time when the cellular mainstream had little or no interest in upper spectrum bands and thus giving us the wonderful technology that was approved yesterday!


FCC 10/17 NOI to Explore Cellular Use in 60 GHz Wi-Fi Band


In a 9/26 blog post Chmn. Wheeler wrote:

“Sustaining the mobile revolution also depends on our invisible infrastructure – spectrum. The fact that there is no low-hanging fruit in our spectrum inventory that can easily be repurposed for broadband means that the Commission needs to think creatively about how to make more spectrum available and increase the efficiency of its use.

Historically, mobile wireless services have been targeted at bands below 3 GHz due to technological and practical limitations. However, there have been significant developments in antenna and processing technologies that may allow the use of higher frequencies – in this case those above 24 GHz – for mobile applications.

Acting on a recommendation of the Commission’s Technological Advisory Council, I am circulating to my fellow commissioners a Notice of Inquiry that seeks to broaden the Commission’s understanding of the state of the art in technological developments that will enable the use of millimeter wave spectrum above 24 GHz for mobile wireless services.

Early studies show that these new technologies – what some are calling “5G” – can ultimately facilitate a throughput of up to 10 Gigabits/second, a speed that is orders of magnitude greater than that available today. Our effort here is to learn about the technology and ensure a regulatory environment where these technologies can flourish.”

While this blog talks about enabling “ the use of millimeter wave spectrum above 24 GHz for mobile wireless services”, reliable FCC sources report that the current draft of the NOI being discussed for adoption on 10/17 includes discussion of the 57-64 GHz band known for WiGig and 802.11ad unlicensed technology for cellular use.

While we have advocated FCC action on long stalled millimeter wave actions, it is not clear if undoing a 1995 decision that made this an unlicensed band is a positive step forward. And while this NOI is credited to the FCC’s Technological Advisory Council (TAC), I just do not see where they even hinted at such action.

Furthermore, the FCC’s 2002 Spectrum Policy Task Force Report, while not binding, recommended that “all future rulemaking for terrestrial use above 50 GHz should include de novo review of the merits of licensing” due to the fact that propagation is so different than at lower bands.

So where did this idea come from?


Drones & Spectrum:
•Will FCC Policy Vacuum Trigger Jamming Increase?

•Will Propagation from Altitude Overload Already Crowded Spectrum?

Seattle Woman Spooked by Drone Outside Her Window

The GPS and cellular industry are vehemently against jamming of their spectrum and are pressing FCC for more rigorous action. The recent June 20 FCC workshop on “GPS Protection and Receiver Performance” was full of pledges to step up enforcement and the recent $34,912,500 NAL to a Chinese jammer manufacturer was an attempt by FCC to show its commitment to such enforcement - although the likelihood of the perpetrator ever paying anything is slight.

From an actual jammer ad
But let us ask the basic question, why do people want to jam such generally useful services? We believe the answer is that they find some aspects of such services to be either annoying or threatening. For example, see this NY Times op-ed entitled “Leave These Southwest Ruins Alone” on how GPS technology and its unrestrained use has led to desecration of sacred sites in the Navajo Nation that are forbidden to all outsiders.

The picture at left comes from a cellular jammer ad and shows the pitch they are using. (We will not give the original source here but it has been shared with FCC/EB.)

While FAA is working under a congressional mandate to resolve its regulations for drones, FCC seems disinterested in the matter -- except in the context of the NPSTC National 4.9 GHz Plan for public safety users. But as the NY Times reported yesterday “Drones Outpacing Rules as Popularity Soars in New York”.

Using either cellular spectrum or unlicensed spectrum from drones is really a bad idea and should be forbidden.

Why? There are good technical reasons why we have frequency allocations for the Aeronautical Mobile Service where drone-related communication should be. The range of a radio signal (and its potential interference to other users) is determined both by its transmitter’s height as well as its (effective radiated) power. Airplanes and drones are at much higher heights than terrestrial users.

The unlicensed and cellular bands and their technical rules were designed for terrestrial use. Using cellular or unlicensed spectrum at even several hundred foot altitude will impact other users much more than comparable terrestrial use. For example, in a dense cellular repeater environment, a drone-based cellphone will likely hit several repeaters with comparable power and use up disproportionate spectrum capacity. Similarly, it will disproportionately increase the apparent load in unlicensed systems, effectively decreasing their capacity much more than a terrestrial user with the same bit rate.

In addition to this overload problem, drone based imagery will likely be seen by many as invasive as shown in the video at the top of this post. Experience has shown that such feelings often lead to interest in jamming for self-protection. While such jamming is illegal, it is growing and FCC actions to date under present laws and rules have had little impact. Thus it is likely that the growth of drone-based imagery in the unlicensed bands and cellular bands will be accompanied by a surge of jamming to the detriment of all cellular and unlicensed users!

So why isn’t anything being done? Look back a few blog entries to the “VA and FCC” entry here. Your blogger believes that like the VA, FCC is operating at a throughput less than that required for its actual spectrum policy role. In this hypothesis, major regulatees, both licensed and unlicensed, are implicitly or explicitly told to limit their requests to FCC so they can at least get their key requests accomplished.

What could be done about drones at FCC to prevent drone based downlinks from adversely impacting unlicensed systems and cellular systems? The previous drone post here advocated amending § 15.9 to forbid drone based imagery as well as the currently forbidden (for non law enforcement) “eavesdropping”. With respect to cellular systems, both § 22.925 and § 91.21 limit use of transmitters in "1) Aircraft operated by a holder of an air carrier operating certificate or an operating certificate; or (2) Any other aircraft while it is operated under IFR" and "aboard airplanes, balloons or any other type of aircraft". We urge FCC to amend these to forbid use of cellular spectrum from drones and urge the cellular community to tell FCC this is an urgent matter.

Note that we are not advocating that FCC forbid spectrum for drones, rather that such spectrum use be in bands that are planned for such use considering the heights involved in it.

Sprint’s New Drone
Rolling Spider
Think this concern is too far off? Then surf over to this article from the Kansas City Business Journal dated July 21, 2014 entitled “Sprint offers smartphone-controlled drones”! Sprint, a “card carrying CTIA member”, is introducing this month “two unmanned vehicles — or drones — that can be controlled by smartphones and tablets” and can “record or wirelessly stream the drone's video footage live.” It appears that these initial models are controlled from smartphones by Bluetooth unlicensed links not cellular spectrum, and have rather limited ranges. But who knows what the range of Sprint’s next models will be and whether they will use cellular spectrum? Longer range consumer drones are already available. Time to buy stock in Chinese jammer manufacturers!

Review of a Consumer Drone Using 2.4 and 5 GHz Unlicensed Spectrum


CTIA's Love/Hate Relationships with Both SF and Unlicensed

We have written several times about CTIA’s love/hate relationship with unlicensed spectrum and about its generally negative view towards San Francisco - ruling it off limits for any future CTIA meeting and suing it over the city’s attempt to make sure customers have basic information about cell phone safety - information similar to that now available on the website of the Swiss EPA and similar to the text that CTIA’s French counterpart supplies for inclusion with every new cellphone and SIM sold in France.

So imagine your blogger’s surprise when he found this paid content on the Washington Post website:


CTIA’s ever quotable John Walls even says

San Francisco’s SF Park initiative uses wireless sensors in city parking spaces and garages to inform city drivers where they can park, thereby reducing congestion, saving time, and lowering greenhouse gas emissions.

Nice words from CTIA about SF!!! Well it certainly is a wireless system and it certainly is in San Francisco, but as we noticed in an April post on CTIA’s boasting about a “wireless” system for farmers, it appears that unlicensed is a key part of the system.

The Walls content in thePost is dated in March, the video it refers to was uploaded on February 22, 2013. The system appears to use unlicensed spectrum for key links although the link to the user’s smartphone is clearly a CMRS spectrum link. The system basically used buried sensors shown at left to detect the presence of a car in parking spaces. These sensors form part of a “system … organized so that every sensor can connect to at least two relays via low-power radio networks. If a connection ever fails, sensors automatically seek out another.” The manufacturer, formerly called StreetSmart, but now called Fybr, has only one FCC equipment authorization for a Part 15 900 MHz spread spectrum transmitter that appears to be an interface for parking meters that is no longer marketed. The buried sensor may be made by and authorized under a different firm’s FCCID. But I am almost certain from the description that it is also a Part 15 unlicensed system, just like the SmartCrop agricultural field sensing system that CTIA’s previous video crowed about.

In reality unlicensed and cellular systems have a real synergy. But CTIA endlessly seems to oppose any new unlicensed spectrum and appears to have been the force behind the ill fated “unlicensed auction” House bill that was drafted by a former CTIA staffer.

Europe loves Wi-Fi: new EU study recommends more spectrum should be made available

A new study from the European Union directly addresses an issue that the cellular establishment doesn’t like to talk about: the relationship between licensed and unlicensed spectrum. As we have said several times before, the US cellular establishment has a love/hate relationship with unlicensed spectrum: they disparage the need for additional unlicensed spectrum at any chance and yet they widely use unlicensed spectrum to offload traffic that they could not possibly carry on their own networks.

(The primary author of the study is former FCC staffer J. Scott Marcus, now with Germany’s WIK Consult, who is not related to your blogger although we were friendly when we both worked down the hall from each other and while we both lived in Europe.)

It appears that the cellular establishment was behind the ill fated Section 104 of The Spectrum Innovation Act of 2011 that would have required an ill conceived unlicensed auction before FCC could create any additional unlicensed spectrum, even in ISM bands or above 100 GHz! However, the cellular establishment covered its tracks very well because no one ever spoke in public in favor of this odd provision. But since this provision appeared in a House committee staff memo written by a former CTIA staffer, it is a likely guess that CTIA was somehow behind it.

Here is the report summary from the EU website:

How is traffic off-loading evolving over time, both in terms of technical and of market developments, and how does this evolution influence the need for spectrum? It is widely recognized that traffic on the macro cellular network is growing rapidly, largely as a result of impressive take-up of smartphones and tablets. The surprising and little recognized reality is that, according to credible data captured from a range of sources, the visible growth in macro cellular mobile network traffic appears to be only the tip of a much larger iceberg. The volume of traffic that is already being off-loaded, chiefly to Wi-Fi in the home, already exceeds that of the mobile network, and can be expected to grow even faster as well. This is largely a result of the considerable effort that equipment vendors and standards bodies have invested in developing both Wi-Fi and cellular standards to improve interworking between the two and to optimise use of the available spectrum. Traffic off-load generates surprisingly large socio-economic benefits by virtue of the cost that MNOs have saved, or can be expected to save, by building a smaller network thanks to data traffic off-load. Relatively little action is needed at European level; however, a few interventions should be considered in order to ensure that the momentum is maintained. Among these are (1) seeking to make spectrum from 5150 MHz to 5925 MHz available globally for Wi Fi; (2) continue seeking to make 2.6 GHz and 3.5 GHz fully available for mobile use; (3) consulting on future licensing options for 3.5 GHz and other potential new licensed mobile frequency bands; and (4) various measures to reduce administrative burden on the deployment of public off-load services and networks.

Now the spectrum actions here are not really different from what the FCC is trying to do. But FCC seems too intimidated by the cellular establishment and their endless appetite for new spectrum to talk very visibly about this topic. However, snooping around the FCC website we did find this statement in an FCC blog in 2011 by John Leibovitz & Robert Alderfer:

Importantly, the (Cisco) report accounts for some offsetting effects, most notably the use of WiFi and femtocell networks to “offload” capacity from the mobile network to a fixed broadband connection. Cisco estimates that about 21% of traffic from smartphones and tablets was offloaded to WiFi or femtocells in 2010 and that this proportion will increase to 30% by 2015. This finding demonstrates the vital importance of unlicensed spectrum in helping address our nation’s wireless capacity needs. Still, overall traffic growth is likely to outpace offloading, according to Cisco’s forecast.

Also in 2011 Chmn. Genachowski saidTraffic offloading to WiFi helps reduce congestion that could otherwise impair the flow of data on commercial networks. WiFi and other innovations based on unlicensed spectrum have contributed hundreds of billions of dollars to our economy, and offer tremendous potential to foster economic growth and job creation.”

(Graphic from EU website)


FCC Meeting Today Only Deals with Spectrum

[Click image for meeting video]
Today’s FCC Commission meeting was devoted entirely to 2 spectrum topics - an unusual event. As of this writing the text of one of the items has not been released, but press releases and commissioners’ statements are out for both. (Both texts have now been released)

The first item dealt with a Report & Order in Docket 10-4, which non techies refer to as the signal booster item although more strictly speaking it deals with bidirectional amplifiers (BDAs) for mobile radio systems. This has been a recurring topic here. 2487 days after May 1, 2006 when CTIA presented the Commission with a white paper declaring “FCC action is urgently needed”, FCC finally acted, sort of, in a decision that makes BDAs explicitly authorized under certain conditions.

The original 2006 CTIA white paper said,

“CTIA asks the FCC to issue a notice to consumers confirming and informing them that operating wireless repeaters without licensee authorization is unlawful and may result in service outages and other harms to the network. CTIA also asks the FCC to issue a notice to manufacturers, importers, distributors, and retailers clarifying that they are permitted to market and sell repeaters only for use under the clear authority and control of licensees.”

This was oddly reminiscent of the old AT&T’s preCarterphone view of CPE. FCC’s R&O took a more positive view of the public needs in rural America:

While nearly the entire U.S. population is served by one or more wireless providers, coverage gaps that exist within and at the edge of service areas can lead to dropped calls, reduced data speeds, or complete loss of service. Robust signal boosters can bridge these gaps and extend coverage at the fringe of service areas. Signal boosters are particularly useful in rural and difficult-to-serve indoor environments, such as hospitals. Signal boosters can also improve public safety communications by enabling the public to connect to 911 in areas where wireless coverage is deficient or where an adequate communications signal is blocked or shielded. In short, because signal boosters represent a cost-effective means of improving our nation’s wireless infrastructure, the rules we adopt today should lead to more robust service for many Americans at home, at work, and on the road.

The decision strikes a balance between public needs and the rights of the carriers. I said “sort of” in the introduction, because FCC has agreed to revisit this issue in 2 years and statements at the meeting made it clear that if the carriers do not all cooperate with legitimate user requests the rules may be modified to make them more user friendly and less carrier
Mast antenna
friendly. Let’s hope the cellular crowd gets the message. To set a good example, I have already notified my cellular carrier that I want to register the BDA on my sailboat (vertical white rod antenna in photo at right). I only use it in remote corners of Chesapeake Bay, but when I am in those places there are no other options! (It is on a separate circuit and is only powered when I need it.)

As reported previous, FCC’s delay on this issue, the 2487 days from the CTIA white paper to today’s R&O, was a lose/lose period for both sides.

The BDA manufactures faced serious offshore competition from irresponsible manufacturers who made no attempts to limit interference from their units to cellular systems as well as being denied access to normal capital from the financial community because of the risks involved when the megacorporations that are the 4 major carriers sought to have them driven from the face of the earth! The carriers also faced both continuing interference from early models of BDAs as well as current models from irresponsible manufacturers along with the knowledge that no matter what the new rules say the bad units will continue in use for several more years. THE COSTS OF FCC DELAY!!

CTIA has issued no statement as yet on the R&O while Wilson Electronics, a major manufacturer of this equipment has.

The second item dealt with an expanded “Wi-Fi” band at 5 GHZ. I put Wi-Fi in quotes since it is a registered trademark of the Wi-Fi Alliance which in the past has indicated misgivings about the FCC’s casual use of terms like “super Wi-Fi”. Also the present and probably the new FCC rules do not require the use of only IEEE 802.11 standards in any specific unlicensed bands.

The Commission press release states

The Commission proposed to make up to 195 megahertz of additional spectrum in the 5 GHz band (a 35% increase) available to unlicensed wireless devices. It also proposed to create a more flexible regulatory environment, and to streamline existing rules and equipment authorization procedures for devices throughout this band.

Unlicensed National Information Infrastructure (U-NII) 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 proposed modifications would provide access to additional contiguous spectrum with consistent technical requirements, allowing unlicensed devices to use wider bandwidth channels, leading to faster speeds.

This spectrum current has federal users in parts of it and thus FCC and NTIA share responsibility for it. NTIA has agreed to the NPRM and may modify its position later. In or nearby the promised spectrum are present and planned uses by Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS). Some members of the ITS community have been comparing this NPRM to the GPS/LightSquared issue although the major ITS trade association, ITS America was quite moderate and open minded in its statement.

The link to NPRM text is now here.

Cellular Industry's Love/Hate Relationship with Unlicensed Spectrum

The cellular industry has severe mood swings with respect to unlicensed spectrum. Presumably the cellular industry is the power behind the recent Spectrum Innovation Act of 2011’s Section 104, which, if adopted, would require an “unlicensed auction” for all new unlicensed spectrum. No one from any industry has spoken publicly in favor of this concept.

However, Thomas M. Lenard, president of the Technology Policy Institute has tried to explain its merits in a post entitled “Use the market to allocate spectrum” in another blog. While the intent of Mr. Lenard appears to be limited to spectrum related to the proposed incentive auction, the language in Section 104 would have made any future new unlicensed spectrum nearly impractical regardless whether it was exclusive unlicensed spectrum in the incentive auction spectrum or even secondary/“junk” spectrum use such as for Wi-Fi or U-NII.

But despite this industry “dissing” of unlicensed spectrum and the dogma that only exclusively licensed spectrum is efficient, the cellular industry has embraced unlicensed quietly in other contexts. In October Fierce Wireless reported,

AT&T said the number of connections to its Wi-Fi network nearly tripled year-over-year in the third quarter to 301.9 million. AT&T also said that the amount of data on its Wi-Fi network in the quarter more than doubled from the year-ago period.

The statistics reflect not only AT&T's growing use of Wi-Fi offloading for its cellular networks but also the wider trend within the industry to use Wi-Fi as a tool to manage mobile data traffic. Indeed, AT&T said that users are now making around 100 million Wi-Fi connections per month, more than the total number of connections made in all of 2009 and five times the total number of connections made in 2008. For now at least, neither AT&T nor any other U.S carrier counts Wi-Fi usage toward a subscriber's monthly data allotment.

AT&T's Wi-Fi hotspots now number 29,000 across the country, and AT&T said hotel locations account for approximately 40 percent of the carrier's total Wi-Fi network traffic.

Yesterday, the usually reliable GigaOM reported

In a sure sign that the cellular industry is getting serious about Wi-Fi, telecom networking giant Ericsson is buying BelAir Networks, adding its high-performance outdoor hotspot technology to its portfolio, sources told GigaOM. The deal could signal a big shift in the mindset of the big wireless vendors, which have always favored their own specialized and expensive cellular technologies to meet growing mobile data demand rather than more generic but much cheaper Wi-Fi technology. ...

As smartphone data usage explodes, consumers have begun turning to home, office and public Wi-Fi to bring their handsets online, taking advantage of fast speeds while bypassing the data caps on their mobile plans. There are some exceptions, such as AT&T, but most U.S. mobile operators have been reluctant to incorporate Wi-Fi directly into their networks, preferring instead to keep customers on their 3G and 4G networks, where they can collect data revenues and maintain control of the network connection. With big vendors like Ericsson on board, though, that attitude could be changing.

While your blogger was responsible for bringing a total of 5234.5 MHz into unlicensed use through the proposals he drafted and the decisions he helped draft in Dockets 81-413 and 94-124, he does not see unlicensed as a panacea for all the world’s spectrum problems. Exclusive licensed and unlicensed band both have positive points and both contribute towards an efficient telecom infrastructure.

It is unfortunate that many on both sides view the choice between licensed and unlicensed as a zero sum game with respect to the long term interests of the cellular industry. The continuing industry interest in Wi-Fi shows that the truth is more complex.