WASHINGTON — Wireless broadband is currently allocated to the wrong spectrum
and the result is hampering the growth of the technology, according to former Federal
Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Reed Hundt.
Hundt, who presided over a major overhaul of U.S. telecommunications
policy in 1996, said wireless broadband should be put in the same spectrum
swath used by analog UHF stations, which is being vacated by broadcasters
converting to digital television signals.
“Wireless broadband is being designed where the radio frequencies are very,
very high and, as a result, the radio waves can not penetrate buildings,”
Hundt told the Senate Commerce Committee Wednesday, as lawmakers look at a possible overhaul of telecom legislation.
“Waves at lower frequencies are longer in length. Longer wave lengths hold
their energy over longer distances. They can travel miles from a tower and
find their way inside living rooms.”
Hundt said the longer wave lengths are just as ideal for wireless broadband
as they are for television broadcasting, particularly since they can also
carry large amounts of information.
“Correspondingly, wireless broadband can deliver very high bit rates at
lower cost and greater equality if it also uses the lower frequencies of
broadcast television,” he said. “It has excellent propagation
characteristics that will allow the build out of an inexpensive and
ubiquitous wireless broadband network.”
Congress has shown an increasing interest in reforming the 1996
Telecommunications Act as the United States struggles to rollout broadband
across the country. The U.S. ranks 11th worldwide in broadband deployment
behind South Korea, Hong Kong, Canada, Taiwan, Denmark, Belgium,
Switzerland, the Netherlands, Japan and Sweden.
Hundt told the senators, “We can lower the costs of wireless broadband in
one fell swoop by 50 percent within months, if this committee will say to
the whole wireless broadband industry we need to be designing new spectrum
for today’s analog UHF channels.”
In 1997, Congress directed the FCC to allocate 24 MHz of the 700 MHz band
for public safety communications and to allocate another 36 MHz of the band
for commercial use to be assigned through spectrum auctions.
“In order to facilitate wireless broadband in this spectrum, Congress could
amend this 1997 law to allocate 30 MHz of this commercial spectrum for
unlicensed services that would not be subject to an auction,” Hundt said,
adding that the spectrum transformation would result in “billions of dollars
of extra growth and hundreds of thousands, if not ultimately millions, of
new jobs, provided it was done quickly.”
Hundt described advanced wireless technology as a “chipset about as big as
my thumbnail that will send out a radio signal to a box about the size of a
cheeseburger and sits on a windowsill.”
From there, a signal is sent to antenna located in a “breadbox” attached to
lamp poles or street lights. The boxes then send signals across the air and
ultimately, miles way, connect to a fiber optic Internet link.
“If you have the right radio frequencies you don’t need as many boxes and
you can design it better,” Hundt said.
Hundt urged both Congress and the FCC to “push the recalcitrant and
incentivize the willing participants” in any telecom reform.
“The current chapter in this ongoing story of facilitating the creative
innovation of capitalism will be written if Congress and the FCC can find
ways to let businesses use the best spectrum physics, not for UHF
television, but rather for wireless broadband.”