FCC Chairman Vows Continued Spectrum Expansion

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.

By John Cox
Thu, March 07, 2013

Network World — 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.

That focus has served the U.S. well, according to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, who responded to questions during an event Wednesday at MIT in Cambridge, Mass. Four years ago, he told the audience, the U.S. was lagging in key wireless broadband indicators compared to Asia and Europe. Today, the nation has "leapfrogged other countries," he said.

"Mobile innovation is U.S.-driven," he said. "The percentage of global mobile devices that have an American OS has gone from under 20% to over 80%. Apps are American-driven. And in [mobile] infrastructure, America has more LTE customers than the rest of the world combined." In the last two years alone, private investment in mobile networks has totaled about $65 billion.

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Genachowski participated in a day of demonstrations, lectures and a late afternoon Q&A session hosted by Wireless@MIT, more formally known as the MIT Center for Wireless Networks and Mobile Computing. The Center was launched last October to be a "focal point for wireless research at MIT" with more than 50 MIT faculty members, research staff and grad students, working with seven founding partners: Amazon, Cisco, Intel, MediaTek, Microsoft Research, STMicroelectronics and Telefonica.

The country still faces spectrum challenges, Genachowski said, and policy makers need to be working on "freeing up more spectrum and having forward-looking spectrum policies. A smartphone puts a demand on spectrum that's 25 times more than that of a feature phone."

"The mobile infrastructure doesn't work without spectrum," he said. "No one anticipated the growth and demand we're seeing now. It's putting tremendous stress on the system. And we have to figure out ways to address that."

Genachowski said there have been two major spectrum innovations in the last 30 years: the introduction of auctions to allocate spectrum and the introduction of unlicensed bands, which helped fuel the growth of Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, other RF technologies and the ecosystems of products and software that have sprung up around them.

"It seems inconceivable to me that these would be the last two innovations in spectrum policy," he said.

Possible new ones include what he called "next generation unlicensed spectrum," with higher ranges and lower frequencies, and "a lot more sharing of government spectrum for private use."

The rationalizing of the 300 MHz of nationwide broadcast TV spectrum is an example of the kinds of changes he anticipates. Genachowski said the government has created incentives that persuade some of the broadcasters in every market to sell or share their spectrum. Then, the spectrum will be reorganized into something less than 300 MHz to meet the needs of the remaining broadcasters, with the difference being repackaged and, likely in 2014, auctioned for new uses.

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