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Wireless Executives Debate Role of Next-Generation Services

WASHINGTON, February 11, 2009 – Wireless industry veterans butted heads during a panel discussion at Tuesday morning’s Broadband Breakfast Club. Organized by BroadbandCensus.com, the event focused on the role of wireless services in next-generation broadband deployment.

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WASHINGTON, February 11, 2009 – Wireless industry veterans butted heads during a panel discussion at Tuesday morning’s Broadband Breakfast Club. Organized by BroadbandCensus.com, the event focused on the role of wireless services in next-generation broadband deployment.

The four-month delay in transitioning the United States to digital television will not affect Verizon’s plans to deploy its fourth-generation service dubbed Long-Term Evolution (LTE), said assistant vice president for wireless and spectrum policy Donald Brittingham.

Despite paying $9 billion for much of the 700 Megahertz spectrum that until last week had been set to vacated by television stations on February 17, Brittingham maintained that Verizon had never planned to begin deploying LTE immediately after the transition date. Instead, the carrier will conduct a period of testing before implementing an “aggressive plan” to deploy their 4G service before year’s end, he said.

Brittingham predicted that LTE will become the world-wide standard for 4G wireless broadband instead of the WiMax technology adopted by rival Sprint-Clearwire. The 700 MHz spectrum for LTE’s  will allow for “substantially better” service and let Verizon serve areas where it previously had not been economical, he said.

The transition will unleash productivity benefits for both consumers and businesses, as well as public safety and homeland security stakeholders, said Steve Sharkey, senior director of regulatory and spectrum policy for Motorola. While Sharkey said a smooth transition should “not be taken lightly,” he warned that the delay puts economic activity associated with next-generation services on hold.

The public safety sector has been moving into the 700 MHz band for years, said John Kneuer, formerly Assistant Secretary of Commerce and head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, and currently a consultant working for a number of clients promoting public safety communications, including Rivada. Kneuer was confident that the DTV switch will allow even more communities to deploy next generation systems for their first responders.

Wireless services outside of the 700 MHz band should also be green-lighted to allow more broadband competition nationwide, said M2Z Networks CEO John Muleta. If the goal of increased penetration isn’t taken more seriously, than any policy on wireless broadband has failed, he said. Muleta said that a one percent increase in broadband penetration could create 800,000 jobs.

The variety of services available in the 700 MHz band means that consumers don’t have to choose one particular technology, said Motorola’s Sharkey. The choice between licensed spectrum and unlicensed “white space” devices is not an “either/or” choice, he said.

Sharkey broke from the practice of referring to wireless as a “third pipe” along with cable and fiber services. “We’re now at a place where we have five to six pipes,” he said. Policymakers should allow as many technologies as possible to be used to fill underserved gaps in the population, he said. But between LTE, WiMax, and other technologies, he suggested most communities have very competitive marketplaces for wireless services.

Convincing consumers to adopt wireless services will be a “nagging problem,” said M2Z’s Muleta.  Speed is only one factor in consumer choice, he said. Muleta lamented the lack of ecosystems for developing open, carrier-agnostic applications and said that wireless executives visit Silicon Valley and see how frustrated developers are at the lack of open standards for development. What consumers really want is “really cool applications,” he said.

Sharkey said that the success of Apple’s iPhone app store rebutted Muleta’s arguments. But Muleta dismissed Apple’s platform as a closed environment when compared with Google’s Android operating system and Verizon’s open device initiative. Government policies like the open access requirements of the 700 MHz auction support market innovations that drive new applications, Muleta said.

Sharkey said that the limiting factor in consumer adoption of wireless broadband has been hardware, not software. He predicted that as the performance gap between mobile devices and desktop machines narrows, open access will become the norm, much like the way software is loaded on a desktop PC today. Eventually, most people around the world will be on wireless broadband, he said.

A wireless world will have a place for smaller companies as well as the major carriers, said Tom DeRiggi of Rapid DSL and Wireless, a wireless service provider. Fixed wireless services like his company’s are “very nimble” and can provide faster speeds than mobile technologies, he said. While fixed wireless won’t compete head-to-head with fiber, DeRiggi predicted the high cost of fiber would allow space in the market for other services.

Fixed wireless has benefits no other service can provide, DeRiggi said. His company deployed service to the Capitol and Lincoln Memorial for last month’s inaugural festivities on little notice, with great success, he said. “Who can provide 100 megabits in two days?” he asked.

But consumers ultimately may not care whether their wireless is fixed or mobile as long as their access comes with “the least amount of friction,” said Muleta. Instead of focusing on getting subsidies to build out to rural areas, the industry and regulators should change the debate to one about what consumers want, not what the industry wants, he said.

Brittingham took a shot at M2Z’s proposal to offer a free tier of service over the Advanced Wireless Service 3 band in exchange for the spectrum license. It was  an idea supported by former FCC chairman Kevin Martin, but held up by concerns over plans to require the service to filter out adult content. “Buy it,” he told Muleta. “Don’t ask the FCC to give it away for free.”

But Muleta fired back, pointing out that 80 percent of the spectrum offered in the 2007 auctions was bought by 2 carriers, Verizon and AT&T. Spectrum isn’t sold in a free market, he said — the FCC is the only place to get it.

The Broadband Breakfast Club is sponsored by CTIA – The Wireless Association and the Benton Foundation.

Editor’s Note

The Broadband Breakfast Club is a monthly discussion form meeting on the second Tuesday of the month at the Old Ebbitt Grill in Washington.

Archived webcasts of the Broadband Breakfast Club are now available on the BroadbandCensus.com channel on TV Mainstream. One full year of online access to each premium webcast is available for $40.00, at http://www.tvmainstream.com/series/bbclub/

TV Mainstream

Telecommunications policy advocates, attorneys, policy-makers and journalists seeking to obtain insights from top officials in Washington can attend the Broadband Breakfast Club, which includes a full American and Continental breakfast, for as little as $45.00, plus a modest registration fee. Registration is available at http://broadbandbreakfast.eventbrite.com

The events are on the record and open to the public. Individuals who register to attend the Broadband Breakfast Club will also receive a full year of complementary online access to the webcast.

Andrew Feinberg was the White House Correspondent and Managing Editor for Breakfast Media. He rejoined BroadbandBreakfast.com in late 2016 after working as a staff writer at The Hill and as a freelance writer. He worked at BroadbandBreakfast.com from its founding in 2008 to 2010, first as a Reporter and then as Deputy Editor. He also covered the White House for Russia's Sputnik News from the beginning of the Trump Administration until he was let go for refusing to use White House press briefings to promote conspiracy theories, and later documented the experience in a story which set off a chain of events leading to Sputnik being forced to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Andrew's work has appeared in such publications as The Hill, Politico, Communications Daily, Washington Internet Daily, Washington Business Journal, The Sentinel Newspapers, FastCompany.TV, Mashable, and Silicon Angle.

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Satellite

LEO Technology Could Connect the Unconnected, Although Capacity Questions Remain

Unlike geostationary satellites, LEOs offer a connection that can support real-time communication.

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Screenshot of Internet Society Director of Online Content Dan York

WASHINGTON, December 2, 2022 — Low earth orbit satellites have the potential to provide life-changing connectivity for rural and underserved users if they can overcome issues of affordability and sustainability, according to Dan York, director of online content for the Internet Society.

Speaking at a Friday event hosted by the Gigabit Libraries Network, York explained that LEO technology can help to not only connect the two billion people worldwide who are unserved but also improve connectivity for the underserved.

Traditional geostationary satellites can provide some connectivity, but the high latency prevents uses like video calling or online gaming. LEOs offer a low-latency, high-speed connection that supports real-time communication.

In addition to being an interim solution while fiber buildout takes place, LEOs can provide redundancy during disasters and other outages, said Don Means, director of the Gigabit Libraries Network.

York agreed, noting that LEO satellites played an important role in providing connectivity during the aftermath of Hurricane Ian or during wildfires in California.

“Starlink makes it super easy because they can bring one of their trailers into a location, put up a Starlink antenna on the top, bring that connectivity down and then they can share it locally with Wi-Fi access points or cellular access points so people can be able to get that kind of connectivity — first responders, but also people in that local community.”

LEO satellites can provide connectivity even for certain locations that lack a ground station by using inter-satellite lasers, York added.

There are three primary LEO system components. Satellite constellations are made up of hundreds or thousands of satellites, launched into orbit and arranged into “shells” at various altitudes.

User terminals facilitate the transmission and receipt of data to and from the satellites. The antennas are “electronically steerable,” meaning that they can track multiple satellites without physically moving.

The final LEO system component is ground stations, also known as gateways, which are the large antennas and facilities that connect the satellites to the internet.

Advances in rocket technology are driving an increase in LEO satellites, York said. For example, SpaceX is reusing rockets, making launches less expensive. The relatively smaller size of LEO satellites means that they can be mass produced using assembly lines.

However, affordability is still a barrier to widespread adoption, York said. Another challenge is competition with mobile telecom companies for spectrum allocation. ISOC recently released a study discussing these issues and making recommendations for their resolution.

There is also still some uncertainty about the capacity of these connections, York said, pointing to anecdotal reports as well as an Ookla study showing that Starlink’s capacity had decreased in certain areas.

“How much of that is growing pains while Starlink continues to build out the rest of its constellation, versus how much of it might be inherent limitations within the systems?” he asked. “We don’t know. I think we probably won’t know until more of these systems get up and are launched.”

Despite these questions, York was optimistic about the promise of LEO technology: “I think there’s great potential that these systems, as they come online, can truly offer us ways to connect the unconnected.”

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Spectrum

Interference Concerns with FCC Raised Over Wi-Fi in 6 GigaHertz Band

Southern Linc raised concerns about potential interference issues with the agency’s opening the band for unlicensed use.

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Illustration by Jose Ruiz from PC Mag

WASHINGTON, November 30, 2022 – Wireless service provider Southern Linc raised concerns with the Federal Communications Commission on November 9 about potential interference issues with the agency’s opening of the 6 GigaHertz (GHz) band for unlicensed use.

The concerns, laid out in a post-meeting letter to the FCC, explained that the agency’s decision to open up the band traditionally used by services including broadcasting to unlicensed use was based on measurements taken in 2018. Since then, wireless data points have multiplied, rendering these measurements outdated and unreflective of the current Wi-Fi environment, Southern Linc representatives argued.

Southern Linc urged the collection of data on current Wi-Fi operations to successfully develop and implement automated frequency coordination systems. A thoroughly tested automatic frequency control system could provide for effective shared use of the 6 GHz band and reduce harmful interference, the company said.

Earlier this month, the FCC approved the testing of 13 proposed automated frequency coordination database systems from various technology companies to ensure interference issues are limited. During testing, each company will make the automated frequency coordination system available for a specific period for the public to test the system’s functionality.

Southern Linc also recommended a proposal made by trade associations to engage in next-generation Wi-Fi, dubbed “6E” for its capability to use the 6 GHz band. To date, the University of Michigan has a campus-wide Wi-Fi 6E system, the largest currently operating network of unlicensed 6 GHz devices.

In April 2020, the FCC adopted its 6 GHz Order, freeing up 1,200 megahertz of spectrum in the 6 GHz band (from 5.925–7.125 GHz) for unlicensed use, including for Wi-Fi connectivity. The order, supported unanimously by the FCC commissioners, was expected to improve Wi-Fi reliability and speed.

A few months later, in response to a challenge from AT&T, the D.C. Court of Appeals unanimously upheld the FCC order stating that the “petitioners have failed to provide a basis for questioning the commission’s conclusion that the order will protect against a significant risk of harmful interference.”

In December 2021, the National Spectrum Management Association echoed concerns about harmful interference, alleging the FCC decision was made without proper testing.

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Wireless

GOP Senators Want NTIA to Revisit View That Unlicensed Spectrum Networks Are Not ‘Reliable’

The coalition sent a letter to NTIA head Alan Davidson urging the agency to reconsider the policies outlined in the BEAD NOFO.

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Photo of Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mon., in July 2015, by Joel Kowsky used with permission

WASHINGTON, November 22, 2022 – Led by Montana’s Steve Daines, a coalition of Republican senators on Tuesday urged the head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to remove regulatory barriers facing networks that rely entirely on unlicensed spectrum.

In the notice of funding opportunity for the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program, the NTIA stated that any fully unlicensed networks will not be considered a “reliable broadband network,” and therefore all locations served exclusively by such networks will be classified as unserved.

The coalition, which included Ted Cruz, R-Tex., John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., sent a letter to NTIA head Alan Davidson urging the agency to reconsider, arguing the NTIA’s BEAD notice was at odds with congressional intent and precedent set by the Federal Communications Commission.

“Broadband is not a one-size-fits all service. Different states, regions, communities and differing terrain will require different solutions. Removing options off the table will result in communities being left behind,” the senators wrote. “Solutions that work in urban areas may not work in rural America where farms and homes can be miles apart. Likewise, what works in flat terrain, may not work well in mountainous areas. It is important that NTIA allow all broadband providers and technology to compete in order to ensure that we finally close the digital divide.”

The senators also expressed concern that the NTIA’s current policy would lead to waste of taxpayer dollars if areas served by otherwise satisfactory unlicensed-only networks are allotted funding for another type of build, such as a fiber deployment.

“This is a great development for [wireless internet service providers], who serve their communities mainly with unlicensed spectrum,” Mike Wendy, director of communications for the wireless-provider trade organization WISPA, said Tuesday. “Instead of fiber-only builds, it would help limited taxpayer resources go further to bring all Americans online.”

Not all industry players are sanguine about the potential of unlicensed spectrum. Gary Bolton, president and CEO of the Fiber Broadband Association and a fervent supporter of fiber-optic broadband, opposed the senators’ stance.

“Senators that are pressing NTIA to include technologies that have been defined as ‘unreliable’ are doing their constituents a huge disservice,” Bolton told Broadband Breakfast Tuesday.

“We have a once in a generation opportunity to get this right,” he added. “Let’s keep broadband about people and ensure that no one is left behind because of their zip code.”

Bolton argued that the NTIA’s BEAD-related policies should facilitate the deployment of long-lasting broadband infrastructure. Bolton also touted fiber as essential to smart grid modernization, public safety, and emerging technologies such as 5G.

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