Posts Tagged ‘Wireless spectrum’

New modulation scheme said to be ‘breakthrough’ in network performance

Friday, December 20th, 2013

A startup plans to demonstrate next month a new digital modulation scheme that promises to dramatically boost bandwidth, capacity, and range, with less power and less distortion, on both wireless and wired networks.

MagnaCom, a privately held company based in Israel, now has more than 70 global patent applications, and 15 issued patents in the U.S., for what it calls and has trademarked Wave Modulation (or WAM), which is designed to replace the long-dominant quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM) used in almost every wired or wireless product today on cellular, microwave radio, Wi-Fi, satellite and cable TV, and optical fiber networks. The company revealed today that it plans to demonstrate WAM at the Consumer Electronics Show, Jan. 7-10, in Las Vegas.

The vendor, which has released few specifics about WAM, promises extravagant benefits: up to 10 decibels of additional gain compared to the most advanced QAM schemes today; up to 50 percent less power; up to 400 percent more distance; up to 50 percent spectrum savings. WAM tolerates noise or interference better, has lower costs, is 100 percent backward compatible with existing QAM-based systems; and can simply be swapped in for QAM technology without additional changes to other components, the company says.

Modulation is a way of conveying data by changing some aspect of a carrier signal (sometimes called a carrier wave). A very imperfect analogy is covering a lamp with your hand to change the light beam into a series of long and short pulses, conveying information based on Morse code.

QAM, which is both an analog and a digital modulation scheme, “conveys two analog message signals, or two digital bit streams, by changing the amplitudes of two carrier waves,” as the Wikipedia entry explains. It’s used in Wi-Fi, microwave backhaul, optical fiber systems, digital cable television and many other communications systems. Without going into the technical details, you can make QAM more efficient or denser. For example, nearly all Wi-Fi radios today use 64-QAM. But 802.11ac radios can use 256-QAM. In practical terms, that change boosts the data rate by about 33 percent.

But there are tradeoffs. The denser the QAM scheme, the more vulnerable it is to electronic “noise.” And amplifying a denser QAM signal requires bigger, more powerful amplifiers: when they run at higher power, which is another drawback, they also introduce more distortion.

MagnaCom claims that WAM modulation delivers vastly greater performance and efficiencies than current QAM technology, while minimizing if not eliminating the drawbacks. But so far, it’s not saying how WAM actually does that.

“It could be a breakthrough, but the company has not revealed all that’s needed to assure the world of that,” says Will Straus, president of Forward Concepts, a market research firm that focuses on digital signal processing, cell phone chips, wireless communications and related markets. “Even if the technology proves in, it will take many years to displace QAM that’s already in all digital communications. That’s why only bounded applications — where WAM can be [installed] at both ends – will be the initial market.”

“There are some huge claims here,” says Earl Lum, founder of EJL Wireless, a market research firm that focuses on microwave backhaul, cellular base station, and related markets. “They’re not going into exactly how they’re doing this, so it’s really tough to say that this technology is really working.”

Lum, who originally worked as an RF design engineer before switching to wireless industry equities research on Wall Street, elaborated on two of those claims: WAM’s greater distance and its improved spectral efficiency.

“Usually as you go higher in modulation, the distance shrinks: it’s inversely proportional,” he explains. “So the 400 percent increase in distance is significant. If they can compensate and still get high spectral efficiency and keep the distance long, that’s what everyone is trying to have.”

The spectrum savings of up to 50 percent is important, too. “You might be able to double the amount of channels compared to what you have now,” Lum says. “If you can cram more channels into that same spectrum, you don’t have to buy more [spectrum] licenses. That’s significant in terms of how many bits-per-hertz you can realize. But, again, they haven’t specified how they do this.”

According to MagnaCom, WAM uses some kind of spectral compression to improve spectral efficiency. WAM can simply be substituted for existing QAM technology in any product design. Some of WAM’s features should result in simpler transmitter designs that are less expensive and use less power.

For the CES demonstration next month, MagnaCom has partnered with Altera Corp., which provides custom field programmable gate arrays, ASICs and other custom logic solutions.


FCC postpones spectrum auction until mid 2015

Monday, December 9th, 2013

In a blog post on Friday, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler said that he would postpone a June 2014 spectrum auction to mid-2015. In his post, Wheeler called for more extensive testing of “the operating systems and the software necessary to conduct the world’s first-of-a kind incentive auction.”

”Only when our software and systems are technically ready, user friendly, and thoroughly tested, will we start the auction,” wrote Wheeler. The chairman also said that he wanted to develop procedures for how the auction will be conducted, specifically after seeking public comment on those details in the second half of next year.

A separate auction for 10MHz of space will take place in January 2014. In 2012, Congress passed the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act, which required the FCC to auction off 65MHz of spectrum by 2015. Revenue from the auction will go toward developing FirstNet, an LTE network for first responders. Two months ago, acting FCC chair Mignon Clyburn announced that the commission would start that sell-off by placing 10MHz on the auction block in January 2014. The other 55MHz would be auctioned off at a later date, before the end of 2015.

The forthcoming auction aims to pay TV broadcasters to give up lower frequencies, which will be bid on by wireless cell phone carriers like AT&T and Verizon, but also by smaller carriers who are eager to expand their spectrum property. Wheeler gave no hint as to whether he would push for restrictions on big carriers during the auction process, but he wrote, “I am mindful of the important national interest in making available additional spectrum for flexible use.”


Case Studies: Point-to-point wireless bridge – Campus

Friday, December 6th, 2013


Gyver Networks recently completed a point-to-point (PTP) bridge installation to provide wireless backhaul for a Boston college

Challenge:  The only connectivity to local network or Internet resources from this school’s otherwise modern athletic center was via a T1 line topping out at 1.5 Mbps bandwidth.  This was unacceptable not only to the faculty onsite attempting to connect to the school’s network, but to the attendees, faculty, and media outlets attempting to connect to the Internet during the high-profile events and press conferences routinely held inside.

Another vendor’s design for a 150 Mbps unlicensed wireless backhaul link failed during a VIP visit, necessitating a redesign by Gyver Networks.  After performing a spectrum analysis of the surrounding environment, Gyver Networks determined that the wireless solution originally proposed to the school was not viable due to RF spectrum interference.

For a price point close to the unlicensed, failed design, Gyver Networks engineered a secure, 700 Mbps point-to-point wireless bridge in the licensed 80GHz band to link the main campus with the athletic center, providing adequate bandwidth for both local network and Internet connectivity at the remote site.  Faculty are now able to work without restriction, and event attendees can blog, post to social media, and upload photos and videos without constraint.

FCC lays down spectrum rules for national first-responder network

Tuesday, October 29th, 2013

The agency will also start processing applications for equipment certification

The U.S. moved one step closer to having a unified public safety network on Monday when the Federal Communications Commission approved rules for using spectrum set aside for the system.

Also on Monday, the agency directed its Office of Engineering and Technology to start processing applications from vendors to have their equipment certified to operate in that spectrum.

The national network, which will operate in the prized 700MHz band, is intended to replace a patchwork of systems used by about 60,000 public safety agencies around the country. The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) would operate the system and deliver services on it to those agencies. The move is intended to enable better coordination among first responders and give them more bandwidth for transmitting video and other rich data types.

The rules approved by the FCC include power limits and other technical parameters for operating in the band. Locking them down should help prevent harmful interference with users in adjacent bands and drive the availability of equipment for FirstNet’s network, the agency said.

A national public safety network was recommended by a task force that reviewed the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on the U.S. The Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 called for auctions of other spectrum to cover the cost of the network, which was estimated last year at US$7 billion.

The public safety network is required to cover 95 percent of the U.S., including all 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories. It must reach 98 percent of the country’s population.


AT&T announces plans to use 700Mhz channels for LTE Broadcast

Thursday, September 26th, 2013

Yesterday at Goldman Sachs’ Communacopia Conference in New York, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson announced that his company would be allocating the 700Mhz Lower D and E blocks of spectrum that it acquired from Qualcomm in 2011 to build out its LTE Broadcast service. Fierce Wireless reported from the event and noted that this spectrum was destined for additional data capacity. In a recent FCC filing, AT&T put off deploying LTE in this spectrum due to administrative and technical delays caused by the 3G Partnership Project’s continued evaluation of carrier aggregation in LTE Advanced.

No timeline was given for deploying LTE Broadcast, but Stephenson stressed the importance of video to AT&T’s strategy over the next few years.

The aptly named LTE Broadcast is an adaptation of the LTE technology we know and love, but in just one direction. In the case of AT&T’s plans, either 6Mhz or 12Mhz will be available for data transmission, depending on the market. In 6Mhz markets there would be some bandwidth limitations, but plenty enough to distribute a live television event, like the Super Bowl or March Madness. Vitally, since the content is broadcast indiscriminately to any handsets capable of receiving it, there’s no upper limit to the number of recipients of the data. So, instead of having a wireless data network crumble under the weight of thousands of users watching March Madness on their phones and devices at one cell site, the data network remains intact, and everyone gets to watch the games.

Verizon Wireless has a similar proposal in the works, with vague hopes that they’ll be able to be in position to leverage their ongoing relationship with the NFL for the 2014 Super Bowl. Neither Verizon Wireless nor AT&T is hurting for spectrum right now, so it’s nice to see them putting it to good use.


Amazon is said to have tested a wireless network

Friday, August 23rd, 2013 Inc. (AMZN) has tested a new wireless network that would allow customers to connect its devices to the Internet, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

The wireless network, which was tested in Cupertino, California, used spectrum controlled by satellite communications company Globalstar Inc. (GSAT), said the people who asked not to be identified because the test was private.

The trial underlines how Amazon, the world’s largest e-commerce company, is moving beyond being a Web destination and hardware maker and digging deeper into the underlying technology for how people connect to the Internet. That would let Amazon create a more comprehensive user experience, encompassing how consumers get online, what device they use to connect to the Web and what they do on the Internet.

Leslie Letts, a spokeswoman for Amazon, didn’t respond to a request for comment. Katherine LeBlanc, a spokeswoman for Globalstar, declined to comment.

Amazon isn’t the only Internet company that has tested technology allowing it to be a Web gateway. Google Inc. (GOOG) has secured its own communications capabilities by bidding for wireless spectrum and building high-speed, fiber-based broadband networks in 17 cities, including Austin, Texas and Kansas City, Kansas. It also operates a Wi-Fi network in Mountain View, California, and recently agreed to provide wireless connectivity at Starbucks Corp. (SBUX)’s coffee shops.

Always Trying

Amazon continually tries various technologies, and it’s unclear if the wireless network testing is still taking place, said the people. The trial was in the vicinity of Amazon’s Lab126 research facilities in Cupertino, the people said. Lab126 designs and engineers Kindle devices.

“Given that Amazon’s becoming a big player in video, they could look into investing into forms of connectivity,” independent wireless analyst Chetan Sharma said in an interview.

Amazon has moved deeper into wireless services for several years, as it competes with tablet makers like Apple Inc. (AAPL) and with Google, which runs a rival application store. Amazon’s Kindle tablets and e-book readers have built-in wireless connectivity, and the company sells apps for mobile devices. Amazon had also worked on its own smartphone, Bloomberg reported last year.

Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos is aiming to make Amazon a one-stop shop for consumers online, a strategy that spurred a 27 percent increase in sales to $61.1 billion last year. It’s an approach investors have bought into, shown in Amazon’s stock price, which has more than doubled in the past three years.

Globalstar’s Spectrum

Globalstar is seeking regulatory approval to convert about 80 percent of its spectrum to terrestrial use. The Milpitas, California-based company applied to the Federal Communications Commission for permission to convert its satellite spectrum to provide Wi-Fi-like services in November 2012.

Globalstar met with FCC Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn in June, and a decision on whether the company can convert the spectrum could come within months. A company technical adviser conducted tests that showed the spectrum may be able to accommodate more traffic and offer faster speeds than traditional public Wi-Fi networks.

“We are now well positioned in the ongoing process with the FCC as we seek terrestrial authority for our spectrum,” Globalstar CEO James Monroe said during the company’s last earnings call.

Neil Grace, a spokesman for the FCC, declined to comment.

If granted FCC approval, Globalstar is considering leasing its spectrum, sharing service revenues with partners, and other business models, one of the people said. With wireless spectrum scarce, Globalstar’s converted spectrum could be of interest to carriers and cable companies, seeking to offload ballooning mobile traffic, as well as to technology companies.

The FCC issued the permit to trial wireless equipment using Globalstar’s spectrum to the satellite service provider’s technical adviser, Jarvinian Wireless Innovation Fund. In a letter to the FCC dated July 1, Jarvinian managing director John Dooley said his company is helping “a major technology company assess the significant performance benefits” of Globalstar’s spectrum.


FCC approves Google’s ‘white space’ database operation

Sunday, June 30th, 2013


The database will allow unlicensed TV broadcast spectrum to be used for wireless broadband.

The Federal Communications Commission has approved Google’s plan to operate a database that would allow unlicensed TV broadcast spectrum to be used for wireless broadband and shared among many users.

Google, which was granted commission approval on Friday, is the latest company to complete the FCC’s 45-day testing phase. Spectrum Bridge and Telcordia completed their trials, and there are another 10 companies, including Microsoft, which are working on similar databases. The new database will keep track of the TV broadcast frequencies in use so that wireless broadband devices can take advantage of the unlicensed space on the spectrum, also called “white space.”

In the U.S., the FCC has been working to free up spectrum for wireless carriers, which complain they lack adequate available spectrum to keep up with market demand for data services. The FCC approved new rules in 2010 for using unlicensed white space that included establishing databases to track clear frequencies and ensure that devices do not interfere with existing broadcast TV license holders. The databases contain information supplied by the FCC.

However, TV broadcasters have resisted the idea of unlicensed use, worried that allowing others to use white space, which is very close to the frequencies they occupy, could cause interference. What Google and others developing this database technology hope to show is that it is possible to share white space without creating interference.

The Web giant announced in March that it had launched a trial program that would tap white spaces to provide wireless broadband to 10 rural schools in South Africa.

Source:  CNET

Obama wants government to free up more wireless spectrum

Friday, June 14th, 2013

President Barack Obama is directing federal agencies to look for ways to eventually share more of their radio airwaves with the private sector as the growing use of smartphones and tablets ratchets up the demand for spectrum, according to a memo released on Friday.

With blocks of spectrum reserved by dozens of government agencies for national defense, law enforcement, weather forecasting and other purposes, wireless carriers and Internet providers are urging that more spectrum be opened up for commercial use.

The call comes as airwaves are becoming congested with the increase in gadgets and services that are heavily reliant on the ability to transport greater amounts of data.

“Although existing efforts will almost double the amount of spectrum available for wireless broadband, we must make available even more spectrum and create new avenues for wireless innovation,” Obama said in his presidential memo.  “One means of doing so is by allowing and encouraging shared access to spectrum that is currently allocated exclusively for Federal use.”

The memorandum, welcomed and lauded by the telecommunications industry, directs federal agencies to study how exactly they use the airwaves and how to make it easier to share them with the private sector.

The directive also sets up a Spectrum Policy Team that in six months will have to recommend incentives to encourage government agencies to share or give up their spectrum – something industry experts see as a critical step in opening more of the federally used airwaves to the private sector.

“Our traditional three-step process for reallocating federal spectrum — clearing federal users, relocating them and then auctioning the cleared spectrum for new use — is reaching its limits,” Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democratic member of the Federal Communications Commission, said in supporting Obama’s move.

The FCC is now working on rules for the biggest-ever auction of commercially used airwaves, in which TV stations would give up and wireless providers would buy highly attractive spectrum.  The auction is expected to take place in late 2014 or later.

The White House on Friday also released a report showing growth of broadband innovation and access, an area that the Obama administration has on because it is viewed as a critical tool for economic growth.  To further the process, the White House now plans to invest $100 million into spectrum sharing and advanced communications.

Friday’s directive also “strongly encourages” the FCC to develop a program that would spur the creation and sale of radio receivers that would ensure that if spectrum is shared, different users do not interfere with each other.

“The steps taken today lay the groundwork for tomorrow’s broadband future,” said Vonya McCann, senior vice president of government affairs at Sprint Nextel Corp.

Source:  Reuters

Galaxy S4 will be first to support Verizon’s newer, faster LTE network

Thursday, May 30th, 2013

Back in late 2011, Verizon Wireless bought up $3.6 billion worth of Advanced Wireless Services (AWS) spectrum with an eye toward expanding its LTE network coverage. The carrier will use this spectrum to add LTE coverage on the 1700MHz and 2100MHz frequencies to the carrier’s existing LTE on the 700MHz band later this year, and Bloomberg is now reporting that Samsung’s Galaxy S 4 will be the first phone to support the new frequencies. The new frequency bands will supposedly boost speeds and reduce network congestion, especially in heavily populated areas.

If you’ve currently got another LTE-capable phone on Verizon’s network, though, chances are you won’t be able to take advantage of the network’s upgrades. Support for the band must be built into both the hardware and the software—the Verizon variant of the S 4 already has hardware support, and an update will apparently take care of the software side in the coming months.

We expect hardware and software support for AWS to appear in more devices as Verizon’s (and T-Mobile’s) AWS network is built out in the coming months. In the meantime, if you need a new phone now but don’t want to miss out on the improved LTE speeds, the S 4 appears to be your best bet.


Plan to boost in-flight Internet could wreak havoc on satellite networks

Monday, May 6th, 2013

Qualcomm wants to beam signals to airplanes from 150 ground stations.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) next Thursday will consider a plan to beam Internet signals up to airplanes from 150 ground stations operating in a spectrum band already used by satellites. Qualcomm has proposed such a service in the 14.0-14.5GHz band but faces opposition from the satellite industry, which says the service is unnecessary and would interfere with satellite transmissions.

Qualcomm’s proposal came in July 2011 and is now on the verge of moving forward. The FCC’s meeting on Thursday “will consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking [NPRM] seeking to improve consumer access to broadband aboard aircraft and encourage innovation through establishment of an Air-Ground Mobile Broadband secondary service in the 14.0-14.5 GHz band, while ensuring that existing users are protected from interference.”

This isn’t the final step. If approved, the NPRM will be followed by extensive debate, public comment, and likely testing to determine whether interference concerns are valid. Already, the Satellite Industry Association (SIA) and others using the spectrum band say Qualcomm’s proposal should be rejected or heavily restricted.

Qualcomm’s plan is wonderful, according to Qualcomm

First, let’s take a look at what Qualcomm wants. It is essentially asking to become the exclusive provider of backhaul to airlines or in-flight ISPs like Gogo in the 14.0-14.5GHz band through a secondary license that shares the spectrum with the band’s incumbents. Just in case the FCC doesn’t want to give the license only to Qualcomm, the company said it would also support an auction that splits the airwaves among two backhaul providers.

“Qualcomm proposes that the Commission would conduct an auction of two 250MHz licenses at 14.00 to 14.25GHz and 14.25 to 14.50GHz to enable two separate systems, but not restrict a single entity from purchasing both licenses to construct a single, more robust, 500MHz system,” Qualcomm said in its proposal. “The proposed system would support communications between terrestrial ground stations and aircraft, much like the current Aircell Air-Ground system, but with significantly greater bandwidth to support the exponentially increasing data demands of today’s consumers who require anywhere/anytime broadband access including when they are flying in a plane several miles above the surface of the earth.”

Qualcomm acknowledged interference concerns but said it can work around them. The system would use about 150 ground stations to provide 300Gbps capacity to airlines. “The proposed Next-Gen AG system would operate in the Ku band at 14.0 to 14.5 GHz on a secondary licensed basis to, and in successful coexistence with, Geosynchronous Orbit (‘GSO’) satellite systems (used to provide various services, including Qualcomm’s own OmniTRACS service), future Non-Geosynchronous Orbit (‘NGSO’) satellite systems, NASA’s Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System (‘TDRSS’), and radio astronomy users. Indeed, as an incumbent user of this band itself, Qualcomm has a direct interest in fully protecting incumbent operations,” the company wrote.

Qualcomm described several tactics to minimize interference. For example, all ground stations “will have high antenna gain to permit aircraft to transmit at very low power levels.” Moreover, “aircraft will use directional receive antennas to reduce the GS [ground station] transmit power needs.”

“Finally, the Next-Gen AG system will hand-off aircraft communications to successive GSs that track the aircraft’s flight path and in this way work in a manner similar to terrestrial cellular networks,” Qualcomm said. “These aircraft communications handoffs will allow the system to operate successfully through using the least amount of transmit power to maintain a desired Carrier-to-Noise interference ratio and a negligible TfT (also referred to as Rise over Thermal) level into GSO [geosynchronous orbit] satellite operations below 1% in all scenarios including worst case scenarios.”

Qualcomm claimed the system will be robust enough to support “video streaming, gaming, and other rich multimedia access” during flights. Qualcomm declined to speak to Ars about the FCC proceeding and its proposal.

The public filings are all available on the FCC website.

Satellite industry describes interference concerns

One of the plan’s main opponents is the Satellite Industry Association, representing Boeing, DirecTV, EchoStar Satellite Services, Hughes Network Systems, LightSquared, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Immarsat, ViaSat, and many others.

“Qualcomm’s proposed ATG [air-to-ground] system will cause interference into the FSS [Fixed Service Satellite] satellite services that are primary in that band,” the Satellite Industry Association wrote in a filing yesterday. “SIA reviewed the ongoing importance of the Ku-band uplink bands to the satellite industry, noting that the industry has invested more than $20 billion to build, launch and operate more than 80 satellites with Ku-band capacity. These satellites generate more than $1 billion dollars in satellite services revenue in North America alone.”

In a filing last July, the Satellite Industry Group tried to poke holes in Qualcomm’s interference analysis:

Qualcomm’s technical analysis of interference from FSS into ATG airborne stations is based on a number of unsupported assumptions. Qualcomm divides the VSATs [satellite ground stations] that are located within a 300 km radius of the aircraft into two groups—those that are located north of the aircraft and those that are located south of the aircraft. With regard to the south-side VSATs, Qualcomm assumed that many VSAT installations will be fully shadowed by other buildings in direction of the receiving aircraft in estimating that only 25% of the south-side VSATs have an unobstructed view of the aircraft. These assumptions are highly subjective and Qualcomm has provided no evidence to support its assumptions.

Further, the SIA said, “Qualcomm has not shown that demand for in-flight passenger connectivity cannot be met by terrestrial or satellite-based deployments in existing frequency allocations that do not pose the same sharing difficulties as the proposed secondary ATG service.”

Qualcomm says otherwise, of course. “Current in-flight communication systems are either too expensive or data capacity limited and thus will be unable to support the increasing data demands of consumers,” Qualcomm’s proposal states. “In contrast to the relatively low-cost terrestrial-based system proposed herein, satellite-based systems have much higher equipment costs and potentially crippling latency issues, and thus have been deployed with marginal success.”

American Airlines submitted a filing supporting the Qualcomm proposal, saying, “The service will be important to satisfying air travelers’ increasing demands for mobile broadband data.” Delta Air Lines filed similarly positive remarks about the Qualcomm plan. “Delta believes the proposal could successfully co-exist with current and future, primary and secondary users of the 14.0 to 14.5GHz band, using the beam and power level management techniques detailed in Qualcomm’s proposal,” Delta wrote.

Boeing disagrees, saying it “believes that gaps and inconsistencies in the technical information cast doubt on an ATG system’s ability to protect and tolerate interference from existing Fixed Satellite Service (‘FSS’) operations and future Non-Geostationary Satellite Orbit (‘NGSO’) operations in the band.” Boeing further noted that “the Petition focuses on the intensively used 14.0-14.5GHz band in disregard of plausible alternative bands, including the similarly allocated and under-used High Altitude Platform Station (“HAPS”) spectrum at 47GHz.”

Row 44, a provider of satellite Internet to Southwest and other airlines, dismissed the idea that Qualcomm’s service is necessary and seems worried that Qualcomm’s service would benefit Gogo. In an FCC filing, Row 44 stated:

GoGo, Inc. (“GoGo”), the principal customer for Qualcomm’s existing ATG service technology, has expressed substantial support for the proposal. Yet even GoGo’s comments raise significant questions regarding its own commitment to large-scale provision of in-flight broadband services using terrestrial ATG technology.

Specifically, GoGo indicates that it is moving toward relying on Ka-band satellite technology for the delivery of broadband services on board aircraft, but notes that “satellite may not always provide the best solution for all aircraft and all customers.”

This implied future reliance on satellite-delivered services to meet the needs of GoGo’s primary airline customers suggests that its remaining terrestrial service is expected to serve more as an adjunct for niche customers than as a primary means of broadband service delivery. This raises the question whether an additional spectrum allocation for ATG service is really needed even for GoGo’s expressed purposes.

Panasonic Avionics Corporation, an in-flight entertainment and communications company, also raised interference concerns. The National Radio Astronomy Observatory weighed in as well, saying the Qualcomm system must be built carefully to minimize direct interference with astronomy sites. “Additional restrictions to ATG operations may be necessary,” the group said.

A complex decision for the FCC

Complicating matters even further, the Utilities Telecom Council and a company called Winchester Cator have proposed new smart grid and emergency communications uses for the 14.0-14.5GHz band. UTC and Winchester Cator have asked the FCC to consider its proposal alongside Qualcomm’s, instead of in separate proceedings.

Departing FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has argued on behalf of greater use of electronic devices during airplane flights. The FCC has shown a willingness to block proposals that might interfere with existing systems, such as when it killed LightSquared’s proposal to build a cellular network that would have interfered with GPS systems. Qualcomm’s in-flight Internet proposal will be just one of many complex issues to be addressed by newly nominated FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.


DOJ identifies lower frequency spectrum as key to wireless competition

Sunday, April 14th, 2013

The Department of Justice has provided the FCC with new recommendations for governing spectrum auctions, and with a heavy emphasis on leveling the playing field, the findings are likely to draw the ire of AT&T and Verizon. In its briefing, the DOJ made its case that the nation’s two largest carriers currently hold market power, which is due to the heavy concentration of lower frequency spectrum (below 1,000MHz) allocated to the two incumbents.

According to DOJ officials, “This results in the two smaller nationwide carriers having a somewhat diminished ability to compete, particularly in rural areas, where the cost to build out coverage is higher with high-frequency spectrum.” Although the DOJ never came right out and said it, one can easily surmise that it’s guiding the FCC to establish rules that favor smaller carriers — namely Sprint and T-Mobile — in future low-frequency spectrum auctions. In the DOJ’s opinion, an incumbent carrier would need to demonstrate both compelling evidence of capacity constraints and an efficient use of its current licenses in order to gain additional lower frequency spectrum. Otherwise, the opportunity exists for AT&T and Verizon to snap up licenses simply in attempt to harm competitors.

Given that the FCC and DOJ share the responsibility of ensuring competition in the marketplace, it seems unlikely that this latest brief will fall on deaf ears.


Don’t auction off empty TV airwaves, SXSW activists tell FCC

Tuesday, March 12th, 2013

Activists at the South by Southwest Interactive festival in Austin, TX, built a free wireless network to help publicize the power of unlicensed “white spaces” technology. The project is part of a broader campaign to persuade the FCC not to auction off this spectrum for the exclusive use of wireless carriers.

Almost everyone agrees that until recently, the spectrum allocated for broadcasting television channels was used inefficiently. In less populous areas, many channels sat idle. And channels were surrounded by “guard bands” to prevent adjacent channels from interfering with each other. A coalition that includes technology companies such as Google and Microsoft and think tanks such as the New America Foundation has been lobbying the FCC to open this unused spectrum up to third parties.

The proposal initially faced fierce opposition from broadcasters, but they dropped their opposition after reaching a compromise with the FCC last year. As a result, the FCC recently opened up white space frequencies to unlicensed uses.

Now debate has shifted to a new question: whether to auction off some of these white space frequencies for the exclusive use of private wireless companies. Supporters of the auction approach argue that incumbent wireless providers could use the spectrum to improve their networks. And they point out that the auctions would generate much-needed cash for the federal treasury.

“We ♥ WiFi”

But advocates of unlicensed uses say the spectrum will generate more value if the FCC leaves it open for unlicensed uses. They point to the success of Wi-Fi, which is now embedded in billions of electronic devices and allows people to communicate wirelessly without subscribing to a wireless service.

Enter the “We ♥ WiFi” project. Austin has 14 vacant television channels that are now open for use by white space devices. So during this weekend’s South by Southwest Interactive confab, activists set up a wireless network designed to showcase their potential.

The “white space” networking gear they used doesn’t have any official connection to the Wi-Fi standard. But the brand has become so well-known that “super Wi-Fi” has become a shorthand for describing unlicensed white space technologies. These devices are permitted to operate at higher power levels than conventional Wi-Fi, making them suitable for longer-distance applications than would be possible with a conventional Wi-Fi network.

Of course, the network would only be useful to conference-goers if the “last hop” of the network was a Wi-Fi link. But these Wi-Fi access points were connected to the rest of the Internet using “white space” gear.

Nick Grossman, an activist in residence at Union Square Ventures and a visiting scholar in the Center for Civic Media at the MIT Media Lab, was an organizer of the project.

“FCC engineers have made clear that the most promising spectrum for broadband wireless is at or below 2.7GHz, where today’s Wi-Fi operates,” Grossman said. “These frequencies are able to pierce through walls and buildings the same way that TV signals do. There is currently five times more broadband spectrum in this range reserved for exclusive licensed use than for unlicensed. The FCC is now considering whether to make this imbalance worse.”

Grossman says the event generated 1,000 signatures asking the FCC not to auction off the unlicensed frequencies for the exclusive use of private network operators. He and other supporters of unlicensed spectrum believe that entrepreneurs will be able to find new and creative ways to use the spectrum, but only if it’s left open for anyone to use. They’re asking people to sign a petition to the FCC urging the agency to “follow through on your proposal to open up a large slice of high-quality spectrum for open networks.”


FCC chairman vows continued spectrum expansion

Thursday, March 7th, 2013

‘The mobile infrastructure doesn’t work without spectrum,’ Genachowski says

The Federal Communications Commission 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.

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.

He expects that a “significant part” of this spectrum will be reserved for unlicensed use.

At the same time, the FCC is moving forward to make 5,600 MHz of contiguous “white spaces” spectrum, also from TV bands, available for new uses. “A number of broadcasters have formed a group and they’re interested in a reverse auction and in participating in the FCC rulemaking” for it, Genachowski said.

This week, for example, the commission approved a Google project to collect information in a public database on white space spectrum (the gaps between TV bands) that can be used without intruding on protected transmissions like terrestrial TV and radio.

The latest opportunity to expand unlicensed spectrum was launched a few weeks ago, he reminded his audience, with the FCC announcement that it will expand the 5 GHz band by about 35%. [See “FCC will move to give more spectrum to Wi-Fi“] Separately, he said, “we need to create a new unlicensed platform that has different characteristics: higher power, higher range. It’s more complex. But at MIT and other places there’s wonderful research going on to sustain such a platform.”

The 5 GHz expansion will be “on the market in the next year or two.” The FCC will need to work with other agencies to allow spectrum sharing. “Our estimate is that about 60% of the usable spectrum for the kinds of uses we know and love is spectrum [today] controlled by the government,” he said. “But 60% is too much. Where we can clear and re-allocate and repack that spectrum into more efficient uses, we have to do that.”

Genachowski disagreed with an assertion that the value of unlicensed spectrum has “dramatically outstripped” that of licensed spectrum.

“They both provided a tremendous amount of value,” he said. “The ways they’re now working together are creating more value than either alone.”

The country needs policies that “incentivize” major capital investments in wireless broadband infrastructure. “It’s one thing to have wireless routers in our homes and offices, where they rely on existing wired infrastructure,” he said. “But to have wireless everywhere requires investment. We’ll see $35 billion of infrastructure investments this year, on top of $30 billion last year. And licensed spectrum made this possible.”


TD-LTE goes mainstream with a new performance promise

Friday, March 1st, 2013

China Mobile’s budding network is helping to pique interest in a different way of using scarce spectrum

A version of LTE that could give consumers more mobile bandwidth for downloading content or apps is moving from the margins to the mainstream at Mobile World Congress this week.

TD (Time-Division) LTE, which uses a single block of radio frequencies instead of the paired blocks used in typical FDD (Frequency-Division Duplexing) cellular networks, has shown up in many places at the world’s annual mobile gathering. Numerous carriers and vendors are building the technology into their gear and demonstrating uses for it, in a departure from the scant attention given TD-LTE a few years ago.

The big prize that shines over all this activity is the prospect of China Mobile’s planned national deployment of TD-LTE, which is still waiting on the Chinese government’s spectrum allocation but is already gathering steam with trial services in six cities. Yet carriers elsewhere are also using or planning to use TD-LTE, including Softbank in Japan, Sprint Nextel and Clearwire in the U.S., and operators in Brazil, Russia, India, Sweden, Saudi Arabia, and other countries. TD spectrum blocks are being set aside in yet other countries, including in a recent auction in the U.K.

“There’s a lot of momentum behind it, and it’s not all China,” said Ovum analyst Daryl Schoolar. Still, with more than 600 million subscribers, China Mobile is big enough to make TD-LTE attractive to network vendors, chip designers and device makers for a long time, he said. “The volume opportunity is going to keep everyone interested.”

At its booth at MWC, China Mobile showed off dozens of chips and devices designed for its planned network. They included smartphones from LG Electronics, Samsung Electronics, Huawei Technologies, ZTE and Quanta; USB dongles and personal hotspots from most of those vendors, and tablets from Huawei and Quanta. The display of chips included ones from big names such as Marvell Technology Group and Qualcomm. All those devices can be used with FDD as well as TD, along with backward compatibility with 2G and 3G networks.

Alcatel-Lucent has already developed a TD-LTE small cell, through subsidiary Alcatel Shanghai Bell, that will be used to add capacity to China Mobile’s network in busy areas. Mindspeed Technologies, which supplied the silicon for it, showed off the cell at MWC.

Also at the show, Nokia Siemens Networks demonstrated a patented algorithm for balancing subscriber loads among LTE cells, including between TD and FDD equipment.

Advocates of TD-LTE say flexibility is its main advantage. Most LTE networks so far have been built with FDD (Frequency-Division Duplexing) technology, which uses two separate and equal-sized spectrum blocks, one for upstream and one for downstream traffic. Because TD-LTE uses just one large block, the frequencies within that block can be divided up in any way that makes sense for the way subscribers will use it.

That means a TD-LTE service could look more like home broadband, with a relatively thin pipe for sending email messages and URLs and a fatter one for downloading the pages that come with those URLs, as well as video, music, images and other content from the Internet.

China Mobile promotes this feature as one of the main things that will make its network better. The carrier could divide its spectrum differently in various areas depending on how the network might be used there, said Lei Cao, a China Mobile representative in the company’s MWC booth.

Some said TD-LTE saves carriers money and is just a better way to use spectrum.

“This is hotly debated, but the TD-LTE advocates will tell you that it can be deployed in cheaper unpaired spectrum and is more efficient when the downlink/uplink is asymmetric,” Tolaga Research analyst Phil Marshall said in an email interview. Dedicating the same amount of spectrum to uplinks as to downlinks leaves a lot of uplink spectrum unused, he said.

The biggest reason FDD is still used is tradition, according to Marshall. When cell phones were used mostly for voice, upstream and downstream traffic was equal.

“Most of the cellular spectrum is allocated in FDD and systems are deployed this way,” Marshall said. “The advocates of FDD will tell you that you get better performance consistency with FDD and it is easier to implement — particularly when coordinated with other FDD systems.”

Without the need for pairing, it’s also easier to cobble together various frequencies. In January, China Mobile and ZTE said they had demonstrated combining two separate TD-LTE spectrum blocks into one virtual block and assigned 75 percent of the whole to downstream traffic.

It’s not especially challenging to implement TD-LTE, Schoolar said. Nor is it hard to hand off subscribers from those networks to LTE FDD systems, according to China Mobile and others. Despite the dominance of FDD, most existing LTE base stations can be set up for TD use with a software upgrade or a new line card, Schoolar said. Sprint plans to mix FDD and TD networks by using the Clearwire TD-LTE network for extra capacity in busy areas, shifting users from one to the other as needed.

China Mobile Hong Kong has already launched a combined TD and FDD network. It puts subscribers on TD-LTE where it’s available, then shifts them onto FDD where possible, and puts them onto GSM when necessary. All these transitions are transparent to users, Lei said.

The pre-commercial network in mainland China is growing rapidly despite the fact that China Mobile can’t offer commercial service yet. There are about 20,000 base stations there today and will be 200,000 in 100 cities by the end of this year, Lei said. And China Mobile is not expected to be the only Chinese carrier to deploy TD-LTE.

That bodes well for a high-volume market that should make TD-LTE devices cheap and plentiful in other parts of the world, with the help of big silicon vendors, analysts said. “It really depends on guys like Qualcomm to make it happen,” Marshall said.


MIT panel warns of challenges of hyper-networked world

Friday, March 1st, 2013

MIT panel says demand on the Internet, massive-growth of wireless nets and general lack of security are but a few of the future challenges pressing on the world’s information infrastructure

A panel discussion held at MIT this week hailed major advances in networking technology, but warned that the challenges facing the world’s information infrastructure are severe.

Most of the challenges stem from the rapid multiplication of demand, both in terms of user devices and data, according to IDC analyst Rohit Mehra, who moderated the MIT Forum discussion, which was held at the Tang Center for Management Education and entitled “Can the networks deliver?” Mehra was joined on the panel by Boston University professor Mark Crovella, Akamai chief strategist Kristofer Alexander and Veniam Works principal Roy Russell.

“We’re now starting to talk about not millions any more, when we talk about user devices that are in play, but billions,” said Mehra. “Of late, in the industry, we’ve started talking about how many devices versus how many human beings on the planet.”

And it’s not just the proliferation of smartphones and tablets contributing to skyrocketing growth in the total number of network-connected devices, according to Mehta. The oft-cited phenomenon of the “Internet of things” – which refers to the growth of network connectivity in objects that weren’t previously online – means that there could be as many as 30 billion network devices installed worldwide by 2020.

Even though a huge number of those devices are likely to be connected cars or refrigerators or traffic lights, Akamai’s Alexander said that a substantial amount of the total increase in demand in the future is a product of the growing ratio of devices to people.

In 2005, he said, there were a little more than a billion Internet users and 1.5 billion connected devices online. In 2010, those numbers changed to 1.8 billion and 5 billion, respectively, and projections for 2015 indicate that they could increase to 2.9 billion and a whopping 15 billion.

“There’s an explosion of endpoints going on,” Alexander said.

And while a rise in peak connection speeds might give the appearance of supply keeping up with demand, he said, it’s important to look closer.

“That would be all well and nice if applications and devices had a concept that they aren’t the only application or device at work,” Alexander said. “Any time any application fires up, whether it’s Netflix, email or a software update, it assumes it’s pretty much the only thing that needs resourcing. It asks for as much as it can take, and you end up with network contention.”

There are undoubted upsides to this hyper-connected world, and panelist Russell of Veniam Works, is part of the phenomenon. Veniam is a vehicular networking startup, which plans to bring a type of mesh network to the road that can connect and disconnect almost instantaneously, turning traffic into a nest of Wi-Fi hotspots for in-car connectivity and a host of other potential applications.

“We had a research project … where they monitored bus drivers’ vital signs and connected that data back to the network,” Russell said. “They had GPS on the bus … and they could tell where and when the bus drivers were stressed as they were driving.”

Other ideas, according to Russell, include things like measuring the carbon footprint of a given stretch of road (by monitoring fuel consumption) and improved navigation and traffic avoidance.

BU professor Crovella, however, says that this hyper-connectivity is problematic, in particular at four central pain points. The first is the Internet protocol itself. The standard that makes a global Internet possible, as originally conceived, is essentially out of usable IP addresses, thanks to rapid growth.

“It was never conceived of that we would have multiple Internet protocol addresses for every single human being on the planet,” he said. “And you can trace some of the decisions that have been made along the way as being somewhat suboptimal.”

For instance, according to Crovella, MIT itself was given 16 million IP addresses. “They don’t need 16 million addresses to run the university,” he said. Fundamentally, however, the problem is a simple shortage of possible addresses under the IPv4 standard. The newer IPv6 standard ups the number of possible addresses from a little less than 4.3 billion to 3.4 x 10^38 – more than enough to meet even the wildest growth scenarios – but it’s not backwards compatible with the earlier system, making the transition a headache.

The second problem, Crovella said, is transport control protocol, or TCP. This system, designed to address network congestion problems and improve reliability, has a seemingly minor issue that nonetheless complicates its use with wireless connections, which are increasingly prevalent.

TCP monitors connections for packet loss – when it encounters them, it assumes this means the network is congested and throttles traffic accordingly.

“The problem is, as we’ve seen, we’re moving to a world in which most data is sourced or synched on a wireless network,” said Crovella. “And wireless networks have different properties, and they lose packets for different reasons. A wireless network can lose a packet for reasons that have nothing to do with congestion.”

What this means is that wireless packet loss due to, in Crovella’s example, a microwave oven turning on, could prompt the TCP to assume the network is congested and act accordingly.

The third problem is a lack of security at the highest levels of the global Internet. The border gateway protocol that governs traffic between big ISPs has no built-in security, the professor said, a fact that has been exploited in several high-profile incidents, including the Pakistan/YouTube outage in 2008.

Finally, according to Crovella, there’s a shortage of available wireless spectrum available for large-scale network projects, which means that existing frequencies may have to be repurposed and new auctions held.

“For example, the white space between television channels is probably going to be used for home networking, and we’re going to try and dislodge the frequencies that have been used in the past, but aren’t being used anymore,” he said.


Google’s white spaces database goes live in test next week

Thursday, February 28th, 2013

Two years ago, Google was one of ten entities selected by the Federal Communications Commission to operate a white spaces database. Google’s database is finally just about ready to go: on Monday, the company will begin a 45-day trial allowing the database to be tested by the public.

White spaces technology allows unused TV spectrum to be repurposed for wireless Internet networks. The companies Spectrum Bridge and Telcordia have already completed their tests and have started operating. Google is the third to reach this stage. The databases are necessary to ensure that wireless Internet networks use only empty spectrum and thus don’t interfere with TV broadcasts.

“This is a limited trial that is intended to allow the public to access and test Google’s database system to ensure that it correctly identifies channels that are available for unlicensed radio transmitting devices that operate in the TV band (unlicensed TV band devices), properly registers radio transmitting facilities entitled to protection, and provides protection to authorized services and registered facilities as specified in the rules,” the FCC said yesterday. “We encourage all interested parties to test the database and provide appropriate feedback to Google.”

If nothing goes wrong, Google’s database could be open for business a few months after the test closes.

The test doesn’t necessarily signal that Google itself is on the cusp of creating wireless networks using white spaces spectrum, although it could. Google has already become an Internet service provider with Google Fiber in Kansas City and has offered free public Wi-Fi in a small part of New York City and Mountain View.

“This has nothing to do with Google creating a wireless network, though Google is interested in the business and could, potentially, create a white space network on down the line,” Steven Crowley, a wireless engineer who blogs about the FCC, wrote in an e-mail.

White spaces networks haven’t exactly revolutionized broadband Internet access in the US, but companies pushing the technology still hope it will have an impact, particularly in rural areas. An incentive auction the FCC is planning to reclaim spectrum controlled by TV broadcasters may increase the airwaves available to white spaces networks.

The FCC decided to authorize multiple white spaces databases to prevent any one company from having a stranglehold over the process. Google, meanwhile, may be hedging its bets. Public Knowledge Senior VP Harold Feld thinks Google applied to become a database provider so it wouldn’t have to worry about anyone else providing key infrastructure.

“I have no specific information, but my belief has always been that Google applied primarily to cover its rear end and make sure that—however they ultimately ended up monetizing the TVWS [TV white spaces]—they didn’t need to worry about someone else having some kind of control over one of the key components (the database),” Feld wrote in an e-mail. “So it is not (IMO) that this demonstrates any specific plans about what it wants to do in the TVWS, it just means that Google doesn’t want anyone to be able to mess with them once they launch whatever they are going to do.”

We’ve contacted Google to see if the company will provide any information on their long-term plans.

The remaining database operators that must go through public tests are Microsoft, Comsearch, Frequency Finder, KB Enterprises LLC and LS Telcom, Key Bridge Global LLC, Neustar, and WSdb LLC.


FCC orders 2M people to power down cell phone signal boosters

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

Devices must be turned off until customers ask for carrier approval.

The Federal Communications Commission today enacted a set of rules governing the sale and deployment of wireless signal boosters, devices consumers use to improve cell phone signals. More than 2 million of these devices are in use across the country, and until now consumers who bought them could just turn them on and let them work their magic.

Not anymore. Anyone who buys one of these devices from now on must seek the permission of carriers. Even the 2 million devices already in use must be turned off immediately unless their owners register them. The FCC states in an FAQ:

Did the FCC recently adopt new rules for signal boosters?

Yes. The FCC recently adopted new rules to improve signal booster design so these devices won’t cause interference to wireless networks. The FCC also adopted new rules about what cell phone users need to do before using a signal booster.

I already have a signal booster; do I need to do anything under the new rules?

Yes. Under the FCC’s new rules, you (1) need your wireless provider’s permission to use the booster, and (2) must register the booster with your wireless provider. Absent your provider’s permission, you may not continue using your booster.

For practical purposes, there is a good chance you could keep using that device without getting any threatening legal letters. But technically, the FCC could issue fines to customers who fail to comply, Public Knowledge Legal Director Harold Feld told Ars. There’s no word yet on what will happen to consumers who fail to register or whether carriers would actively seek them out.

(UPDATE: The FCC has already changed the language on that FAQ, indicating that the onus may not be on owners of existing devices to register with carriers. The FCC deleted the sentence that says “Absent your provider’s permission, you may not continue using your booster.” Instead, it now says, “If a wireless provider or the FCC asks you to turn off your signal booster because it is causing interference to a wireless network, you must turn off your booster and leave it off until the interference problem can be resolved. When the new rules go into effect, you will be able to purchase a booster with additional safeguards that protect wireless networks from interference.” For buyers of new devices, the FAQ does still say that “[b]efore use, you must register this device with your wireless provider and have your provider’s consent.”)

There are good reasons for the FCC to regulate these devices. They could cause interference with cellular networks, even if the ones today generally haven’t been too problematic. Everyone from consumer advocates to booster device makers, carriers, and the FCC agrees that standards to prevent interference are good. But Feld, other consumer advocates, and the makers of these devices say it’s unfair to consumers to make them register with carriers.

Carriers aren’t ready to detail registration policies

Major carriers haven’t said how the registration process will work, but one conceivable outcome is that they could charge customers an extra fee to use boosters, like they do with other devices that improve signals.

Wireless boosters are “saving the carriers money by not making them build more towers, but now they can charge you for improving the holes in their own network,” Feld said.

Requiring a specific carrier’s permission is odd, because a wireless booster can be used to improve signals on just about any network, said Michael Calabrese, director of the Wireless Future Project at the New America Foundation. Calabrese helped advise the government on its recent spectrum sharing plan. “97 percent of the boosters sold are wideband boosters, meaning they amplify the signals of all carriers equally,” Calabrese told Ars. “For some reason, the commission has delegated authority to the carrier.”

(UPDATE: After this story ran, we got a more positive take on the registration requirement from Wilson Electronics, a signal booster manufacturer. “We don’t see registration having a surcharge added to it-—or being an end-all scenario,” the company said. “90+ carriers already gave blanket approval to boosters that meet the specs. And the [FCC] commissioners were clear about the registration not being cumbersome. They also mentioned that they suspect few people will actually register the products given that consent will already be given.” Wilson did oppose the registration requirement, but said on the whole the ruling was good and should only affect poorly designed products. Wi-Ex, maker of zBoost boosters, said “consumers do not have to power down the zBoost consumer products. Our Boosters do not interfere with the wireless providers’ networks—consumers can continue using them and look for the notice their provider will send them regarding registration of the product with them.”)

If carriers are stingy with device approvals, households with subscriptions to multiple carriers could have to purchase one booster for each carrier—even though there’s no technical reason preventing a single booster from covering phones from multiple carriers.

Even though consumers have to register devices they already bought, booster manufacturers were given one year to clear out existing inventory before they have to sell new hardware that meets the interference rules. If they can keep selling existing devices, it’s difficult to imagine they’ve caused cellular providers too much trouble.

FCC commissioner Robert McDowell said, “wireless service providers have experienced some harmful interference with boosters interacting with their networks.” McDowell also lauded boosters for improving signals, even in tunnels where cellular connections are often disrupted.

Commissioner Mignon Clyburn said for millions of people, cellular service disruptions “are more than rare, trivial annoyances.” Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said that 41 percent of children live in homes served only by cell phones and not landlines, making boosters one option for ensuring that emergency calls and doctor’s calls can be completed.

In addition to consumer-strength boosters for homes, small offices, and vehicles, there are industrial-strength wireless boosters designed for airports, hospitals, stadiums, etc. Industrial-strength boosters have to meet stricter interference standards because they transmit at higher power levels than consumer-grade ones, and anyone who operates an industrial-class booster will need an FCC license.

Carriers both large and small have reportedly assured the FCC that they won’t be unreasonable in providing approval for use of consumer-grade boosters.

We’ve asked Verizon Wireless, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint to provide information on how the registration process will work and whether consumers will have to pay any extra fees when using wireless signal boosters. We haven’t gotten any specific answers, but that’s not surprising. AT&T pointed out to us this afternoon that the FCC hadn’t even released the text of its order yet. (The FCC has since released the order.)

The FCC booster FAQ we mentioned earlier says, “Most wireless providers consent to the use of signal boosters. Some providers may not consent to the use of this device on their network.” In other words, carriers generally allow it, but they’re not legally required to.

AT&T told us that it’s “pleased that the FCC has adopted technical standards designed to protect our customers from interference caused by signal boosters while allowing well-designed boosters to remain in the marketplace. For these standards to be most effective, however, it is important that they are coupled with appropriate enforcement and consumer outreach.”

Similarly, T-Mobile said it “supports the FCC’s decision today to facilitate the deployment of well-designed third-party signal boosters that can improve wireless coverage, provided they meet technical criteria to prevent interference and that consumers obtain consent from their service provider. T-Mobile will have more to say on this topic once we’ve had a chance to review the FCC’s Report and Order.”

Sprint declined comment today, but has publicly supported the FCC rules. Verizon told us “Our goal is always to make things as simple as possible for customers, and will work to do so here as well.”

FCC says it took the best deal it could get

After the FCC unanimously approved the new rules today, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski was asked why the carrier-consent provision became part of the final order. He said that carriers have agreed to play nice, so the FCC let them decide which devices consumers get to use. He said the FCC could revisit its decision later on if carriers end up acting unreasonably.

“One of the things that helped facilitate an outcome here was the commitment by a number of carriers to provide that consent,” Genachowski said. “Our goal is to put in place clear rules of the road that enable and authorize signal boosters for consumers as quickly as possible, but as part of a framework that prevents interference. We all said, ‘You know what, this is the fastest way to get from A to B. Meanwhile, we’re going to monitor this.’ We expect it to work but we haven’t ruled out other options for the future if for some reason it doesn’t.”

Feld accused the FCC of rolling over for carriers by giving them the right to reject wireless boosters that customers want to use. Calabrese called it “profoundly anti-consumer.” Besides charging monthly fees, Calabrese said carriers could strike exclusive deals with device makers to make sure they get a cut of each device sale.

“They could change their mind at any point, and enter into a royalty agreement with a particular booster maker,” he said.

Feld explains that the boosters take your cellular signal and increase its power so that it reaches a cell tower (whereas femtocells work by taking your cellular signal and dumping it onto your home wireline network). Wireless boosters could be particularly useful in rural areas and in emergency situations, when one tower is down but the booster allows a connection to a further tower, he said.

“What’s particularly irritating is we’ve got about 2 million people who bought these devices in good faith,” Feld said. “The FCC is requiring them to go and register with their carriers and get permission [to keep using them].”

Prior to the FCC decision, the CTIA Wireless Association said the commission should take the stance that “commercial wireless providers must consent to the use of signal boosters on their networks prior to their operation.”

“For the past decade, manufacturers of signal boosters have marketed and sold these devices without properly informing consumers of the need to work with affected licensees prior to operating devices,” the CTIA said.

Wireless signal booster maker Wilson Electronics pleaded its case with the FCC too, arguing that the registration requirement is nonsensical, given that new devices won’t even hit the market unless they meet interference requirements. Wilson’s boosters are designed for use in the home, offices, and vehicles, with devices costing anywhere from $140 to several hundred dollars.

“Now that the Commission is on the verge of adopting network protection standards that were collaboratively developed by carriers and manufacturers to safeguard wireless networks, it would defeat the purpose of the rulemaking for the Commission to decide to empower carriers to deny consumers access to robust boosters that have been designed to meet those very standards,” Wison wrote in a letter to the FCC on Feb. 12.

Expanding Wi-Fi

The FCC today also approved a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to expand the amount of spectrum available to Wi-Fi in the 5GHz band by 195MHz, or about 35 percent. While the wireless booster decision was a final order, the spectrum one was preliminary and generally uncontroversial. The FCC is just beginning what might be a two-year process to expand the 5GHz band. Some interference concerns will have to be addressed. Read our previous coverage for more details.


Microsoft brings solar Wi-Fi to rural Kenya

Thursday, February 14th, 2013

Using derelict TV frequencies, old-fashioned antennas and solar power, Microsoft is trialling a pioneering form of broadband technology in Africa

GAKAWA Senior Secondary School is located in Kenya’s western Rift Valley Province, about 10 kilometres from Nanyuki town. It is not an easy place to live. There are no cash crops, no electricity, no phone lines, and rainfall is sporadic to say the least.

“For internet access we had to travel the 10 kilometres to Nanyuki and it would cost 100 Kenya shillings [about $1.20] to get there,” says Beatrice Nderango, the school’s headmistress.

Not for much longer. Solar-powered Wi-Fi is being installed in the area that will give local people easy access to the internet for the first time. The pilot project – named Mawingu, the Swahili word for “cloud” – is part of an initiative by Microsoft and local telecoms firms to provide affordable, high-speed wireless broadband to rural areas. If and when it is rolled out nationwide, as planned, it will mean that Kenya could lead the way with a model of wireless broadband access that in the West has been tied up in red tape.

Because the village has no power, Microsoft is working with Kenyan telecoms firm Indigo to install solar-powered base stations that supply a wireless signal at a bandwidth that falls into what is called the “white spaces” spectrum.

This refers to the bits of the wireless spectrum that are being freed up as television moves from analogue to digital – a set of frequencies between 400 megahertz and about 800 megahertz. Such frequencies penetrate walls, bend around hills and travel much longer distances than the conventional Wi-Fi we have at home. That means that the technology requires fewer base stations to provide wider coverage, and wannabe web surfers in the village need only a traditional TV antenna attached to a smartphone or tablet to access the signal and get online. Microsoft is supplying some for the trial, as well as solar-powered charging stations.

To begin with, Indigo has set up two solar-powered white-space base stations in three villages to deliver wireless broadband access to 20 locations, including schools, healthcare clinics, community centres and government offices.

“Africa is the perfect location to pioneer white-space technology,” says Indigo’s Peter Henderson, thanks to governments’ open-mindedness. Indeed, Kenya has a strong chance of being in the global vanguard of white-space roll-out. While the US has already legalised use of derelict TV bands, it has yet to standardise the database technology that will tell devices which frequencies are free to use at their GPS location.

In the UK, white-space access should finally be up and running by the end of 2013, says William Webb of white-space startup Neul in Cambridge. “White-space trials are also taking place in Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, South Africa and many other countries – and some of these may move directly to allowing access without needing lengthy consultations,” he says. In many cases, it has been these consultations that have slowed the technology’s progress.

Microsoft aims to roll out the initiative to other African nations, such as sub-Saharan countries. “Internet access is a life-changing experience and it’s going to give both our students and teachers added motivation for learning,” says Nderango. “It will also make my job as headmistress a little easier.”


Wi-Fi expansion could harm smart car wireless network, automakers say

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

FCC wants to expand Wi-Fi in spectrum used by future vehicle-to-vehicle network.

A government plan to add spectrum to Wi-Fi’s 5GHz band might interfere with vehicle-to-vehicle wireless networks that would improve highway safety, dozens of auto industry representatives said in a letter to the Federal Communications Commission today.

The FCC’s planned Wi-Fi expansion would result in the 5GHz band stretching from 5.150GHz to 5.925GHz, improving wireless Internet access in homes and public areas. This requires sharing airwaves with Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC) in the 5.850-5.925GHz part of that spectrum. As we’ve written, DSRC could eventually enable wireless mesh networks on highways, allowing cars to cooperate and thus avoid accidents.

“The Intelligent Transportation Society of America (ITS America), along with major automakers, safety advocates and transportation officials from across the country, are joining together to urge the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to protect the 5.9 GHz band of spectrum set aside for connected vehicle technology—which is expected to save thousands of lives each year—from potentially harmful interference that could result from allowing unlicensed Wi-Fi-based devices to operate in the band,” the trade group said in an announcement.

The actual content of the group’s letter shows that industry players aren’t taking a hard line against the Wi-Fi expansion. The letter asks the FCC to perform “due diligence” on the issue of possible interference, and that a final decision on the Wi-Fi expansion come after a US Department of Transportation decision on implementing a connected vehicle network.

In addition to automakers such as Volvo, Chrysler, and Hyundai-Kia, the letter was signed by various researchers and even government officials, such as state transportation officials in Texas, Washington state, Michigan, and California.

The National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA) has also said the potential interference must be studied closely. The ITSA letter echoed the NTIA’s position, saying “We share NTIA’s concern about the potential risks associated with introducing a substantial number of unlicensed devices into the 5.9 GHz band on which connected vehicle systems are based, and support NTIA’s conclusion that further analysis is needed to determine whether and how the multiple risk factors could be mitigated.”

The vehicle concerns by themselves may not be a deal-breaker in the plan to expand Wi-Fi spectrum, but they are indicative of how complicated and lengthy the process could be. The NTIA has said it won’t finalize its recommendations to the FCC until December 2014.

The FCC was certainly aware that its proposal requires the use of spectrum already dedicated to other uses, and has acknowledged that significant cooperation with federal agencies is needed. Ultimately, sharing this spectrum between Wi-Fi and other uses might require a database similar to the ones used for White Spaces networks. Such a setup will probably also be used for the FCC’s plan to share government-controlled spectrum with cellular providers.

A sharing system may well be good enough to prevent interference between cars on the roads and Wi-Fi users in buildings, particularly as 5GHz airwaves don’t travel as far as the ones in the 2.4GHz Wi-Fi band, or the ones typically used for cellular networks. Given the nearly two-year timeline for the NTIA to do research and report back to the FCC, there’s little reason to think anything harmful will happen to the future smart car networks, but the process may impact how the Wi-Fi expansion is implemented.

Oh and just in case you were wondering, this is completely unrelated to the false “free Wi-Fi everywhere” story that we had to debunk last week.


4G to affect TV reception in two million [UK] homes

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

Filters will be provided for Freeview televisions which experience reception problems following the roll out of 4G later this year.

Ofcom estimates that the TV viewing in up to 2.3 million British households could be affected by 4G but only 40% of them have Freeview.

Satellite receivers will not be affected, the watchdog claims.

A fund provided by the 4G auction winners will be used to pay for filters for those who need them.

At the moment only mobile operator EE is able to offer customers the 4G service, which provides faster mobile internet connections.

The other operators are currently bidding for licences in an auction run by telecoms watchdog Ofcom.

Up to £180m from the auction will be used to fund the filters, a spokesperson from Ofcom said.

However, around 1% of affected Freeview households will be unable to use them and will be offered an alternative instead.

Ofcom estimates there may be fewer than 1000 homes in the UK who will not be able to access those alternatives either and will be left without television services.

A not-for-profit organisation called Digital Mobile Spectrum Limited (DMSL) has been created to tackle the problem.

“I look forward to working closely with broadcasters and mobile network operators to ensure everyone continues to be able to receive their current TV service,” said newly appointed chief executive Simon Beresford-Wiley.

“DMSL plans to pre-empt the majority of potential interference issues caused by 4G at 800 MHz and existing TV services. We’re focused on being able to provide anyone who may be affected with the information and equipment they’ll need to ensure they continue to receive free-to-air TV.”

Last month Freeview homes in South Wales had to retune their TVs and boxes following technical changes to a transmitter in order to make way for 4G.

Source:  BBC